CANNABIS CULTURE – Wildfires are still ravaging the western portion of the United States, where nearly 60 percent of the cannabis industry’s operations are located. This is potentially a crushing blow to smaller cannabis cultivators who don’t have the enormous financial backing of corporations like Cronos Group or GW Pharmaceuticals; but community and grit keep cultivators moving forward without an ounce of hesitation.
“I don’t have any quit in me,” said Jon Erskine, owner of Green American Farm in Talent, Oregon. On September 8th, Erskine sipped coffee in his truck parked on I-5 as he watched helicopters fight 50 mph winds to dump water on the fire that ravaged his farm’s community.
By the time it was safe enough for Erskine to return, half of his recreational marijuana plants and his brand new, $60 thousand drying facility had been incinerated. Erskine was waiting for his partners to return from out of town to sign the insurance policy that may have helped them recoup some of their investment, but fire swept everything away just a few days too soon.
Before the Almeda blaze was even fully contained, Erskine’s sister helped create a GoFundMe, Barnraiser, and the hope is that the funds collected will be enough to rebuild what they lost.
This seems to be a common theme for small cannabis farmers whose livelihoods and homes were annihilated in a matter of hours. Rowshan Rerordan, owner of Green Leaf Lab, started her own GoFundMe to help friends and clients who lost everything in the Almeda and Obenchain fires.
Stationed in Portland, Reordan fielded frantic calls from the cultivators her lab serves, while flames devoured everything. They needed her couriers to come sample their crops because it’s harvest time, but the inferno was closing in. It was vital to know as soon as possible if they could legally harvest, so Reordan found respirators and other protective equipment for her employees so they could do their jobs safely.
“We were literally tracking the fires and watching air quality [ … so our employees could sample] while our clients were preparing to evacuate.”
Reordan’s GoFundMe is helping three different cultivators who lost everything. Roganja Farms lost 13 outbuildings and the family home. JJ Farms at Eagle Point lost its barn, drying warehouse, office spaces, and growing supplies. Jon Red Horse of Grass Roots Nursery in Butte Creek lost his family’s home, farm, and outbuildings. His first goal is to build a shelter to bring their horses and dogs home but the family lost their goose to the fire.
Cannabis businesses of all kinds can’t even begin to calculate the losses yet, including those that have not been directly burned. Farms and dispensaries have been subject to looting, and many of their customers are displaced.
Sisters of the Valley, a small CBD company (and convent of feminist activists) that grows and processes its own hemp in Merced County, California, has been lucky enough to be spared from the flames so far; but “We are financially stressed because the majority of our supporters and customers are on the West Coast of America and the West Coast of America is burning,” says the founder, Sister Kate.
The Sisters have seen their revenues reduced to where they were when the company was first getting off the ground. They haven’t seen the sun in nearly a month due to the smokey haze in the sky, and their blessing of the plants has been altered due to air quality. Normally, the Sisters walk through the rows burning sage, palo alto, or sweetgrass, but now they are ending their ritual inside with prayers for rain.
On par with everything else that 2020 has brought us, this year’s season for fires in the West has scorched almost 1.5 million more acres more than the most recent ten-year average according to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.
Small cannabis cultivators refuse to see their dreams go up in smoke, but their future may depend on how well we manage to get a handle on the environment, global warming, and the human behavior that reduces our resources to ashes.