Never doubt that a group of dedicated small cannabis farmers can change the world

Michael Steinmetz
Apr 24 · 4 min read
Amber O’Neill, HappyDay Farms, tends to her lettuce rows planted alongside cannabis plants in Mendocino County, California

For decades, California has led the global cannabis movement, and yet we are at a fragile moment in time when the fate of this industry and the livelihood of its participants is being decided. We are at a crossroads. One path leads to making the environmentally responsible choice of promoting and creating sustainable cannabis and hemp cultivation. The other leads to the familiar takeover by the Big Ag model and all the mono-cropping, pesticide-infested, environmental degradation practices that come along with commercial low-grade products. As California’s cannabis industry begins to scale, we start seeing the separation between an industry and a movement — but as consumers, that future is ours to decide.

Today’s agricultural models are killing us and our planet. Big Ag is the single largest contributor of our global climate crisis, and monocropping, a common practice, is part of the problem. Monocropping systems are justified by a pure profit model — the argument: lower the cost of cultivation by standardizing entire farms with single crops. But non-diversified farms can’t combat pests on their own, so pesticides are then necessarily employed. This monocropping culture has led to the loss of biological diversity (just look at our now-limited varietals of corn, soy, and wheat), ignoring the long-term costs to the environment and human health.

Meanwhile, decades of prohibition, created an ecosystem in California of an estimated 53,000 cannabis farmers, many of whom have been cultivating for generations in the famed region of the Emerald Triangle, many with fully diversified, regenerative and off grid farms with a rich history grounded in community and land stewardship. With them began a movement that has the potential to transform the way we think about agriculture and feed the planet.

Many diversified farmers in the Emerald Triangle use cannabis as a cash crop to subsidize the production of their fruit, herb and vegetable gardens, often sold at farmers markets. These small farms develop a whole set of diversified crops that build a healthy farming ecosystem, continuously restore the soil and bring in a series of beneficial insects to naturally combat pests. The produce from these farms feed their local communities and beyond with wholesale vegetables, while also cultivating high quality, small batch cannabis which has served the cannabis industry for decades.

Northern California’s Emerald Triangle’s ecosystem of small farms is a rare one that regenerative pioneers like Dr. Bronner’s, Nutiva, and Patagonia have spent decades creating in their respective supply chains. The cannabis industry already has this and we have to fight to save it from the incoming players of Big Marijuana coming from Canada to Big Ag to Big Pharma. Let’s learn from the past and forge a better future — a movement with farmers, not face masks worn in grow labs.

The 21st century brings with it technology, tools, systems, and processes that have radically redefined our existence, empowering mankind to build a future humanity on different principles. Yet we have been held back in time and led to believe that without fossil fuels and external inputs, like nitrogen fertilizers and big mechanization, we will be unable to feed the world. This could not be further from the truth.

Lyft, one of the largest ridesharing companies in the world, doesn’t own a single car and has spurred the proliferation of a new economy by empowering a fragmented, decentralized set of drivers to reach mind share to compete at a global scale. Flow Kana, the number-one selling cannabis flower brand in California, doesn’t own land for cultivation and has enabled a new agricultural economy by empowering a fragmented, decentralized set of cannabis farmers in Northern California’s Emerald Triangle region to reach scale with a platform for centralized processing and manufacturing and the technology to connect it all.

In this post-prohibition era, we as consumers and us as leaders in the cannabis industry have an imperative to stand up for what’s right and set the stage for how the cannabis movement will evolve. Together we are in a position, to build a new agricultural model that transforms our culture and environment for the better. The vision of decentralized regenerative agriculture is not a niche market for politically correct consumers. It’s a systematic transformation of our global food and medicine production system that can cool the planet, as we heal and feed the world. The cannabis movement, and the 21st century reality, affords us the opportunity to do so.

With federal legalization on the horizon, we see the real cannabis movement leaders not rush to flip their companies or sell out to the larger forces — we are standing beside each other working to build a better world. In the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” As we look to build a new agriculture industry, let’s learn from the past and imagine an industry that in every sense of the phrase can change the world.

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