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Cannabis Country Out West

The History and Growth of Humboldt County, California…



Humboldt County, California is a wild place. Towering redwoods, acres of undeveloped land, running streams and a rocky coastline hold its borders in a fierce, natural glory. It’s no shock that Humboldt attracts those with a pioneering spirit. Generation after generation have come to this Northern California frontier to seek fortune and freedom. The lure of gold and timber came first, but for the last four decades, another gift of nature has sustained this wild community—cannabis.

Brought North in the 1970s by hippies and back-to-the-landers, cannabis took to the hot days, cool nights and luscious humidity of Humboldt County. It grew—pardon the pun—like a weed. The majority of the cannabis crop was previously imported from abroad; mostly Mexico. The potential for pesticides in cannabis grown in Mexico gave way to an interest in Humboldt-grown flower, and the quality kept them smoking it. The main reason for Humboldt excellence, aside from an ideal climate, is that growers from Humboldt were quick to pick up on the fact that the female plant, sinsemilla, produces the best effects. It was revolutionary in the US, and has become the new standard for cannabis cultivation.

By 1979, 35 percent of cannabis consumed in California was homegrown, mostly in Humboldt County. By 2010, 79 percent of all cannabis in the United States was being supplied by California, and the majority of that cannabis was grown in Humboldt County. But it wasn’t just the ideal natural conditions that put Humboldt cannabis on the map—it was the unique history and spirit of the community.

The decline of the redwood logging, though an environmental triumph, led to economic decline and social unrest in Humboldt County. When cannabis began to gain recognition as both an excellent medicine and source of income, the once separate groups of hippies, loggers and back-to-the-landers became the backbone of the Humboldt community. Buildings once owned by the logging industry were now used for cannabis, preserving the pioneering spirit in the old halls.

“There’s a need for an authentic Humboldt brand . . . if we don’t own our heritage, big business is gonna come in and claim it.” – Joey Shepp, Operator, Humboldt’s Finest

Preserving Humboldt’s Heritage 

To gain an insider perspective, I spoke with Humboldt native and operator of Humboldt’s Finest, a collective of multi-generational farmers from the Humboldt area, Joey Shepp. Born and bred in the area, he’s seen the community rise from persecution to the loving and open community it is today.

I asked Shepp what makes Humboldt County the perfect place for cannabis. He replied: “First off, one [thing] that people may not [consider] is the multi-generational farming culture, and the wisdom that has emerged. So at this point we’re on the second, sometimes third generation of farmers who have been farming in the region for a long time. That history is really important.”

Shepp also cited Humboldt’s climate, landscape and remote location as some of the major elements in the growth of cannabis culture in the county. These days, cannabis growers are coming out of the woodwork, joining together to prepare for legalization.

Shepp continued: “Humboldt’s Finest started as local. Multi-generational farmers were beginning to get concerned about the future of Humboldt farmers, with legalization coming and the foresight that it would inevitably bring competition, and also posers trying to pose as authentic Humboldt. There’s a need for an authentic Humboldt brand. And that was really what drove this sort of—we went through hard times in Humboldt, and if we don’t own our heritage, big business is gonna come in and claim it.”

And the heritage of Humboldt County is certainly something that needs to be preserved. Beyond the story of cannabis culture, there is the story of the everyday in Humboldt.

“Well, in Humboldt we have this thing called ‘Humboldt Time,’” Shepp explains. “You’ve heard of Hawaii time? Humboldt Time is basically any time during the same day. So if someone is like, ‘I’ll see you Sunday,’ you won’t know if [that’s supposed to be] 10am or 4pm; people in Humboldt live sort of outside of time, sort of independent, without schedules, and that sort of flexibility with time is really interesting.”

Perhaps Humboldt Time exists because of the county’s vast natural beauty. How could one keep a schedule with the lure of river swimming, forest hiking and harvest-time joint circles held in the towering redwoods? The natural world plays an integral part of the overall attitude in Humboldt, and collectives such as Humboldt’s Finest are making strides in sustainable growing practices. Instead of indoor grows, Humboldt’s Finest has sun-grown and greenhouse grows, thereby reducing their energy consumption.

They utilize cover crops, such as legumes, that are nitrogen-fixing. In other words, these plants supply much-needed nitrogen to the soil, while simultaneously preventing erosion and river runoff. The rivers and streams are an important ecosystem, and Humboldt’s Finest uses a technique they call “rain-grown,” to preserve water. They catch rainfall in tanks and ponds to draw from in the rainy season, instead of taking from the land.

Humboldt County has come a long way socially, economically and environmentally in the last fifty years. This unique community, dedicated to their land and medicine, has led the world in cannabis cultivation and culture.

As Shepp puts it: “All of those things led to Humboldt county to become the perfect nexus for cannabis cultivation. You can go to Europe and say you’re from Humboldt County, and people grin and know what that means.”

Humboldt County is a unique gem among cannabis culture, and maybe we could all take a leaf out of their book—enjoy nature, enjoy our plant and set our watches to Humboldt Time.


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