The Emerald Cup: Bigger and Better Than Ever

The fourteenth annual Emerald Cup at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa was so exhilarating, it’s impossible to sum up in a few words. As someone who’s participated deeply in The Cup since it was founded in 2003, I felt this year’s event went above-and-beyond thanks to many improvements in the “little details,” those things at events which often go unnoticed, but, which, in reality, can make or break the experience. Lines were shorter and more well organized, for example. Plastic floors ensured safety. The entire layout invited exploration and promoted conversation. All in all, upgraded logistics added real value. After all, The Cup started at Healing Harvest Farms, a modest dispensary just north of Laytonville in the heart of the Emerald Triangle. This year, one felt like The Cup had really grown up.

The Emerald Cup’s heart is its people: the cultivators, the breeders, the product makers, the patients and the event producers. Cannabis provides spiritual medicine as much as it offers other healing benefits. Thus, the Cup gives participants an opportunity to come together as a community, to connect, share, laugh and love; all the things our spirit needs. The event always feels like a reunion, an opportunity for many warm hugs and authentic interactions between cultivators, producers and patients, the folks who derive great benefit from this medicine but who so rarely get to see how genuinely empathetic those who work to make it for them really are. What a joy it was to say hello and hug so many fellow cannabis community folks that we’ve gotten to know over these many years. A lot of the real old-timers are gone, and their presence is missed. Thankfully, in some cases, their children now carry the torch, reigniting connections, carrying on the community spirit and advancing the movement. This year between cultivators, breeders, hash and oil makers, there was a new feeling of deep camaraderie, an unspoken energy that said, “This is US, and we’re just gonna do our thing because who knows what next year will bring.”

The flower competition remains the jewel of The Cup, and our fellow judges this year were so inspiring. Nikki and I have been judging the flower portion since the event’s founding. It’s always so wonderful to see friendly faces while also getting an opportunity to work with new connoisseurs. After removing a handful of entries due to lab results, we met for for the first time as a group to tackle an eight hour judging marathon. By examining the first round on quality of the cure, the trim, the trichomes, the smell and, sometimes, the smoke, this initial round helped us whittle down the selection enough so that we could send each judge home with samples of the finalists that they could smoke, inspect, experience and ponder. The judges don’t have much time to do this, of course, for it’s only a few days later that the group meets again at Healing Harvest Farms in order to compare notes and select final winners. This last round finds the judges continuing to inspect and respectfully, knowledgeably debate, all with the aim of narrowing down the Top Twenty. Still, this year, we had to have a final smoke-off to pick the First Place winner. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to determine the order of the other 19 finalists. Using a numbers-based scoring system, the top two flowers were separated by a mere three decimal places. It’s a little like how judges grade figure skating at the Olympics. You see, the fragrance of one sample rated 9.6, but the other entry edged it out at 9.675. The numbers don’t lie. Both were good, but the winning strain had that .075 bit of extra zing that ensured it had earned its top spot.

The stellar planning on the part of the events’ producers and the authentic camaraderie amongst the people mirrored the high quality of the flowers entered by cultivators from across California. All 65 finalists were dynamite. Importantly, only 2.5% of this year’s entries were disqualified by SC Labs due to contamination. Compared to last year when so many flowers were rejected because of trace amounts of Eagle 20 pesticide, this increase in quality and commitment to safe medicine gives me great hope as the industry moves quickly towards the full recreational legalization in a few, short weeks.

The sheer number of growers and manufacturers astounded me, as did the amazing array of products available: edibles, salves, tinctures, lotions, concentrates, extractions and more. My, how far we’ve come. Plus, participating vendors really upped their game. They went all out, setting up amazing, experiential booths which evoked their company’s values such as regenerative agriculture, environmental justice and community. It seemed like most companies have tuned into the fact that communication tools like branding, design and packaging significantly increase a products’ marketability.

One of my favorite displays was the Regenerative Agriculture demonstration mini-garden set up by Jesse Dodd,Nick and Elizabeth from Green Source and others. This is truly the vanguard of the environmentally responsible cannabis cultivators. Hopefully what we learn and do utilizing these methods will spread to many growers and become a model for all agriculture currently dominated by chemical agribusiness.

Innovations in the industry are happening at an amazing rate, and I was intrigued by the incredible sophistication of newer technologies. From the stainless steel equipment used to make concentrates and extracts, to greenhouses and solar power systems, to dehumidifiers and electric trim machines, to fertilizers and grow gear, glass pipes and vape pens and much more, the Emerald Cup did a great job providing learning opportunities for everyone, no matter how you might participate in the industry, be it grower, producer or patient. Truly, it was impossible to see it all.

For the general public who attended, the event offered both the chance to meet their favorite growers and producers and also to discover new farms and strains, to sample new products and flowers and to buy seeds or hit a dab, pipe or joint. Fom end-to-end, the opportunities to experience and engage exhilarated time-tested aficionados and recent converts alike.

All in all, it was the best Emerald Cup ever. Nikki and I are proud to have been part of it since its inception 14 years ago. What the future brings, no one knows. It’s our deep hope that the Cannabis Community can maintain the vibes of love, respect and collaboration we experienced this weekend. After all, those feelings of community, sharing and helping each other is what has sustained our culture for so, so long.

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