The white sign in front of the unassuming house on Main Street, the former home of the Willits Environmental Group, announced an upcoming event about Regenerative Agriculture and Cannabis. Seeing this as I drove by had piqued my interest. Shortly thereafter, in front of our local health food store, I met Pat Higgins, Managing Director of the Eel River Recovery Project. He eagerly invited me to the Conversations, as he called them on his radio show.
The purpose of the gathering was to bring groups working to protect the watersheds of the Emerald Triangle together with cannabis farmers, so we can work on finding solutions to the threats to the environment posed by this industry. It was interesting to be meeting with people who had fiercely opposed Measure AF, the Mendocino Cannabis referendum Nikki and I had worked hard to pass last election. I remember after one rather tense town hall meeting, talking with Ellen Drell of the Willits Environmental Center, who had strenuously opposed the Willits Bypass, as well as Measure AF. She said that she would look forward to working with me when this was all over. Although she was absent, her husband and co-activist David was there, as well as Mickey Bailey, a friend who is working to help restore Woodman Creek. Another familiar face was Traci Pillar from the Mendocino Wildlife Association.
This is the message: that we all need to work together to save the ecology & the economy of the county by protecting the small cannabis farmers who are using best practices and working towards compliance. By educating and assisting farmers to move towards Living Soil cultivation techniques, we can clean up our rivers and replenish the soil. Long time environmentalist Bruce Hilbach-Barger emphasized the need to build relationships between the various groups and between all humans and our natural surroundings. One speaker, Anna Birkus, of Village Ecosystems, emphasized that one of the key elements for maintaining the quality of our streams is control of runoff from dirt roads in the mountains. This is the main reason that the environmental groups insisted on not allowing any new cannabis grows on Range Land, Forest Land and Timber Production Zone: the silt washing off potentially numerous new roads in the wilderness would end up in the streams and kill the fish and vegetation.
I was there as a semi-official representative of the Mendocino Cannabis Industry Association but just as much as a citizen of the county who is working to improve my practices and lessen my impact on the environment. Another presenter, Noah Cornell, gave a brief outline of some regenerative methods and talked about the benefit of compost teas. In addition, the Eel River Recovery Project has prepared a brochure outlining various conservation strategies for cannabis farmers, such as rainwater catchment, grey water use, water meters and float valves to avoid waste, living soil building and deep irrigation. The also have an excellent library of books & videos around the theme of environmental conservation.
The Project has also visited 70 farms in the watershed to begin the conversation with growers to indicate ways to improve yield while creating positive effects in the surroundings. Noah Cornell astutely noted that farmers of any sort are not going to change their ways unless they see an incentive for doing so. The promise is that the Living Soil methods will grow more and better cannabis, while also improving the soil and cleaning the streams, and all this with fewer costs and eventually less work.
I wasn’t so sure about the less work part. Creating a soil food web through regenerative agriculture attempting to use ingredients primarily sourced from one’s own ranch really does require quite bit of labor. Collecting branches, moss and grasses, raking leaves, making Bokashi (and eventually growing the grains for it), cultivating indigenous micro-organisms, planting and harvesting green manure, composting, brewing fermented plant juices and compost teas all take time and effort. Mulching has to be done repeatedly. Even if the soil is not turned, it still may need to be broad forked to loosen up old compaction. All in all, switching from conventional, what I call chemical, agriculture to Living Soil Regenerative Agriculture is to take on a whole new way of life, where one makes the nutrients oneself from local materials. So what else have you got to do??
A bonus was seeing Ron Lincoln, a local tribal leader of Round Valley, again after our encounter at the Mendocino Cannabis Resource Conference the previous weekend at the Willits Grange. He set the tone for the evening with a spoken Welcome and a Native American Chant. Later his son told me that they were setting up a Tribal Cannabis Co-op over in Round Valley and were hoping to sign up for distribution rights. Connecting with the local people indigenous to these lands is an important step for coming into harmony with Nature and with the Spiritual Energy so tangible in these mountains. The farmers I know who are coming forward and working toward compliance are equally interested in preserving the special nature of where we live, for that is one reason that our cannabis is of the highest quality.
Another purpose of the assembly was to promote the concept and use of the building, located at 630 Main Street, as the “Willits Hub” – a resource center, gathering place and library available to anyone who is interested in working towards conservation of Mendocino’s unique qualities. Regenerative Agricultural methods are not just for cannabis farmers, but rather represent a way forward for all farmers of whatever crop, so as to grow food while restoring the fertility and fecundity of the earth.