After several long months, seated at the kitchen table, we had hashed out the framework of an idea. A podcast. Two women. Multiple interviews. And a story that was needing to be told. We would call it “MEND - Life at the Seams.” Because we wanted to bear witness to the fact that through our stories, some thread of understanding and healing can take place. We wanted to remember that each humble, insignificant one of us holds a tiny sliver of this great web, and if we tend our corners well, we can do the delicate work of stitching it back together. (Or maybe even tear down the old broken banner and erect a new one in it’s place.) We wanted to share stories, poems, candid conversations, truth-bombs, art. And we wanted to begin from a single thread we knew well — Humboldt County’s marijuana culture.
When we started our project, long before it had a name, when we were still trying to conceptualize what creating a podcast would look like, our intentions were far simpler than what eventually we came away with. Back then we could feel the shifting and dismantling of our community so acutely that we were compelled to find and share the stories of the families that lived here — to document a dying tribe, as it were. We wanted the world to know that behind the media coverage of environmental destroyers and rag-tag criminals in a get-rich-quick scheme, there were honest, hard-working families living in the hills trying to live their life as they saw it should be lived, not how they were told live it. We did this, and more.
We made it clear, at the outset, that we did not want to get into the habit of talking to people who were in the cannabis world purely for profit. Those were the stories already being told, we said. Those were the dominant narratives all around. The folks just purely in it for the money. We told these stories to help ourselves and our community remember where we came from. Who we were before all this huge wave of industry began.
We met people who raised families here, we spoke with old friends, and we ventured into territory we had not originally intended, Eventually arriving at the final question of: what now? How does a community grow, to use Steve DeAngelo’s phrase, “out of the shadows and into the light”? How does a community founded on such strong, valued principles as sustainability, freedom, creativity and justice move forward and become successful in a realm overwhelmed with greed, an industry waiting to be taken over by Big Ag or Big Pharma, whoever can get control first? How do we keep a grasp on our history as we move forward into the future? How do we remain “us” in a world where we can’t compete as we have been?
[Anne: Perhaps my initial approach, or intention, was a bit naïve. I wanted to tell a specific story in defense of the sweet life my family has lived here. My initial inspiration came from speaking even with people from Northern Humboldt. Their perceptions of the Southern Humboldt culture were, at times, astonishing to me. They talked of gun-toting criminals and I thought of children laughing and jumping off rocks into the Eel River on a Tuesday. They suggested neglect and I remembered sweet gatherings at a small town hall out in the hills where we homeschooled our children together once a week, Waldorf-style. They mentioned environmental degradation and I tasted fresh vegetables grown organically in our garden, summer dinners sometimes consisting solely of those vegetables and fish caught in the ocean right off Humboldt. I wanted to prove those people wrong. But none of us won that battle.
While many people living out in the hills in Southern Humboldt do have sweet families and live lives in accordance with the natural rhythms and respect of the land, that does not negate the fact that there are gun-toting criminals without a care for the environment and what damage they may be inflicting on the land and the people around them, so long as they get their crop in. And this only seems to be getting worse. The ratio of caretakers of the land to takers from the land is, unfortunately, changing. It is a sad truth that “for sale” signs are popping up on the back roads, to be replaced quickly by sheet metal walls, tarp-covered fences, and large mounds of dirt and soil where trees once stood. I have seen all of these myself.]
[Amy: I think I came to this project almost more from disillusionment than from a place of romanticized ideas.
In the world in which I operate, I know very clearly what the hopes, dreams and values were, coming into the cannabis world as a trade.
It was never about growing ganja as a means into and of itself — although there was definitely a love of the plant involved in that choice.
Rather, the plant was a way to carve out an alternative existence in this world.
Move from the role of starving artist, unwilling clock-puncher or under-employed (and underpaid) visionary and find a way to bankroll our dreams.]
Tend the plant so it could tend us in turn.
Use what resources it provided us to travel, create, eat good clean food, and live in a place that feeds our souls and bodies. Have time to be of service in the community. Give from the abundance that came to us back to the people and places around us. Have some damn time with our kids rather than being chained to a desk all day long! Live in greater harmony with the natural rhythms and world. This is where we started. This is where we came from. And these were the stories we wanted to tell. And we found them — in great supply.
We believe these stories, as most stories have the power to do, could potentially change an outsider’s perspective of Humboldt, though perhaps not as much as we had originally hoped. Some of our favorite interviews were with the back-to-the-landers and people who had grown up here. We loved hearing the stories of those original intentions and values, the creation of the community as some of us know it today. What we learned was something we had perhaps not thought enough about before starting this project: Namely, there was no “marijuana culture” back in the late ’60s, ’70s. People started putting a few extra plants in the ground because it helped pay the land payment and fund their activism or their art. Yes, now there is a marijuana culture, and people flock here to exploit that, but perhaps understanding the original intentions and values of the people who brought the plant here can redeem the people of the area, to an extent, in the eyes of outsiders.
Reflecting back over the 20+ interviews we compiled, there are a few phrases that stand out to us. One was an interview with “Iris,” born and raised in SoHum, talking about CAMP and her dad getting held at gunpoint and taken to prison. But to her, “that wasn’t what was scary.” It was the lying. Being a kid and knowing that if you spoke about what your parents did then something bad would happen, you just didn’t know what. That story put a blur on the idyllic vision of children raised in the hills in a more natural, free and organic lifestyle.
Another one was something said after we had turned off the recorder when interviewing Jesse. “Cannabis is blood money.” Grow marijuana as organically and sustainably as you want, but once it hits the black market you know people are getting arrested, going to prison or worse. That was a conversation we wanted to come back to but unfortunately never did.
The end of Prohibition brings with it a whole slew of changes, some of which will and already are shifting this way of life in profound and irrevocable ways. But one thing we can look to in the future, we hope, is the end of stories such as these. If you still want to be a farmer, if you still want to caretake the land and eke out a living by working with this plant, let it be an ordinary undertaking. Let no one end up in jail because of this decision. The price will drop, yes! And it has very much already. It is not — and will not be — the same profitable gig that it once was when the market was fully black. But perhaps it can become something different. Something better, even. Stripped eventually of the profit motive, will cannabis once more become a way to live simply and sustainably upon the land? So far, the answer seems to be no. But, perhaps after the initial wave of Green Rush speculation dies down… we hope. We hope.
[Anne: What we found through these stories was a glimpse of the founding of a community, the creation of a subculture and, at the origin of both, two main components – the values of those who came in the late ’60s-’70s and made homes in the hills while fleeing the destructiveness and oppression of mainstream culture, coupled with the freedom of the black market. SoHum would not be the community it is without these two. The clinic, the community center, the radio station (shout out to KMUD), the small schools in the hills – they would not have happened without the visions, and at times the needs, of those hippie drop-outs of mainstream USA, nor without the funds gained from selling a little pot on the side. Humboldt is now treading through murky, unknown waters. It has yet to be seen what will happen to this community post-Prohibition, as the big force of capitalism slithers in and clamps its fangs into the resource many, until recently, have tended with reverence.]
Ultimately, we want people to remember that they can still, in this day, create community, create culture. Perhaps we are at the point though where we can no longer act surprised when it changes, or gets changed by pressure from outside forces. We ought to remain adaptable and aware that values shift with generations and with the needs of the times. It does no good to sit and lament the passing of a bygone, familiar way of life. It is time now to jump into the fray. To use our voices and to shape the changes taking place. With the threat of Big Pharma and Big Ag banging on our doors, ready to knock down our fragile walls, we must remember that this community, while paid for by black-market funds, was built on an ideology, ideals and values we must fight for in this new era of regulation and, let’s say it, Trump.
This is a no-holds-barred battle for the independence this community has had in shaping itself around its ideals. Now is not the time to stick our heads in the sand, or give up and sell our land, walking away with tails between our legs because the corporations and big businesses are going to win in the end. This is a time to be involved, be smart, and educate ourselves in a manner that makes us a worthy opposition in this realm, and hold true to the values that have made this community special. We can no longer just be hippies living a simple life out in the hills because the battle for independence has come to us. It is now our turn to stand up and fight.
[Amy: I’m proud of the voices we sat with.
The stories and wisdom we were able to share.
I worry, though, that, in the end - we’re only preaching to the choir.
That the people who are moving into this game now - will be unaffected by these narratives and ideas.
I worry that these values may, in fact, die, in a way, with us.
That the stories may not land where they need to go.]
We told these stories to help ourselves and our community remember where we came from. Who we were before all this huge wave of industry began.
Our hope now is that these can serve as a reminder – and a guidepost – to those who are choosing to move forward.
They call the old ones — the elders, the old-school outlaws, the back-to-the-landers who started this gig — the Legacy Farmers. And we wanted to share their legacy with the people moving inside this world right now.
To hear these stories and get a deeper look at Humboldt’s marijuana culture, subscribe to our podcast, MEND: Life at the Seams on iTunes or Stitcher, or visit our website at mendpodcast.com.