Pubdate: Sun, 14 Oct 2012
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2012 The Seattle Times Company
Author: Joe Mozingo
Page: A4


Big-Time Operators Cratering Prices

Old Outdoor Growers Feel Loss of Community

LAYTONVILLE, Mendocino County - In the mountains of Mendocino County,
a middleaged couple stroll into the cool morning air to plant the
year's crop. Andrew grabs a shovel and begins to dig up rich black
garden beds while Anna waters the seedlings, beginning a hallowed
annual ritual here in marijuana's Emerald Triangle.

In the past, planting day was a time of great expectations, maybe for
a vacation in Hawaii or Mexico during the rainy months or a new motor
home to make deliveries around the country.

But this year, Andrew and Anna are hoping only that their 50 or so
marijuana plants will cover the bills. Since the mid-1990s, the price
of outdoor-grown marijuana has plummeted from more than $5,000 a pound
to less than $2,000, and even as low as $800.

Battered by competition from indoor cultivators around the state and
industrial-size operations that have invaded the North Coast counties,
many of the small-time pot farmers who created the Emerald Triangle
fear that their way of life of the last 40 years is coming to an end.

Their once-quiet communities, with their back-to-nature ethos, are
being overrun by outsiders carving massive farms out of the forest.
Robberies are commonplace now, and the mountains reverberate with the
sounds of chain saws and heavy equipment.

"Every night we hear helicopters now," Anna said. "It's people moving
big greenhouses and generators into the mountains."

Andrew, 56, and Anna, 52, who agreed to be interviewed only if they
would be identified by their middle names, live in a rambling house
down a trail through tanoaks and Douglas firs. Their electricity comes
from a windmill and solar panels, their water from a spring. They cook
on a wood stove and use an outhouse with a composting toilet to
conserve water for their crop.

Though they are not complete back-to-thelanders - they have a nice
car, satellite TV and Internet access - they keep their gardens
relatively small, tucked in the trees throughout their property.

Among their plants, they post their own medical marijuana cards so
that if they're raided, it looks as though they're growing under the
aegis of state law. But because dispensaries generally prefer the more
potent weed grown indoors, they still sell mostly to the black market,
where mom-and-pop growers now struggle to compete.

"These big commercial growers have really ruined our business," Anna

Until recently, life in the hills of Mendocino and Humboldt counties
had changed little in the decades since hippies from the Bay Area
began homesteading here. The pioneers initially grew marijuana for
themselves and to make a little money.

Then in the 1980s, cultivation of high-grade seedless marijuana opened
the possibility for big money as it brought a higher premium. Many of
the farmers cashed in. But many remained small and discreet to avoid
attracting the attention of state and federal agents.

They raised their families where they cultivated. They drove beat-up
Subarus and small Toyota pickups, pumped their water from wells and
chopped their own firewood.

The mountain hamlets operated like breakaway states. Marijuana farmers
paid for community centers, fire departments, road maintenance and
elementary schools.

Even today, small cannabis-funded volunteer fire stations and primary
schools are scattered throughout the ranges. And the local radio
station, KMUD, announces the sheriff's deputies' movements as part of
its public-service mandate.

But the liberalization of marijuana laws in the last decade upended
the status quo.

>From Oakland to the Inland Empire, people began cultivating indoors
on an unprecedented scale at the same time that growers from around
the world flooded the North Coast because of its remoteness and
deep-rooted counterculture.

Now, with the market glutted, people are simply planting ever-larger
crops to make up for the drop in price.

Longtime residents complain that the newcomers cut down trees, grade
hillsides, divert creeks to irrigate multithousand-plant crops, use
heavy pesticides and rat poisons, and run giant, smog-belching diesel
generators to illuminate indoor grows. They blaze around in Dodge
monster trucks and Cadillac Escalades and don't contribute to upkeep
of the roads or schools.

"They just don't care," said Kym Kemp, a teacher and blogger in the
mountains of Sohum, as locals call southern Humboldt County. "They're
not thinking, 'I want my kids to grow up here.'

"Now there are greenhouses the size of a football field that weren't
even there last year," she added.

Kemp said she feels her region is being colonized and worries about
the colorful, off-the-grid people that small cannabis patches long

"So many people who live here are just different," she said. "They
don't fit in regular society. They couldn't work 9-to-5 jobs. But
they've gotten used to raising their kids on middleclass incomes. What
are they going to do?"

Tom Evans, 61, a small-time grower in northern Mendocino, said the
sense of peace and self-reliance he moved here for 30 years ago is
disappearing so fast that he may leave for Mexico.

"It used to be a contest to see who could drive the oldest pickup
truck," said Evans, a former Army helicopter mechanic who sports a
woolly gray beard and tie-dyed shirt.

"There's just been this huge influx of folks who have money on their
mind, instead of love of the land. A lot more gun-toters. A lot more
attack dogs."

Evans lives in a small, rented home that generously could be called a
fixer-upper. He said he doesn't have a bank account or credit card,
and his Honda Passport has more than 300,000 miles. "It's 'make a
living, not a killing,' " he said.

His friend, a bear of man who goes by the name Mr. Fuzzy, noted that
it's not only outsiders causing problems.

"You know the weird part, these are our kids too," he

It's a recurring lament among longtime growers. Some of their own
children are going for the large-scale grows, big money and fancy cars.

The larger irony is that the marijuana pioneers are being pushed to
the margins by the legalization they long espoused.

"Ultimately, we worry about Winston or Marlboro getting some land and
doing their thing," said Lawrence Ringo, a 55-year-old grower and seed
breeder deep in the wilds of Sohum. "We see it time after time in
America - big corporations come in and take over."

Ringo saw the 2010 marijuana initiative, Proposition 19, as a ploy by
Bay Area activists to dominate the market with giant warehouse grows
in Oakland.

He suspects plenty of people will still want high-quality, organically
grown cannabis but fears the big business interests will dictate how
marijuana gets regulated. Ringo points out that Colorado, the one
state that fully regulates marijuana, helped push most growing indoors
and place cultivation under the control of large dispensaries.

"We're afraid of losing what we've been doing for 40 years," he said.
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