September 14, 2020 -As residents got evacuation warnings from the Alderpoint area in Southern Humboldt County at dawn on Wednesday September 9, they put their livestock and pets into trucks, and loaded their most important belongings. But what of their cannabis crop that is carefully cultivated under the Northern California sun, expertly harvested, and now in urgent need to be stored out of harm’s way? In the bureaucratic reality of permits and licenses, most farmers in Humboldt County can cultivate, but they don’t have the license to transport and safely store their cannabis. That is the job of distributors who drive out to farms, procure the product, and take it to storage in the nearby towns of Arcata and Eureka.
Within hours of the evacuation warnings, distributors had come forward to make their facilities available. Natalynne DeLapp, Operations Director of HCGA, the trade alliance representing hundreds within Humboldt’s cannabis industry, facilitates an online platform that enables cannabis business members to talk in real time across several channels. “In this emergency, we act as an information center,” she explains. The moment distributors started to post on the platform with their offers to take in product under disaster relief provisions, HCGA created a list, posted it on their Instagram and updated it as more distributors came forward. “It’s all hands on deck,” says DeLapp. “We support each other.”
Chris Anderson is with Redwood Roots, a distributor in Benbow, in the heart of Southern Humboldt. “At dawn on Wednesday, I got to work and saw the emergency bulletin from the Sheriff with an evacuation warning for the area of Alderpoint, Palo Verde, Island Mountain and Harris. That’s our farmers. I immediately called in the team, we pulled up our mapping system for the farms that we know, we earmarked the farms that were in the evacuation warning area, and we started to call them one by one. We had vans full of gas and ready to go. By 8 a.m. I was at the first farm taking their product and transporting it to our facility.” The warning turned into a mandatory evacuation order a few hours later. That day, Chris visited and evacuated product from 15 cannabis farms. But for him, it’s not a big deal. “It’s just what we do,” he says. “I’ve been here many years, and in times of need, the community comes together. It’s really inspiring, and it’s standard operating procedure for this community.” Redwood Roots is not charging the farmers because “we operate from an abundance mindset.”
“There are many in the cannabis industry that also serve as volunteer firefighters,” notes Laura Lasseter, Director of Operations at the Southern Humboldt Business and Visitors Bureau. “Many are volunteers running heavy equipment to keep the fire away. Being there for your neighbor in any way needed has been in this community’s soul for decades.”
Take Rob Steffano who owns the cannabis farm Villa Paradiso Farms where Trinity, Humboldt and Mendocino counties meet. “I’ve been growing for 33 years, I cultivate all from seed, in the ground, full sun.” He recalls the warnings on Wednesday, under a black sky with an orange tint. “It felt like the end of times. There were high winds blowing to the West, the fire was 40 miles away, we could see the plume.” In no time, it was at their doorstep. Steffano is also a local firefighter with the Palo Verde Volunteer Fire Department since1988. In addition to the fire department, there is a community ‘auxiliary’ fire team of residents with water trucks, water trailers, bulldozers, and ATVs with 50-gallon tanks. “Here, a neighbor lives 10 miles away, and we know them, we know their dogs, their kids, “explains Steffano. “The community is really really tight. There’s an enormous phone tree, word goes out to the furthest region.” The community quickly mobilized and checked on each other by phone or by driving out. “Nothing is going to be left behind in this community,” says Rob. At the time of publication, the winds have changed in the community’s favor, though the region is not out of danger. Steffano has seen the cannabis industry change since legalization, with distributors coming in to act as a connection to the outside world. Their rapid offers of help this last week was amazing, he says. “They’ve been willing to bat for us.”
In Arcata, Stacia Eliason of distributor Bear Extraction House says they have offered storage space and transportation to farmers affected by the fires. “The past few days, our team has been on the phone calling farmers to check in on them and see if we can help.” In the same spirit, Laura Wright of Altum Mind, a distributor based in Arcata, said that this was “an opportunity to support the farming community that keeps us in business. We wouldn’t be where we are without cultivators, and it’s our turn to lend a helping hand in times of need.”
Distributors in Humboldt who stepped up to offer transport and storage include Emerald Family Farms, Green Ox Distribution, Humboldt Cannabis Brand, Ital Distribution, Humboldt Distribution, Papa & Barkley, Sisu Extracts, Sol Spirit (transport only), and Trusty Distro. This is what community looks like.
Linsey Jones’ farm, Aloha Humboldt, is situated in Willow Creek in Northeast Humboldt, with the nearby Red Salmon fire complex continuing to spread. But her primary concern is for friends in Southern Humboldt who had to leave farm and home behind as the August Complex Fire (previously known as the Hopkins Fire) spread. “Our hearts go out to all those who’ve been evacuated,” she said. “We’ll get through this, we’re tough as nails.”
Ruth Bergman owns Deep Roots Farm which was in the mandatory evacuation area. “We got the warning just after 3am on Wednesday. The adrenalin starts and doesn’t stop,” she says. “Distributors immediately began to call to see how they could help. It’s what defines us, it’s part of our culture, we’ve crafted our own livelihoods, our homes, our communities through cannabis.” Reflecting on the last few days, she sees an uncomplicated truth: “This is what simple, decent people do when they have access to a decent livelihood: they do good.”