This post is part of an ongoing project by PAN Farmer Justice Fellows who are working to uplift the many different voices of farmers in California. The mission of this work is to broaden the narrative of what it means to be a farmer participating in the state’s agricultural system by sharing the wide spectrum of relationships that growers have with land.
Note: This farmer wishes to remain anonymous. In this blog we’ll refer to them as Jordan.
When it comes to cannabis, California is often perceived by many as “chill” and “radical” with the state’s recent legalization policies. But Jordan, a transplant to the state, sheds light on what it’s really like being a cannabis farmer in rural Northern California. Like many farmers, Jordan faces challenges of isolation while farming, but the inconsistencies of state and federal cannabis laws add another layer of difficulty to this work.
Farming and isolation
Jordan describes a feeling of being tied down to the farm from late September on through November, during the intense harvest time. Banking on the bulk of the paycheck in the span of a few weeks, it’s really important that someone is always present on the farm — “we don’t want anyone to come in and steal anything when the product is ready and of value.” Jordan’s residential home is 45 minutes away, but that’s too far to remain vigilant on what might be happening on the farm.
To stay attentive, Jordan has set up shelter in a canopy-style tent on the farm for these weeks. The lack of housing with adequate toilets and insulation as the nights get colder is something that Jordan can live with for now, as a young adult. Being away from home can be inconvenient but it’s worth it to be in the company of nature. Jordan shares that cannabis farm living conditions vary. "Some have great amenities. Some you end up roughing it."
Jordan’s day-to-day routine, being constantly preoccupied with work and fully immersed in farming, “gets very isolating; I feel like the world of the news is passing by me and I have no idea what’s going on.” Out of tune with mainstream media, it even becomes hard to connect with the few people who are actually around, like the neighbors, because of the intentional lack of drawing attention to oneself. “[This isolated feeling] is a farmer thing, not just a weed farmer thing. But weed farming does play more of an advanced role because it’s not fully legal and it feels more outlaw-ish.”
Power & legal concerns in cannabis
The gray area of legality with cannabis farming contributes directly to how Jordan interacts in this historically political time for the industry. Jordan is interested in having some political voice, but doesn’t feel fully comfortable: "I don’t have any capital. I don’t have any real legal income.” Jordan Identifies as a farmer but they do not technically own or lease or even work the farmland because Jordan’s employment with the farm owner exists off the record. As close as Jordan is working with this land, nothing is on the books or on paper. The work is laid out verbally with an under-the-table, handshake-style agreement, which isn’t rare in this industry. Their hard work will never be recognized legally. Because of the inconsistency of federal and state cannabis laws, Jordan shares that, as a participant not present on paper, “I have so much more to lose” in publicly speaking out about the direction of cannabis. “You want to stay away from attention and be as low-key as possible. Once you take that step of being politically active, you’re just putting a target on your back.”
Those with more experience and capital, like Jordan’s boss, have the capacity to funnel wealth into “owning a grow store, a seed or soil company.” It is through these “clean money” tactics that “they’re seen as a businesspeople in society, not as a pot farmer. They don’t carry that stigma.” This disparity in access to resources, land and capital excludes new and young growers and seasonal farmers, particularly those from lower socioeconomic statuses and often farmers of color, from the conversations which will steer the future of cannabis.
As a person of mixed race, Jordan is used to not drawing attention to certain aspects of their identity, not out of shame, but out of safety. This is especially true, Jordan says, in the predominantly white, conservative-leaning community where they work.
Stewards of the land and environment
Jordan’s experience with small cannabis farms is that they largely “make sure they’re not putting anything harmful into the soil and water around them.” A defender of the positive elements that cannabis carries, Jordan says, “I’m not one to be ashamed of what I do or try to hide it, but sometimes people asking me questions gets uncomfortable.”
The current sociocultural and political status of the intersection of Jordan’s work and identity leave so much concealed; there’s no knowing if people are going to accept their work or judge it with a criminal lens. “Given the right opportunities, if we can work the right ways [...], so many good things can happen for the environment, health, and the industry.”