Chris Hayes was a Californian before he came to California, though he didn’t really know it. His 19th-century counterparts arrived from the four corners of the world to pan for gold.
“I came for the San Francisco music scene,” he tells me on an overcast day when the earth is green and when real weeds, not weed, are growing like crazy. Edible wild mushrooms blanket the ground. Hayes says, “I’ve spent more than half my life in California, and while I still have traces of a New England accent I’m now 100 percent Californian.”
Hayes grew his first cannabis plants when he was 13 in rural Connecticut, where his family had lived for hundreds of years. He fished in the Farmington River near the Connecticut River, worked in corn fields, harvested melons and pumpkins, and drove a tractor before he drove a car. “I loaded trucks with bushells full of corn,” he tells me.
Hayes has cultivated marijuana in more parts of Sonoma County than any other grower I‘ve ever met. He’s grown indoors and outdoors, in greenhouses and in natural sunlight, in the hills outside Healdsburg and in Santa Rosa, Occidental and Glen Ellen.
Hayes has also cultivated weed in Placer County, Nevada County and Humboldt County. “I have seen nearly all the many different microclimates in Norcal,” he says. Of course, he makes compost and compost tea, cultivates cover crops and grows beneficial plants like marigolds that attract harmful insects.
Later this year, he will invite the cows on the land to eat the cover crop and then add their manure to his compost pile. Naturally, he uses water efficiently and applies organic fertilizers to the soil. “Best practices” is his mantra. He’s learned from the best local biodynamic farmers, including Mike Benziger and Erich Pearson.
Last year he harvested plants that had a whopping 32 percent THC. This year for the first time, at the SPARC garden on Trinity Road, he will put the plants in the ground and not cultivate in containers. “You gotta take what Mother Nature gives you,” Hayes tells me. “That means using the sun, the air, the water and the ground itself.”
Hayes doesn’t like to badmouth other companies and individuals in the cannabiz, though he has seen greed take over in some places and at some times. During the 25 years he has grown cannabis in California he has never been raided or busted.
“I’ve been lucky,” he tells me, though he also reminds me that “in Humboldt, where families turned to marijuana after logging and mining went south, police raids were devastating.” Does Hayes smoke? “Not during the day, but in the evening and when it’s appropriate.”
Jonah Raskin is the author of “Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War.”