Hans Brand, 53, doesn’t smoke marijuana, but he’s the iconic CEO of an up-and-coming Santa Barbara–based cannabis company, Autumn Brands, that cultivates cannabis in greenhouses— hydroponically and without herbicides, pesticides or any machines. It’s all done by hand.
Born in Holland and a fifth-generation Dutch farmer, Hans came to the U.S at 18 and brought with him the Brand family’s centuries-old sustainable farming practices. His tulips were spectacular, but about five years ago he read the handwriting on the wall and realized that if he wanted to save the farm and provide for his son, Johnny, and his daughter, Hanna, he needed to convert from cut flowers to cannabis.
“We used to grow flowers to look at and now we grow flowers to smoke,” Hanna, 24, tells me on a warm winter day. She’s a Cal Poly graduate and partners with her pal, Autumn Shelton. Hence, Autumn Brands. Hans trained Hanna for sales and marketing, and passed on his farming lore to Johnny.
“Dad can’t retire,” Hanna says. “He’s getting us through the permitting process, running the business daily and he has the final word about all the big stuff.”
One day he might even smoke a joint.
“He’s open-minded,” Hanna says. “He’s learning good stuff about medicinal cannabis.”
The Brands face many of the same hurdles that Sonoma County pot farmers face. Sacramento has not made it easy for the fledgling legal California cannabis industry, especially not for the “legacy” growers who were cultivating on the q.t. before state laws went into effect.
In Santa Barbara, which had some of the richest soil in the state—until malls and housing developments arrived—a mere two-dozen companies have permits to cultivate cannabis. The process can take years.
“The only people who receive permits in a reasonable amount of time are new to the industry,” Hanna says. “We’ve been grandfathered-in so we can grow while we wait. Once a farm receives a permit, the anti-cannabis forces swing into action and appeal.”
Those anti-cannabis forces use many of the same fear tactics that Sonoma County pot foes use.
Autumns Brands is open to the public, but only by special arrangement. Hanna urges visitors to call and make an appointment, and also to stay awhile and enjoy Santa Barbara’s pristine beaches, craft beers, local wines, gourmet foods and eye-popping art. So far, Autumn Brands cannabis is only available in Northern California at Napa dispensary Harvest House.
Jonah Raskin is the author of “Dark Day, Dark Night: A Marijuana Murder Mystery.”