Grow Green

Farms not factories

I read the news today, oh boy. Maybe, you did, too. It was all over the place, and, though it struck me as rather sad, I had to laugh, especially after talking with longtime, cool-headed marijuana grower Jamie Ballachino, who has appeared previously in this column.

I thought Jamie would moan and groan. After all, the county board of supervisors voted 5–0 to require costly and time-consuming analysis of the impacts of pot cultivation on the environment.

To some growers, the vote sounded like the beginning of the end. Not to Jamie, though he points out that Sonoma County is “Grape-Nuts,” with 65,000 acres of grapes and 10 acres of marijuana, and that vineyards consume much more water than pot. Jamie even praises Supervisor David Rabbitt, who called for environmental review years ago.

Like most marijuana growers in the county, Jamie doesn’t have a permit for the quarter-of-an-acre that he cultivates on a sunny hillside. He has followed all the rules. “Hands in the Earth,” the name of his company, sits outside the town of Healdsburg.

Jamie harvests weed four times a year with help from three employees. He has harvested ever since 2006, when he began to grow under Prop. 215, which allowed for medical cannabis. “Marijuana will never leave Sonoma County,” Jamie tells me. “As long as it’s here, it’s going to fight to expand its canopy.” He offers a quip from cannabis maven, Ed Rosenthal: “Cannabis isn’t addictive, but farming it sure is.”

The 5–0 vote has not stopped Jamie or anyone else from growing, distributing and selling weed all over NorCal.

He and other pot farmers worry that Sonoma County will open a big barn door to corporate cannabis and close the door to modest growers, and that it may not require stringent environmental review for the big guys. Jamie thinks there’s a double, and even a triple, standard. He uses no electricity, except for a well pump and a few five-watt bulbs, and no harmful pesticides or herbicides. Indeed, Jamie protects the environment.

He believes in outdoor, not indoor, cultivation. “We are farmers, not factory workers,” he tells me. “We belong in the sun, our hands belong in the earth. We take care of the land. Growing in a factory is asking for climate change to get worse. Does anyone notice that the climate is changing around us due to our careless industrial practices?”

What recommendation does he have for the supervisors? “The best thing is for them to smoke a joint and watch the sunrise,” he says. Jamie and dozens of farmers like him deserve a far better deal than the county has so far offered. And get cranky pot foes off their backs.

Jonah Raskin is the author of “Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War.”

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