Regenerative cannabis grower Daniel Fink says he practices responsible farming techniques because he believes in “cosmic karma.”
Fink bridged the gap last week between sustainable farming practices, ecological responsibility and cannabis cultivation during the first-ever cannabis farming tour of Nevada County in more than half of the permitted space courses in the French Corral. The tour was sponsored by the Wild and Beautiful Film Festival as part of the organization’s Earth Day celebrations.
Down Om Farms, a “family owned and operated cottage farm in the Sierra Foothills” has a few signature features — worm troughs, llamas and fresh compost heaps.
Ilama is low-impact on worn-out terrain, said Fink, adding that his dedicated farm site around the corner from the Bridgeport Mountain Bounty Farm site would benefit from regenerative farming due to the long-term effects of hydraulic mining in the area.
“It’s just clay,” said Fink, pointing at the dirt. “At some point there may be a foot of top soil.”
Fink describes the hydraulic mining process, implemented throughout southern Nevada County, as clearing “an entire hillside with a water cannon”, removing all stabilizing features. The mineral veins were then searched for for gold, which sank to the bottom.
The local ecology was destroyed, Fink said, including trees that were much “bigger than we’ve ever seen in our lives” – clearly older than his 100-year-old blue oak.
Fink said his work was a direct response to history and land abuse, but also noted how his sustainable approach to growing set his farm apart before the cannabis market plunged to new lows this year.
Upon Fink’s arrival to the area more than a decade ago, he was immediately immersed in the culture of the old cannabis growers.
Fink says that the thriving community he introduced started cultivating in the 1960s, and “they don’t go to the plant store to buy bottles of fertilizer. They make compost from their leftover kitchen vegetables — and they make the best weeds.”
That’s another reason Fink says he cares about sources of plant nutrition: he smokes.
Fink admits the instinctive worry that arises when gardeners put on Hazmat suits to put pesticides on their crops – especially those that end up being inhaled.
The New York native started cultivating when he was 13 years old. Between growing stints in Lake County and North San Juan, Fink worked in orchid production — a highly controlled and unsustainable process.
Fink says he’s grateful his Ridge neighbors taught him the values of a relationship that started with the land and the cannabis plant in the 1960s.
The current style of cannabis grown across the region, in raised pots to isolate and optimize yields through controlled ingredients, is not sustainable, says Fink, adding that the plant’s benefits to the environment and consumers are lost.
When Fink started Down Om Farms less than five years ago, when the county first allowed marijuana farming, he and his wife had twins on the way.
Tour participants cannot actually enter the area where cannabis is grown, as cultivation permits limit the proximity of the product to anyone but business employees. Fink spoke through chicken wire and raised beds of rotting logs and plant debris, an ancient farming technique called hugelkultur.
“This is one of the smallest farms allowed in the state of California,” Fink said of the 2,500-foot allowable grow space. “The space I’m currently allowed is half the basketball court, if all of them put together. We’re barely even ‘micro.’”
Fink says his farm is reasonable land that he can care for himself, but the recent over-industrialization of cannabis cultivation “is causing traditional farmers and those who have made a sustainable livelihood out of it to struggle.”
“One of the saddest things about legalization in California and across the country is witnessing the rampant over-industrialization of a plant that can grow so modestly in natural sunlight,” says Fink. “Huge facilities—hundreds of acres of steel and concrete—were built with the aim of growing this plant in recent years. This is all leading to a massive glut, an oversupply in California.”
Fink estimates that more than half of the farms that were originally allowed in Nevada County will be sold, and notes that he works at four other side gigs to make enough money for his family to survive.
Fink said although he supplemented his income, Down Om’s marijuana was sold at pharmacies in Nevada City, North Lake Tahoe, Sacramento and Los Angeles. Fink says his sustainable growth practices are not only helping the earth but also helping it set itself apart from other cultivators through values-based branding.
Fink says he belongs to the cooperative Grass Valley Growers, originally made up of 10 separate family farms that were allowed to “brand ourselves and get our name out to the world,” and Farm Cut, “a cooperative with four other regenerative farmers in Northern California.”
“By branding ourselves, we can teach people about our ethos and why our products are different,” says Fink.
The tour was one of several face-to-face activities that the Wild and Beautiful Film Festival organized over the weekend to commemorate Earth Day.
Producer Eric Dunn said the organization was eager to plan the event as Nevada County reconnected its community following the easing of the Omicron wave. Dunn said the film festival celebrated Earth Day last weekend with a particular blend of art, ecology and cannabis.
The film festival screens a short film in Del Oro on Saturday and two feature films on Sunday at The Center for the Arts.
According to Dunn, the panel discussion on indigenous knowledge featured Nisenan spokesperson Shelly Covert, Washoe Tribe Historical Preservation Officer Darrel Cruz, and ethnohistorian Dr. Tanis C. Thorne attends the 2022 People’s Choice Award Winners’ Day screening “Occupants: An Indigenous Perspective. ”
The films also focus on the future of the cannabis industry in the face of today’s industrialization.
Maggie Philipsborn, director of membership and education for the Nevada County Cannabis Alliance, said the alliance works regularly with the Southern Yuba River Citizens League and has even sponsored film festivals before.
However, Philipsborn said he was surprised – and grateful – to see “Lady Buds,” a documentary depicting the journeys of six different women in the cannabis industry, on the agenda for an Earth Day-oriented weekend of activities.
“‘Lady Buds’ tries to explain the struggle and inspire some activism,” Philipsborn said of the film. “It’s great that their selection committee saw their alignment.”
The women include a retired Catholic school principal and other farmers who began cultivating in the 1990s to provide medical concessions for AIDS patients in San Francisco.
The struggle Philipsborn is referring to is the high cost of legalization combined with the falling cost of cannabis interest, and the impact it is having on the Nevada County community.
“Who would have thought someone could make a film about little people that would actually win an award,” Philipsborn said.
None of those featured are natives of Nevada County, Philipsborn said, but the film captures the spirit of small cannabis growers who reckon with an oversaturated industry.
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer at The Union. He can be reached at email@example.com