In the cannabis world, July 10 is considered a commemorative day- the celebration and recognition of cannabis oils and concentrates. But for a group of Mendocino County farmers, that day will be spent offering their homegrown wares to the public at a Cannabis Farmers Market.
The Mendocino Producers Guild, in cooperation with Mendocino Cannabis Distribution is presenting their inaugural Cannabis Farmers Market in Laytonville on Saturday, July 10 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
According to Guild member Traci Pellar, one of the primary goals of the market is to offer legal cannabis products to the public in a welcoming, friendly atmosphere. “We are committed to education,” says Pellar. “We want to show the public the difference between boutique farms and large ‘grows.’”
To participate in the markets, farms must meet several criteria.
“All our participating farms are 10,000 square feet or less, and farmers must run their operation- offering truly ‘home-grown’ cannabis products. These are our artisanal farms that form the backbone of the cannabis movement,” Pellar continues. “My farm is on the property I grew up on. I’ve lived on that land since I was six years old. It’s a similar story to most of our participating farmers- many folks about my age who trying to make it in the industry, who grew up on their land and are committed to best practices. I’m a wildlife activist. We love our communities and we’re working as hard as we can, doing the best we can.”
Pellar anticipates there will be between 15 and 20 vendors, stressing the event, taking place on the property of Mendocino Cannabis Distribution, is 100% legal. Only permitted farms are allowed to participate, with Golden State Delivery Service volunteering the provision of the Point of Sale services necessary for local and state compliance with cannabis purchases.
“Prices to the consumer will be very affordable because this is a farm-direct event, with fully-licensed legacy farmers offering their cannabis to the public,” Pellar continues.
She hopes this will be the first of many live markets featuring small producers and would like to take them countywide. “We’re still accepting applications. If a farm can’t make it to this market, we’ll get them in the next one.”
The market may be attended by adults 21 and older. “Attendees must bring a valid form of identification. Admission is free, and we’ll also have a taco and gelato truck on site,” says Pellar. A total of one ounce of product per customer may be purchased.
Like many entrepreneurs, Nick Smilgys, the owner of Mendocino Cannabis Distribution made a daring transition in 2008- leaving the heady environment of C-Suite account management to try his hand working in challenging world of cannabis. He employs 20 people at his distribution site and despite the uphill battle experienced by everyone working in the legal sphere, Smilgys remains undeterred.
“There’s an expression that everything is harder in Alaska. Cannabis is the Alaska of businesses,” Smilgys smiles, noting that cannabis continues to be held to a vastly different set of standards than other forms of agriculture- even intoxicants like wine.
“One of the key business models for wineries is the ability to offer direct sales to customers- walking into a tasting room, sampling products and buying a bottle or a case. That’s the baseline we are trying to establish with cannabis. Without these types of Farmers Markets, small farms can’t survive.”
Smilgys notes that direct sales only count for a certain portion of what a farm sells, but he hopes the markets will increase that volume.
“Most of a farm’s harvest has to go into legal, retail channels, so our business focuses on that- empowering brands and farmers building their own brands. At this time, there are not a lot of direct retail sale opportunities. I’ve tasted $80 bottles of wine in barns. But currently, we’re not allowed to bring the public to a farm and create that same experience,” Smilgys continues.
“Cannabis is about differentiation- showing the uniqueness of products and making a connection to the farmer. We want to put a whole new audience in front of the farmers. Once you meet them, you’ll never go back to buying black market or corporate products. It’s like the difference between buying factory farm eggs versus fresh eggs from vital, healthy chickens.”
Smilgys has great pride in supporting the farms he works with.
“No vineyard owner touches every grape every day. Our farmers touch every plant, every day. We are proud to model a more sustainable and more focused model of agriculture, and we continue to hope we will be treated like any other Ag business at some point in the future.”
According to Smilgys, the Prohibition mentality still runs rampant.
“There are still many people in our county who want to treat cannabis as something evil. This continues to keep cannabis in the shadows, even though it is a primary economic driver for our county. The cannabis we grow in Mendocino County slides into a middle area not occupied by anyone else. It’s cheaper than indoor-grown cannabis and better quality than the massive Central Coast greenhouse products. Our unique location and skill-set results in premium product that helps keep small farms moving.”
“One of the major issues we’re facing people tend to conflate illegal and legal operations- to treat legal as illegal,” Smilgys continues. “We are forced to pay for the sins of people who are not even trying to be compliant. Humboldt County is dotted with greenhouses. In Minnesota, dairy sheds cover the countryside. Legal, permitted farms don’t have plastic blowing in the wind. Legal farms tend to be beautiful. High quality is what keeps us relevant. Having gone through the permitting process, I can say it is not easy. It is really hard and really frustrating. We work hard to because this is our life, our community, the towns where we raise our kids, put down our roots and stay.”
During the pandemic, cannabis workers continued to pump money into the economy as they were deemed essential workers. That money helped to bolster the county economy during a time when money couldn’t be scarcer. But, notes Pellar, small farmers continue to struggle under the weight of challenging regulations that for many, appear to favor the corporate-sized farm while “mom-and pop” operations bear the burden of spending tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in an attempt to comply with complex regulations.
“If the small farmers can’t make a living in Mendo, they’re leaving. Farmers will never transfer their skills to a corporate entity. They will leave. They will take their families with them. From there, enrollment in school drops, businesses lose income, and our communities lose vitality,” says Pellar.
“We can all be forced into indentured servitude by venture capital and institutional money, or we can keep doing what we’re doing,” says Smilgys.
Ultimately, says Pellar, she intends for markets to act as driver of canna-tourism, hoping that it will continue to become easier for the public to visit working cannabis farms.
“There’s nothing like seeing a full-grown plant or a line of light-dep plants in a greenhouse versus plant in a warehouse under lights. This is how the plant wants to express itself. It leads to the highest possible flower and it’s really something to see,” notes Smilgys.
“This is a rare opportunity to meet your farmer in person as they share their stories of their farm and their heritage. Laytonville is just a few hours north from San Francisco. If you want to make a full weekend, there are motels and restaurants in Laytonville and Willits, a nearby park and a skate park for the kids, and plenty of scenic beauty, with wineries and the ocean nearby,” she concludes.
A percentage of all profits from the Farmers Market will benefit the Ten Mile Creek Watershed Council. Mendocino Cannabis Distribution is located at 44550 Willis Ave. just west of downtown Laytonville. For more information, phone (707) 357-5693 or visit https://mendocinoproducersguild.org/events