Co-Op Building: For Hive of Mendocino
Quality & Efficiency go Hand in Hand – Part 2
“Hive is a confluence of experience, innovation, and sustainability.”
— Sara O’Donnell, Sweet Sisters Family Farm
Story by Jared Adams, Courtney Bailey, Chris Butler, Avery Edmonds, Kristen Garringer, Hildi Gerhart, David O’Donnell, Sara O’Donnell
Edited by Jude Thilman
In this series on cooperative farms, we feature Hive Mendocino. In part 1, we introduced Hive Mendocino’s cooperative structure and how it can help small farmers survive and thrive in a marketplace that places prohibitive costs and regulatory obstacles in the way of success. We introduced the four farms in Hive and the values on which they were founded and are operating.
Here in part 2, we will explore the Hive’s members’ cultivation methods and how they reflect their underlying relationship to the plant and the earth. You’ll also get an up-to-date preview of the fine strains they now present to the world.
“Our intent has always been to create a network of farms where collaboration and transparency are achieved in all aspects of the individual and collective farming and business practices,” says Sara O’Donnell of Sweet Sisters Family Farms. “We hold each other up, we learn from each other, and we have fun together.”
Their dedication to learning and applying the benefits of a cooperative business structure in Hive Mendocino helps them create the highest quality, craft flower and successfully market that flower. As we look at each of the four-member farms’ methods, how they choose them, and the results of such care — well, the value of what they are doing shines through.
Hive Mendocino: Exceptional Craft Cannabis, Sustainably Grown
Hive Mendocino members know that craft cannabis is meant to be cherished. Each strain offers its own unique experience which must be identified and expressed through the careful work of the cultivator. Hive members consider their varied micro-climates and they choose genetics that flourish in each grower’s particular area. As a collaborative group of farms, Hive can offer the best of an extensive selection of cultivars to the California market. From Banana Mango to Wakanda #12 they offer 30 cultivars with a range of tastes and smells across the spectrum of sensory pleasures for nose and palate. (See https://www.hivemendocino.coop/buy-bulk-wholesale-cannabis for the full display.)
While sustainability and environmentally sound practices form the core of their values-based farming techniques, Hive Mendocino farmers each cultivate with their unique approach. They include full-sun cultivars, cold frame greenhouse-grown batches, and climate-controlled greenhouse strains available throughout the year. Hive Mendocino also holds a distribution transport license so they can deliver to customers on a rushed timeline. Because of their collaborative business model, they can cultivate small-batch quality in large-scale quantities. And because they care about the environment and the future of farming, they adhere to strict sustainability standards on all of their farms, giving each plant the close attention to detail it deserves.
Each Farm in Hive Mendocino has a Unique Character
Sweet Sisters Family Farm’s family began with David and Sara meeting at a local nursery in 1980, preparing for their respective spring plantings. By harvest of 1981, they began their life together ultimately raising three boys and growing renowned cannabis with love. In 1996, with the passage of Prop 215, Sweet Sisters began the cultivation of medical cannabis for personal use. After legalization, they dedicated their operation to providing consumers access to the best cannabis on the market. “We have always known first-hand the power of the plant. The medicinal properties of the plant are very real.” Being a three-time cancer survivor herself, Sara knew from experience the healing benefits of cannabis. And this belief fed their determination to maintain a loving relationship with the earth. “We believe that the loving intention you bring to the garden every day is ultimately expressed in the flower.”
This dedication means that the source material for cannabis medicine has to be pure and clean; organic cultivation practices are essential to producing high-grade buds. Sara explains that each plant’s expression ties them to the craft. “Is she a fast grower? Is she tall? Is she pest-resistant? Is she a late bloomer or an early girl? And finally, how does she smoke?” These observations, according to Sara, mark their approach to the cultivation processes. Seeing each of their “girls” display a unique personality that makes their job all that more fun. There are a couple of favorites they always try to keep in the lineup. “Two cultivars we are very partial to are Mendo Crumble, a cross of Mendo Purps and GSC Forum cut, and Moon Drops, a Purple Urkle and Do Si Do cross.” notes Sara.
Sweet Sisters Family Farm and homestead is off-grid and powered by solar energy. All of their plants are grown in full sun either directly in the dirt or raised garden beds. Drip irrigation helps them manage their water usage responsibly, and compost tea made on the farm from forest duff helps their plants perform to their fullest potential. This year, they’re converting their farm into an entirely in-ground system, removing the raised beds block by block to fully connect their plants with the earth and obtain a deep synergy with their land.
The name Sweet Sisters pays homage to a dear old Comptche friend who has passed. The term “sweet sisters’ was a term used in Comptche in the ’70s and referred to the advent of sinsemilla. “The girls” (female plants) = sweet sisters — a strong part of our heritage.
As part of the original founding members of Hive Mendocino Cooperative, Sara and David of Sweet Sisters are passionate about teamwork and supporting others. They know that each farm brings its unique cultivation knowledge, and together, they can help improve the craft cannabis space by combining new and old techniques. When discussing how this past year’s COVID-19 restrictions have affected the small, tight-knit group of farmers, one member comments “It’s been tough not being able to be in the same space together for so long. Our Hive farmers are now fully vaccinated, and we are all looking forward to gathering together as a group.”
Side-by-side, Sara and David work in harmony with the land around them on their multi-generational farm. It’s this connection to the earth that sparks magic in their world and influences them to leave this planet a better place than it was when they got here. They feel very fortunate to have called this piece of paradise in the Mendocino mountains their home for nearly forty years, and because of that, they care deeply about preserving the culture and natural landscape of this area.
Giving Tree Farms is located in the sun-drenched Anderson Valley, both breathtaking and grand, and home to dozens of vineyards, a local brewery, and plenty of cannabis farms. Owners Chris Butler and Courtney Bailey hold sustainability, consistency in the products, and community involvement high on their list of values. They implement smart-farming technologies into their growing methods, further driving their efficient practices while boosting overall sustainability and increasing their yield quality.
While Giving Tree Farms used to be an entirely sun-grown cannabis farm, they currently operate both climate-controlled and cold-frame greenhouses and even offer fresh-frozen cultivation during certain seasons. But regardless of which greenhouse their plants make it into, every aspect of the farm is monitored daily and adjusted as needed, and each plant is given the high degree of care it deserves. “With our greenhouse methods, we’re meticulous when it comes to managing external factors such as humidity. In our 2,500 square foot facility, we’re able to account for many of these factors through the use of technology, allowing us to automate and control heating, cooling, and our humidity levels at all times.”
During the early years of Giving Tree Farms, their concentration was on high-CBD cultivars and OG varieties. Since then, they have evolved to include other strains in their lineup depending on the current demand, but OG’s will always remain on their menu. Being familiar with the plant’s growth patterns, wants, and needs, they find OG varietals fun to grow and believe its yield is the perfect balance of heavy production and high potency. Their substantial focus on picking optimal strains for their specific micro-climate is part of what sets them up for success. It delivers a product their clients have come to know and love because the plant is given the perfect environment for it to thrive.
Chris and Courtney pride themselves on accountability and transparency. “Following harvest, all crops are rigorously lab tested for R&D purposes by an objective third party to ensure impartiality and equitableness in our reporting,” they explain. “Metrics such as THC and CBD percentages are measured, as well as cannabinoid profiling, pesticide and microbiological screening, and terpene analysis. This doesn’t just serve as a useful peace-of-mind measure for our clients, but also helps us continue to refine our farming processes with meticulously applied science.”
As with all the Hive Mendocino members, their Simply Clean certification is renewed each year to act as another layer of assurance that their craft cannabis is produced sustainably and always free of contaminants. Chris and Courtney believe the current industry regulations are under par for what they believe should be a new, and higher, cultivation “normal.” “What sets us apart is less the way we adhere to common industry standards, and more in the way we adhere to our own. We’ve gone ahead and taken the liberty of creating some internal regulations of our own to ensure that only the most brilliant product goes out our doors.”
To learn more about Giving Tree’s unique approach to cultivating the finest craft cannabis, check out Giving Tree Farm’s blog to read about their latest farm updates, upcoming and ongoing projects, and industry news. You can follow along on their cultivation journey via Instagram or sign up for their newsletter to keep in touch.
Fire Flower Farm. Hildi Gerhart and Avery Edmunds, owners of this full-sun cannabis garden, located among the Redwoods in the hills of Mendocino County, bring years of cannabis experience rooted in experiential as well formal education. Avery has an associate degree in Sustainable Agriculture. After graduation, he landed a fall harvest and trimming job in Mendocino County. Hildi had been growing and learning cultivation techniques in rural Mendocino since 2009 and was running her farm by the time she met Avery in 2011. After hiring him to work the fall harvest for two years running, he stayed on to house sit, and then stayed for spring, and remained to begin the Fire Flower Farm adventure with Hildi.
Avery captures the early rationale for their cultivation philosophy: “I immediately saw that the profit margins of cannabis allowed for sustainable and unique growing practices that other forms of agriculture struggle to afford.” They approach cannabis cultivation with the ideal of “plant intuitive growing”, meaning that while they try to stick to a plan and schedule for planting, feeding, and pruning, they closely monitor the plants and soil to decide if they need to make changes in that plan. “Cannabis is a teacher and communicator, so figuring out what the plants want or need is guided by them, once you learn what to look for and how to listen.” Over the years, Hildi and Avery primarily chose genetics that are bred in Mendocino County where they are best suited to the climate of the area. They largely grow from seed, permitting them to experience the full plant life cycle. If they do grow clones, they are often from genetics that were bred locally.
Hildi and Avery believe that strong healthy soil is the foundation for robust plants. They work closely with Dirty Business Soil Analytics and chose to go perlite-free during major infrastructure build-outs. By front-loading the soil with quality organic amendments and doing bi-annual soil testing, they can keep building the same soil and increasing its vibrancy. Their sustainable cultivation methods include fungal inoculants in soils, compost teas, live mulching, no-till soil building, and lots of beneficial bugs.
Their two farms, while only a couple miles apart, challenge them with distinctly different growing conditions. Forcing them to constantly learn and think creatively. Both of their properties feature above-ground growing methods, like long, raised garden beds and the use of smart pots. One soil is heavier and built over years, while the other soil is lighter and newer. Therefore, the growing style differs in the two locations, using raised beds for the garden in a protected bowl and smart pots for the other garden sitting on the top of a ridge.
Irrigation is their main avenue for feeding, but they still perform some hand watering and tea’ing throughout the season to achieve a closer check-in with their plants. “Our whole thing is to give to the soil, and thus the plants, quality amendments, and nutrients, then step back and play a supporting role.” They have an interest in exploring light-deprivation cultivation, but right now, they’re focused on dialing in their current full-sun operation.
The two co-founders took on two 10,000 square foot properties by themselves, so they juggle many responsibilities and continually stay busy. “There’s a big practice in patience and flexibility around here,” Hildi says. “We work as a pair a majority of the time, so whatever task is being done can be worked on and completed as efficiently as possible.” They believe strongly in their practices and stand behind their products. “We want to give ourselves, our co-op, and the whole Mendo community a name to stand firmly behind.”
“We enjoy the quality of life that cultivating provides. Being able to spend a majority of the year outside doing physically and emotionally fulfilling work, constantly learning new skills, and troubleshooting problems are really rewarding” – Hildi Gerhart
Wildercraft Farm is located in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino County. Known as a diverse region that has a long history of farming and agriculture — from sheep and cattle to apples and grapes. With the coastal influence on the weather, the temperatures don’t get as extreme as in other parts of the county. “The ocean is close enough for an afternoon trip; the wine is good and the community is friendly,” said the Wildercraft founders, Kristen Garringer and Jared Adams.
Kristen and Jared exude an infectious enthusiasm and love for cannabis farming. “Our favorite part of the cultivation process is all of it!” They find excitement in cracking seeds, starting clones, and planning for the season ahead. They love the dog days of summer when it’s about watering/amending and watching explosive growth; followed by the busy fall, with harvesting and curing. “Ultimately, the whole cycle is a wonderful teacher about attentiveness, perseverance, and thinking on your feet. These plants are going the distance and so must we!”
Kristen and Jared recently transitioned their license from light dep to an outdoor license. Before this change, they cultivated outdoor full-term cannabis and integrated light dep to try to meet the demands of the summer market. But they found the process to be a bit too hectic and not making sense with the needs of their property and how they wanted the whole cultivation process to flow. “The sun cycle and nature built in a wonderful process for plants to flourish and we’ve found that disrupting this cycle only creates more issues that have to be dealt with: tarps, lights, pests, power, etc.” They have continued transitioning all their gardens to in-ground hugels and raised beds. They consider the native soil and raised beds to be their favorite. No tilling. Use a cover crop, drop, add some compost, and plant!
These farmers love every single cultivar they grow and with which they have a loving relationship. But sometimes there are favorites. “We have cultivated Mendo Crumble the last few seasons and she is fun to grow!! She is robust like a seed plant and takes any adversity in stride. She’s very resistant to pests, mold, and mildew and she is just a happy plant to be around! Vibrant and green and always tracking towards the Sun.”
The rural life of homesteading and problem solving are aspects of cannabis cultivation that Kristen and Jared find very inspiring, not to mention how phenomenal the whole lifecycle of cannabis is to witness and steward. They fell in love with the cannabis plant and the whole process of farming — an experience that ultimately led to buying a parcel of land in the Anderson Valley and starting a homestead that became Wildercraft Farm. As Avery notes, “It has been an intense learning curve and one that I am happy to have taken on. Homesteading is not for the faint of heart! Neither is farming!”
Hive Mendocino farms are all certified Simply Clean by The Cannabis Conservancy. The criteria set by this certification ensures their farmers practice excellent attention to detail and cultivate responsibly with constant consideration for our planet. This is craft cannabis done right. You can learn about Hive Mendocino™’s beautiful, craft flowers at https://www.hivemendocino.coop/
Hive Mendocino™ is a farmer-owned cooperative of cannabis cultivators who provide bulk wholesale, exceptional craft cannabis. Pre-order online. https://www.hivemendocino.coop/preorder-bulk-wholesale-cannabis
Thinking of forming a cooperative? Hive Mendocino™ welcomes your contact and will be glad to help with advice. Write to [email protected]
Hive Mendocino members offer farm tours displaying to visitors a first-hand view of how their bulk craft cannabis is grown sustainably and responsibly. For some purchasers, custom plantings are desired, and Hive works with them to organize a plan that meets that need. The folks in Hive Mendocino seek to create lasting partnerships with their clients and they encourage anyone to reach out to them to explore any project they have in mind.
Jared Adams grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, and has a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute in Sculpture/New Media. Jared leaped from Mendocino County in 2009, and to Anderson Valley in 2013 transferring his skills from a background in creative arts, artisan production, and fabrication to the problem solving and creativity required in farming and homesteading.
Courtney Bailey, her partner, and their 47 animals spend their time operating a ranch in the Anderson Valley. When she is not focused on the compliance and business operations side of the 15,000 SF mixed-light cultivation and nursery, you can find her volunteering at the food bank, making kombucha, and preaching the benefits of micro-dosing mushrooms for anxiety.
Chris Butler is a third-generation cinematographer with a gift for understanding the science behind cultivating cannabis and taking gorgeous pictures. He has been a ganja warrior for more than 15 years and is committed to preserving the culture of the industry while embracing and influencing positive changes.
Avery Edmonds is full-time devoted to caring for the gardens on the two properties, working long days and getting excited as the girls start to transition. And while the plants are his focus, he carves out time to help Hildi with anything license or business-related, whenever she needs it. Avery also takes some swims as well as staying involved in outside community commitments.
Kristen Garringer grew up on farms in rural West Virginia in a back-to-the-land community. She joined Jared on the farm in 2017 and also works with Origins Council, a state-wide non-profit with a vision of legacy, cannabis-producing regions around the world that will drive global sustainable development and regenerative agriculture.
Hildi Gerhart balances her time between outdoor cultivation, the demands of the County and State regulatory process, and keeping the business running. Between all that, there isn’t a lot of free time, but there are dips in the pond to cool off from the summer heat and quick trips east to visit family.
David O’Donnell made his trek to California from Minnesota in the 1970s. Before starting their cannabis farm, David worked as a carpenter – a skill that pays off in rural living many times over.
Sara O’Donnell has been a resident of Mendocino County for nearly 50 years, first moving to the county in 1970 as part of the back to the land movement. Sara was also a candle maker and executive director of a local non-profit for twenty-two years. Sara loves her family, her community, social justice, Denali and Numi, the family’s two Siberian Husky Rascals, the beauty and quiet of the redwoods, and the stars in the brilliant sky above the Sweet Sisters’ garden.
Photo credit for all photos: Chris Butler
Editor: Jude Thilman serves as Vice-Chair of MCA and is the owner of Dragonfly Wellness Center, a medically-focused dispensary on the Mendocino Coast, between Fort Bragg and Mendocino Village.