Mendo Grown / Mendo Loved
What’s so Special about Mendocino cannabis, culture, and community? As the premier trade association in our county, the Mendocino Cannabis Alliance is devoted to serving our world-renowned cannabis cultivators and businesses through sustainable economic development, education, and public policy advocacy. MCA promotes the Special. Watch this space….
Sunbright Gardens Has a Recipe for a Successful Future
Story By: Monique Ramirez and Gus Stout
Editor: Jude Thilman
The Magic Recipe from Sunbright Gardens. Dig deep into the many stories of small craft cannabis cultivators in California and it would be hard to find a better example of farmers so totally dedicated to, and passionate about the three essential ingredients for growing cannabis with integrity while securing its future.
What are the magic three ingredients? #1 Total Commitment to Organic, Sustainable and Regenerative Farming Practices; #2 Hard-working dedication to community organizing to save our small, craft farmers; #3 A communally shared vision of the spiritual, medicinal, and inspirational energy that comes from a relationship to this amazing plant.
The Spirit Behind Sunbright Gardens
Sunbright Gardens is located on a mountain at the edge of the Mendocino /Trinity County line just a few miles from the North Fork of the Eel River. Monique Ramirez (Mo) and her partner Gus Stout, live in an off-grid home built by Gus, along with their three-year-old son, Kahlo. They grow 62 plants with a 2500 sq ft canopy outdoors and have been cultivating cannabis together for nearly 13 years.
Mo grew up in Placerville, California. Her youthful travels took her to Santa Cruz, where she worked waitressing tables, bartending, and in random office jobs. Then, on to Hawaii, where she lived on a farm, learning to grow vegetables. At the invitation of friends in Round Valley in Mendocino County, she moved back to California in 2008 to help out with their cannabis farm.
Gus made his way to cannabis from an experience that opened his mind to an alternative way of looking at plants and the earth. During high school, Gus was in a work apprenticeship program at the University of Arkansas, working in the plant pathology department. That work sparked an interest in plants but it also taught him about the reality of GMOs and the narrow approach to agriculture that dominated academic and industry research. Their mainstream approach focused on fixing one specific disease on one specific plant with little consideration of the larger context of biodiversity and the defining role it plays. Gus lost interest in that approach and left college.
Both Gus and Mo were drawn to the cannabis community culture in northern California. When she moved to Round Valley, Mo met amazing people that showed her an underground culture she didn’t know existed. To be sitting at a table with bins of cannabis surrounding her and trimming potent frosted flowers with scissors on a cookie sheet was, for Mo, a surreal feeling. Gus had this same feeling when he traveled to Humboldt County and met Papa Hippie, among a group of growers. In return for lending him a tent, Papa Hippie gifted Gus a smoky quartz crystal from Tibet. When Gus was then offered a caretaker position on a cannabis farm, it changed his life. He describes the transformation:
“The reward is your experience growing a plant and receiving the plant’s oxygen, its ability to sequester carbon and produce a sweet, delicious flower. Realizing that you were a part of helping it grow, you experience moments of solitude, deep self-reflection, and inner healing with the plant. It forces you to be with yourself in the moment.”
The communal aspect took Gus’ awareness to a new level.
“Being able to share the plant’s sweet floral summer essence with someone else through a pipe, joint, vaporizer or bong, with the hope that they may experience some moment of epiphany or bliss, and that it has the potential to change their life course or bring them to a new awareness — that’s the greatest reward of all. The plant potency has the power to unlock the human potential.”
Mo’s passion for cannabis extends beyond farming. She is also a seamstress, silversmith, embroiderer and loves to throw dance parties for her community and friends. She studied embroidery at Ecole Lesage in Paris in 2014/2015 and returned in 2017 to complete the Lesage embroidery program. She loves the southwest desert and takes an annual road trip each winter to collect turquoise for her jewelry creations and to get inspired by the amazing landscape of New Mexico.
“It’s always so interesting to see how many of the principles in jewelry making also apply to my everyday life and gardening. Like how to stay vigilant throughout a project, and to not give up when things get hard. That mistakes are beautiful because there’s always something to be learned and that if we set our mind to something, we can create anything.”
Power to the Flower
Mo and Gus believe in striving to do right by the land and give more than they take. Their cannabis is all grown from seed using local genetics from fellow legacy cultivators. Each plant is grown in the ground with a mix of native soil, local compost, and re-used garden soil from previous years. The plants are cultivated with bio-intensive gardening practices, such as double digging the soil by hand; they plant a cover crop each winter using vetch, red clover, fava beans, and snap peas which are folded into the soil in the spring before planting the cannabis in the ground. Their plants all benefit from the outdoor full sunshine and light of the moon. This method is natural for the plants and sustainable in that there is no use for lights or plastic tarps.
Gus and Mo brew their own compost teas; they water their gardens with a solar-powered pump from their well, which also produces fresh, clean drinking water. They plant vegetables, flowers, and herbs to promote biodiversity and support beneficial pollinators. In the peak of the summer, not a day goes by where you won’t see butterflies, hummingbirds, dragonflies, and honey bees buzzing around the garden. They raise chickens for eggs and meat and sell eggs at the local farmers’ market in the spring and summer months.
Their farm is off-grid using solar panels to power all their needs. Their self-built home consists of many recycled building materials, including recycled denim for some of the insulation. They use non-toxic paints on the walls and were committed to using cloth diapers for their son when he was a baby. They live a simple off-grid lifestyle that concretely confirms their intent to continue to be stewards of the magical land that is beautiful Mendocino County.
“We grow cannabis because it gives us freedom. Cannabis gives us freedom to create a life for ourselves without having to work for someone else’s dreams. The most precious gift of all is the ability to watch our son Kahlo grow up because we both get to be at home and not at an office. We really believe this is not just about being organic in our gardening practices but a way of life. We hope our regenerative values will inspire others to help make the world a better place for generations to come just as other amazing cannabis farms have inspired us.”
We Can’t Do it Alone
Mo speaks also of her “passion for truth, justice, and democracy for all.” Mo and Gus have a vision that is simple, but unique in an industry, or a society for that matter, where the prominent value is individual competition and “Look out for #1”. Mo sees it differently. “We can’t be successful unless we’re all thriving together. After all, what good is your life without a community to share it with?”
Mo started the Covelo Cannabis Advocacy Group in 2017 when Mendocino County was about to adopt a new cannabis ordinance. The Covelo district didn’t have a supervisor representing them on the County Board, leaving their community without representation during crucial meetings about that ordinance.
The Covelo Cannabis Advocacy Group has served as a platform for Sunbright Gardens, as well as the 30+ cannabis farms in the Covelo area. To ensure their region is plugged into the whole County effort to support small cannabis farms, Mo serves on the Policy Committee for the Mendocino Cannabis Alliance, whose mantra is “We’re Stronger Together.”
“Having alliances such as MCA and organized groups like CCAG advocating for the needs of small farmers is a crucial component to getting our voices heard by the policymakers that impose regulations on us. We are grateful to be aligned with groups that put so much energy into advocating for policy reform and offer so much support to the farms of our county.”
Mo believed that it would take coming together as a group to effectively advocate for their needs. “I rallied everyone to come together and help get Covelo on the radar of the Board of Supervisors. AND it worked! It led to Covelo being included in the Accommodation district, to help the smallest cottage legacy operators have a chance to keep cultivating in their residential neighborhoods.”
Mo states clearly the philosophy behind community organizing:
“It’s about the WE, not the ME. If my community is thriving then that means the people are thriving too. We want to preserve the amazing resources we have in our valley and bring people together. We need to take this opportunity to shift the mindset of how cannabis farming should be done. This way, we can create models that can work for each community. We have a lot of passion and dedication in our group and I just feel so honored to be a part of it all.”
Sunbright Gardens is proud to be Sun+Earth certified, a member of the Round Valley Co-op, CCAG, MCA, Mendocino Producers Guild and Mendocino Generations. You can find their current flower offerings, send them a message, as well as learn more about their farm by following them at their website:
Photo credits: Monique Ramirez and Gus Stout
Monique Ramirez was born and raised in California and has been growing cannabis for over 13 years. In addition to cannabis, community, and the earth, she is also passionate about art, music, color and all things vintage! In her “spare time”, she loves making playlists for house parties, sewing and making jewelry.
Gus Gardner Stout has a background in plant pathology, which he has developed to include the biosphere that surrounds all plants and animals. His spiritual connection to the cannabis plant and community strengthens his commitment to be a shepherd of the earth and its bounty.
Editor: Jude Thilman serves as Co-Chair of MCA and is owner of Dragonfly Wellness Center, a medically-focused dispensary on the Mendocino Coast, between Fort Bragg and Mendocino Village.
What’s so Special about Mendocino cannabis, culture, and community? As the premier trade association in our county, the Mendocino Cannabis Alliance is devoted to serving our world-renowned cannabis cultivators and businesses through sustainable economic development, education and public policy advocacy. MCA promotes the Special. Watch this space….