THE EMERALD CUP, the world’s premier outdoor organic harvest celebration and cannabis competition, emerged out of the rural farming community in Mendocino County, spearheaded by Tim Blake, his family and friends. They moved from a hippy lifestyle in Santa Cruz to the Mendo hills and created Area 101, a cultural center for the cannabis community in Laytonville California, the heart of the Emerald Triangle. Growers of the region met annually for a decade until they reached maturity, then blossomed into the 11th annual Emerald Cup at the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds, drawing 12,500 marijuana freedom supporters, led by farmers.
The Mendocino County cannabis majority are treated like borderline outlaws, despite having doctors’ approvals. They comprise small family gardens and cooperative farms, celebrating the harvesting of the medicine, sharing seeds, strains, organic tips and prosecution hardships. They are the heart and soul of country growers, some living in the shadows of prohibition, others coming out to embrace the future.
Marijuana cultivation has thrived in the shadows, proving itself sustainable to large numbers of people over several decades. It is widely believed to be two thirds of the county’s economic base and a budding voter bloc.
After 77 years of prohibition, a sense of community and family unity has grown up out of necessity. Tim and Taylor Blake defied the odds by forming a formidable father-daughter cannabis production team to take on the mushrooming challenge. In the most authentic sense, The Emerald Cup 2014 is a family affair.
Taylor, how’d it go — your first time co-producing The Emerald Cup, the world’s only outdoor organic cannabis competition, hosting 12,500 people with an unprecedented 700 flower entries. No small feat!
This year’s event blew us away! It was much bigger than we even hoped for so it was amazingly gratifying, knowing how much hard work went into planning it and to see so many people enjoying themselves there.
There are so many aspects to our show–organizing the contests, speaker panels, vendors, music acts–that it can become extremely overwhelming. But all of the stress was completely worth it and I can’t wait to start working on this year’s event.
Was it a family thing–you and Tim knowing each other well–that made it jell?
It’s an interesting thing to work with your family, let alone your dad. We definitely know each other very well and trust each other unconditionally. Sometimes we know each other a little too well which leads to amusing little arguments. At the end of the day, though, I am honored to work with Tim and run The Emerald Cup as part of Team Blake.
Did growing up as the daughter of Tim Blake, founder of The Emerald Cup, prepare you for your role as associate producer?
It definitely prepared me for the workload. I have worked on the past seven Emerald Cups, so I’ve seen the progression of the planning involved. Seeing first hand the work it took for the success of our first year at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds really helped. Also seeing how much my dad has put into it the past eleven years–mentally, financially, physically–has given me such a respect for this event. It’s given me an attitude and positive pressure to perform, no matter what.
This event is Tim’s legacy, so I have set a high standard for myself to uphold that level of dedication. Seeing what he has turned The Emerald Cup into has inspired me in my own life. It has taught me to never give up on my dreams.
What insights have you gleaned from this experience?
My greatest insights are the power of an idea, having a strong team of people around you and working with everything you have in you to complete your goals. Our whole team had the idea that we were going to set up a professional looking cannabis grower community driven event, with organic food, music and education. We worked all year to pull that together.
As I walked through the event and saw all the people and experiences being had, it was extremely humbling. We just wanted to bring the community together and celebrate the hard work of outdoor cannabis farmers. So it was really amazing to see the amount of people who supported that same idea. We had a really hard working team this year; without them the event wouldn’t have been possible.
This year was a huge learning curve for me. I am excited to continue growing in my career, making the event the best that it can be.
What were some of the hurdles, pluses and minuses?
We passed many hurdles that year, some of which we didn’t think we would manage to overcome. One of the first hurdles was the Lodge Lightening Complex Fire in August that happened right behind our family property and threatened our whole community. It was a very stressful few weeks, sitting helplessly waiting to hear if your land and livelihood would be consumed by the fire.
When the fire was finally put out, it gave us all even more drive to succeed this year because we had a new appreciation for the opportunity. It takes a lot to run an event of this size, while also running our own outdoor cannabis farm and having to deal with the technical struggles of being so remote in the mountains.
The past 11 years, we’ve run The Emerald Cup out of my dad’s home just north of Laytonville on his home phone line with satellite internet and very little working cell phone reception. With how much the event has grown, we’ve decided to change that this year to improve our efficiency and communication. It was my first year in this position so I feel the great amount I learned in just one year will greatly help us improve in the future.
How influential has your family been in your life?
My family has probably been the most influential thing in my life. I’ve been blessed to have a very large diverse supportive community around me.
You’ve evolved with the plant all your life. What influence has your long time association with an illegal plant had on your consciousness and confidence?
When I was younger I was embarrassed or even ashamed at times of my affiliation with cannabis because of the way it was viewed in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. It wasn’t until I reintegrated myself back in the cannabis community and saw the power behind so many voices standing against traditional views that I was pushed to expand both my consciousness and my confidence. I truly learned a respect for the plant and the people who dedicate their lives to it. The community inspires me. Having an association with an illegal plant has given me a mental framework that allows me to think outside the box by nature.
The majority of people I know in the cannabis industry are educated conscious healers, activists, horticulturalists; most of them work with their families, their kids, their communities, and don’t belong in jail for working with cannabis.
Could you describe your childhood, Tim’s relationship with you within the family and how that affected your later choices?
Looking back, I had a rather unconventional childhood. Until I was in about third grade, my family lived in Santa Cruz CA. I grew up in a beautiful home with tons of friends and family coming by. My sisters and I always had new toys and clothes. All in all, I had a rather normal middle class upbringing up to that point. My dad was always busy working, but at the end of the day, always made time for us. Even though he has always been an extremely hard worker, he has also always been a big kid at heart. He’d get all the kids on our block into huge games of hide and seek or kickball or take us to a toy store and buy toys for all of us. He certainly had the ability to be silly and make us all laugh.
I would say I was rather unaware of what Tim exactly did at that time, career wise. I was slightly aware of things happening around me but it wasn’t until he was arrested that I fully understood. It was then explained to me what cannabis was and that what he was doing was illegal and that he was going to have to go to jail.
My whole world changed at that point. My mom moved my two sisters and me to Spokane, Washington to live with my aunt. We had a drastic lifestyle change. We joke about it now, but my mom tried to move us away from being in the cannabis industry as kids. She was no doubt concerned about our safety. Regardless of her efforts, my sister and I have both clearly embraced the industry.
To go back in time: where were you born; how old are you; how many sisters/brothers/children do you have?
I was born in Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz. I’m 30. I have two older sisters and six nieces and nephews but no children of my own. My sisters have graciously taken the family pressure of having kids off of me and I love being an auntie.
What did you mean that life changed when Tim got busted? What consequences were there?
A lot of big changes happened around that time for my whole family. Between the move to Washington and my dad not being around, a lot of what I had known and built my identity on changed. Even though it was challenging, it gave me character and a sense that your whole life can change in an instant, so to be humble and appreciative of what you have.
Tim was in jail for a little under a year. We were living in Washington at the time. I only visited him once. It gives me such great respect for the families and children of those who are incarcerated because even my short experience was difficult.
Have you ever faced law enforcement action or felt afraid that you might?
I have never personally received any legal action but I have definitely been afraid of it at certain times in my life. I think that most people in the cannabis industry always have that fear in the back of our minds. It’s one of the things I’m looking forward to the most about legalization — that fear going away for all of us.
What influential people have you met that you’ll never forget?
The people who have influenced me the most are the ones that had an idea or a passion and they worked really hard to make it bigger than themselves. Some of those people are Jack Herer, Valerie Corral from WAMM, Rick Doblin From MAPS among others. The work and research they have influenced is inspiring. So to meet people you look up to is extremely memorable.
How do you feel about the possibility of children or grandchildren in your family being seized in a raid, due to the parents’ association with marijuana, even for medical purposes.
It would be terrifying. Both of my sisters are such amazing mothers — my nieces and nephews have grown up in safe and loving homes — so that possibility would be tragic.
Can you say a few words about your relationship with the cannabis plant?
My first cannabis experience was like most kids. While I was in Washington, I just started smoking with my friends in high school. I didn’t really smoke a ton growing up. It wasn’t until I went to visit my dad about 10 years ago when I was around 20, that I gained a better appreciation of cannabis. Tim was telling me all about this flower that was completely purple and was really popular in California. His explanation and enthusiasm prompted me to decide to try cannabis again. That was the moment that really changed my perception and started my relationship with cannabis.
I believe there is a cannabis product for each person, whether that is flowers, concentrates, CBD dominant strains, etc. You just have to find something that is right for you and then you will be able to find your niche.
How would life change if prohibition ended & cannabis freedom became a reality?
Wow, that is quite the million dollar question in California right now. I believe legalization for our state is right around the corner. I’ve been inspired to see small cannabis farmers start to band together in political action groups to influence regulations.
I lean toward being idealistic, that life would change for the better; individuals would stop being incarcerated; cannabis would become more acceptable to the greater public; a lot more research would happen in the US. With the size of the cannabis industry here, lt’s really important for us to unify as a whole community and have our voices be heard.
The Emerald Cup has women in leading roles, Samantha as last year’s producer, you as this year’s associate producer, Kristin Nevedahl coordinating all day grow workshops, a link-up with Julie at SKUNK Magazine, among many others. Why are women important to the future of The Emerald Cup?
It’s important to encourage women to be in leading roles in the cannabis industry as a whole, and especially at our event. Historically, the cannabis industry has been a very male dominant community. But there are so many females who grow amazing flowers, produce world class hash, are out there fighting for our rights as farmers and bringing our community together. It’s really important to promote more strong female voices everywhere.