Republished from SKUNK Volume 10, Issue 6
I GREW UP in an ethnic neighborhood and during the spring people would plant. Every backyard had a garden, and front porches were usually cluttered with pots filled with tomatoes or other veggies. While the men usually did the tilling and the heavy lifting, it was mostly the moms who tended to the garden’s daily needs, and who were ultimately responsible for the health and success of the grow.
Later on when I was married, the same scene played out in my home. I would carry earth and dig holes, but it was my wife who decided what and where to plant. And, she did it well, as before long our property was lush with flowers, fruit and food.
Women have always played a large role in planting and farming, whether it is food for the family or cannabis for health and recreation. But unlike the coveted bragging rights, resulting from growing the sweetest tomato or reddest rose, the ladies weren’t really lining up to claim the accolades for growing the best pot.
A lot has changed.
It is now safer to come out as legalization takes hold in many places and just like I guessed, women cannabis growers are everywhere and staking their claim as some of the world’s most accomplished breeders and growers. Here is one of them.
When I was four years old, my mother began working for a pot farmer here in the hills of Mendocino. I remember playing with my dolls under the plants while my mom was working in the garden.
When I was seven, my mom began working a property herself. This is my first experience with helping in the garden. It was just she and I out in the middle of nowhere. We lived in a tent for a year; cooked over a campfire and hauled water to the garden by hand. I was seven yearws old and spent a good portion of my day tending the garden.
Two years later, my mom bought her own property and continued growing. At ten years old, I grew my first plant. I think it must have totaled less than a pound. My mom purchased it from me and I used the money to buy a horse.
Although, I have taken breaks from growing to do things like travel and get a degree, there is something in me that has always known cannabis would be an integral part of my life.
If my parents had been lawyers, I may have done that instead, but I got lucky, my mom was a cannabis farmer.
I watched my mother breed her own strains back in the 70s, but I didn’t try my hand at it until a few years ago. I’ve been around breeders and growers my whole life, so there was no mystery. It seemed like a logical extension to being a serious grower.
I have a passion for growing cannabis, but what keeps me here is not only the plant, it’s the community, the people, the strong bonds between those of us in this lifestyle. This is where I belong.
SKUNK: Welcome Ele, it’s easy to see how your mom played an integral role in your decision to become a grower, an unconventional occupation in most areas. What common traits do you and your mom share that inspire the passion necessary to do what you do and at such a high level?
Lady Ele: My mom was a single parent in the early 70’s who wanted to get off of welfare and be self-sufficient. She decided that growing cannabis was her way to do that. She was anti-establishment, and she didn’t want her daughter becoming another drone, so she moved us 13 miles up a dirt road where she didn’t even have a vehicle. I think she was trying to ensure that I would become my own person before the peer pressures of the young had any influence on who I would become. I will be eternally grateful for that, although as a child, it was hard growing up without many other kids.
Life wasn’t easy back then, and my mom was a very hard worker. Something I have really only learned to appreciate about her since I came back to Mendo and started growing again. She put in her own gardens by carrying bags of amendments on her back one at time through the woods. My mom was a bad ass. From her I learned not to be afraid of hard physical labor, and I learned that anything worth doing, is worth doing right the first time. She taught me that it is possible to thrive, even without running water or electricity. I also learned that the life of a farmer is precarious, and I should never get too comfortable. A grower is always playing catch-up with Mother Nature.
Women are just beginning to receive their dues as expert growers and breeders but experiences like yours and many others demonstrate that they played a significant role since the beginning, especially in the Northern Triangle area. What do you think is responsible for the change?
I think the change that is bringing more women (and more people in general) into the open is due mostly to the legalization of medical cannabis, which has been legal in the state of California for 18 years now. This means that a lot of the current growers were either young adults, or just kids when Prop. 215 passed. When you grow up with something being legal, it doesn’t have that stigma attached to it like it did in the 80s during the reign of CAMP (Campaign Against Marijuana Planting).
I don’t know how to explain to most people the fear that goes through you as a child of the 80s in the cannabis industry when you hear a helicopter, and know that armed men in Blackhawks may be coming for your parents, not just your gardens. I was taught to hide in the shadow of a tree whenever a helicopter went by, and to run to the neighbors if they came for my mom. The kids of today’s California, don’t have to think about this kind of stuff. It allows for a more open and free exchange of ideas in the cannabis industry. It allows people like you and me to talk about this stuff in a public forum without fear. Women have always been there. There are so many great female growers and breeders out there that just want to do their thing and not necessarily be in the spotlight, whereas men tend to gravitate toward the light more quickly. Just wait until legalization. All those amazing old school grower women who just too leery of the spotlight right now, they will be there in force. At least that’s my prediction.
You’ve been right by Leo’s side (Award-winning cannabis breeder and entrepreneur Leo Stone from Aficionado Seeds), since he won the Emerald Cup and vaulted into the pinnacle of grower’s consciousness. What are some of the contributions you’ve made to Aficionado and is it difficult to both work with and love your partner?
I’m a detail oriented person, so … Leo AND I won the Emerald Cup. He just likes the spotlight a bit more than me. We do the whole grow together, equally. As far as my contributions to Aficionado, I’m the COO and the CFO, so I do a whole lot. Leo wants to change the title on my business cards to Executive Whipcracker. I’m the one that makes sure things get done and that everybody is doing what they are supposed to be doing. Leo is the genius behind the brand. He’s the idea guy, but I’m the one who tells him if the idea is any good.
As far as working with and loving my partner. You have no idea. We live together, work together, play together. You know, my mom once told me that the key to a long relationship was being able to close a door between you on occasion. With Leo, I have learned the value of alone time. I think I’ve also taught him the difference between quantity time and quality time. We are both still learning from each other.
Tell me where you’ll be ten years from today? What do you want the world to look like?
This is a super difficult question to answer. I can’t even begin to predict the future. I can say, I see legalization coming, but judging by the struggles in Colorado and Washington, I don’t see it being an easy road for California. We have great representation (finally) in Sacramento, thanks to the Emerald Growers Association, so I can only hope that those of us who are Specialty Cultivators and get a chance to be heard when it comes time to write the bill that seems to be an inevitability in 2016. As far as where I’ll be in ten years, hopefully I’ll be doing whatever it is I love to do. Doing what you love makes going to work every day meaningful. It gives you a sense of accomplishment. At the end of the day, I get to look at the blisters on my hands, and know that I put in my best effort today. I think that’s the greatest thing a person can do for themselves.