By some estimates, there are about 20,000 cannabis farms in the County of Sonoma. Many are small, independent cannabis growers. But only one has a name as kickass as Dirt Ninja Farm.
Not only does Dirt Ninja Farm deliver a deft karate chop in the naming department, it is committed to beyond-organic, sun-grown, permaculture-based farming.
We chat with Jesika, one of the founders of Dirt Ninja Farm, about what it means to be “beyond organic,” using CBD as a daily vitamin, and the challenges of running a small cannabis farm on the right side of the law.
How did you get involved in the cannabis industry?
I got into the industry 15 years ago due to personal interest as well as circumstances falling into place. I had ovarian cancer in my early 20s and got a medical marijuana card. But I saw a dearth of clean, transparent cannabis products since there was no required testing back then.
It was anybody’s guess what the products contained, which is still true today to a certain degree since there’s still currently no testing required in California. We also knew very little about the effects of CBD and terpenes back then.
I wanted more out of cannabis, including more disclosure. I wanted to help and make sure the product was truly clean, especially for those who were using it as part of a medical treatment.
Tell me about the founding of Dirt Ninja Farm.
In my late 20s, I moved from San Francisco, California to Sonoma County. I grew grew up in the country and was ready to be out of the city. I love being outside and having my hands in the dirt. My partner and I started growing five years ago. Not long after that, we started calling ourselves Dirt Ninja Farm and created a social media presence.
The name Dirt Ninja Farm refers to Ninja our beloved farm cat. And because we are ninjas of dirt who turn dirt into living soil.
You mention “beyond organic.” What is exactly is beyond-organic cannabis farming?
We use the term “beyond organic” for a couple reasons. One, as cannabis growers, we can’t label our product organic because it’s a federally regulated term. Second, although organic is great, it’s just a starting point. There are organic farms that grow mono crops, creating pollinator deserts with nothing for the bees.
I have a degree in sustainable agriculture, and Dirt Ninja Farm is focused on creating a permaculture — a closed-loop, sustainable, and self-efficient agriculture system. We just moved our farm, so we are starting again and have to build up a new system. This includes chickens, rabbits, bees, composting, growing things for compost teas, and using soils that are inoculated wth native bacteria and fungi.
Which strains do you grow on your cannabis farm?
We’ve really gotten into CBD. We first started experimenting with it four years ago and gotten more into it the last couple years. Now half the farm is dedicated to CBD strains while the other half is planted with THC strains.
We grow Ringo’s Gift, and the cutting we work with has a staggering 25:1 ratio of CBD to THC. We also made a cross of Ringo’s Gift and Northern Lights with 16% CBD and 5% THC. We love CBD for its medical properties, THC/CBD ratios, terpenes, and other compounds.
Cannabis strains can affect each person differently. My dad is allergic to lavender, so he’s sensitive to the corresponding terpene linalool.
What are the current challenges of running a California cannabis farm?
Up until now, the only way California cannabis growers could legally operate is to sell to members with medical marijuana cards. Our members buy from us directly or subscribe to a monthly farm box that includes cannabis and non-cannabis products from our farm.
So the focus for us for quite some time has been the medical market. But we would like to be part of the recreational market as well as the medical. We’re not exactly sure how everything will shake out when legalization rolls out in 2018. For example, there’s a proposal to cap recreational marijuana at 100 mg, so will it be the same for medical?
Also, since we have a full-time staff of just three people, I do everything in the business — from growing the plant to harvesting to making products and packaging. We also have seasonal staff, but it’s hard to find and hold on to reliable workers who are trustworthy and a good match. This might become easier as cannabis farming comes out of the shadows and move into legality.
Speaking of legalization, how has it impacted your cannabis farm?
We are coming into compliance with Sonoma County regulations so we can apply for a state license next year. But it’s been kind of a shit show with a lot of setbacks. Then the Sonoma fires happened in October, so a lot of cannabis initiatives are on pause.
Also, many cannabis farmers would rather operate in the incredibly huge black market than pay for the county permit, higher taxes, and required upgrades — which will add up to tens of thousands of dollars. This creates more challenges for us and those who operate on the right side of the law, because we won’t be able to compete on price.
By some estimates, there are 20,000 cannabis growers in Sonoma County. The county expected to receive 2,000 applications for permits, but only 77 applied. Most were dispensaries and well-known growers. The county extended the due date of applications from August 31, 2017 to October 31, 2017, but then the fires happened.
In the end, with all the taxes and cost of regulation, it may make more financial sense for us to be egg producers!
Was your cannabis farm impacted by the recent Sonoma fires?
We were close to the Tubbs fire and to the pocket fire, but our cannabis farm didn’t get burnt. We did have to tent the farm and wash the plants, which we typically do with our sun-grown plants upon harvest anyway.
We don’t know in that what’s in the air due to the fire, so we’ve sent plant samples to a lab to make sure everything is clean. While we weren’t personally affected, everyone knows someone who lost something. [To donate to the cannabis farmers and workers impacted by the Sonoma fires, please see a list of organizations at the end of this post.]
Do you have any personal favorites when it comes to strains?
My two favorites this year and last year are Grapfruit OG, which won at Terpestival (a terpenes festival), and So Hum Lights, which is our cross of Ringo’s Gift and Northern Lights.
Any favorite cannabis-infused recipes to share?
One of my favorite recipes is lightly medicated hummus made with Grapefruit OG and olive oil. I basically see CBD as a daily vitamin and pretty regularly eat MoonMan’s Mistress cookies, which are organic and made with our flowers in a gluten-free free facility.
That sounds delicious. Let’s continue talking about food. What is the one item in your fridge you can’t do without?
Okay, say we’re heading up to Sonoma. What are your favorite spots?
I like SHED in Healdsburg, mushroom hunting at Salt Point, hiking the Sonoma coast, and letting the dogs run around the beaches.
Thank you, Jesika!
Organizations to consider donating to to help those impacted by the Sonoma fires:
CA Growers Wildfire Relief Fund
The Community Foundation of Mendocino County Disaster Fund
YouCaring Redwood and Potter Valley Fire Fund
Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund
Redwood Credit Union North Bay Relief Fund
Napa Sonoma General Relief Fund