Without Humboldt County, cannabis as we know it today would probably not exist. If that sounds like a bold statement, this guide aims to illustrate a humble county’s huge significance on the landscape of cannabis. From its impact on California & American cannabis, to the cultivation culture that it sparked around the world, Humboldt is revered by cannabis aficionados everywhere.
How Cannabis Came to Humboldt County
For almost fifty years, the epicenter of cannabis farming in the United States has been three quiet counties in northwestern California. These Counties – Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity – have become known as the “Emerald Triangle” due to their suitability for growing cannabis under natural sunlight.
Of these, Humboldt County is the most famous – and when the hippies in and around San Francisco escaped to Humboldt’s rural setting at the end of the 1960’s, they brought seeds of Mexican cannabis they had grown to love and planted them in their new gardens.
Via returning Vietnam war veterans – and other miscellaneous smuggling activity – cultivators acquired strains from South Asian regions, where high-altitude ‘kush’ plants had thrived for centuries. They used these more sedating genetics from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan and crossbred them with the more stimulating Mexican and Central American cannabis, creating ‘hybrid’ strains that offered both effects.
A huge factor in the hippies’ decision to migrate upstate was the growing disillusionment with an increasingly materialistic and status-obsessed society. As the rat race of city life intensified, the hippies sought out a simpler life that was more in tune with nature. They felt that it was necessary to move to create a better and more sustainable life for their children, and Humboldt was where many of them went.
With so many kindred spirits moving, the sense of community was strong, and that same community became the first generation of cannabis farmers in Humboldt. Cannabis cultivation simply became an extension of their ethos to live off the land, growing their own produce and trading with each other to sustain their community.
It is also worth noting that these hippies were helping to revive a dying local economy. Due to the collapse of the timber industry after decades of deforestation, the new arrivals to Humboldt were able to purchase land at very reasonable prices. Many of the plots bought became family farms and are still growing cannabis to this present day.
Cannabis Cultivation as a Way of Life
Cannabis cultivation became a way of life for several people in Humboldt, and as they started families, following generations grew up with their farming traditions. As the growers became more experienced, they learned they could use light deprivation to speed up the flowering process, and they selectively bred specific plants with each other to cultivate for the most desirable effects, scents, and appearances. The cultivation methods evolved with these newer generations, and in more recent years, farmers are using methods that actually enrich the land they grow on.
Regenerative Farming and Clean Cannabis
Cannabis can be an extremely resource intensive crop to cultivate, especially when grown indoors using hours of high-intensity lights and ventilation for months on end. Aside from these monetary costs, the environmental cost of indoor cultivation is another reason the cannabis industry should be encouraging growers to grow under natural sunlight where possible.
Humboldt’s ideal climate lead to a tradition of outdoor growing, which has evolved into a style of growing that gives their soil a greater vitality than commercial agriculture would.
These are known as biodynamic or regenerative farming methods, where a number of techniques are employed to ensure that soil is ‘regenerated’ and remains fertile with each harvest. Regenerative farming is very popular among Humboldt growers due to the positive impact it has on their land and crops.
One example of a regenerative farming technique is to use fallen trees as food for their soil – burying the tree several feet under the topsoil. Humboldt is also known for its awe-inspiring Redwood forests, and in the event a tree dies or is felled, it represents an opportunity to feed an entire crop of cannabis. As the tree decomposes, various types of fungi, insects and microbes create a living ecosystem below the ground.
When worms, beneficial microbes and other tiny creatures make their way around the soil, they release essential nutrients that feed the plant’s growth. The presence of an underground network of mushroom ‘roots’ – known as mycelium – are also beneficial to plant growth. The mushrooms above ground decompose & digest organic matter while the mycelium disperses it as waste into the soil, acting as a feeding system for the plant.
You Are What You Inhale
What type of feed a cannabis plant is given is actually a huge deal. Cannabis is a known bioaccumulator – meaning it pulls whatever is present in the soil or growing medium into its cell walls. If cannabis is fed with industrial fertilisers and chemical solutions, it will often retain traces of those chemicals in the harvested flower, which is then inhaled by the end consumer.
A cannabis plant that is grown using regenerative farming methods is grown in a nutrient-dense soil that is naturally supported by its own ecology, which means there is no potentially harmful chemicals left behind in sungrown regenerative cannabis. Just as we are careful with what we eat and how that affects us, we encourage cannabis lovers to consider the same thing when it comes to what we smoke.
A Symbiotic Relationship between Farmer and Cannabis
Soil that contains all this life is perfect for cannabis cultivation, full of minerals and rich in nutrients. Cannabis plants are given their preferred and natural diet, which means they grow as happy and healthy plants that produce exemplary herb. This symbiotic relationship with the land is an extension of the care Humboldt growers are renowned for putting into their cannabis, and producing some of the best cannabis around!
At Flore, we are passionate advocates of Humboldt grown cannabis due to the sustainability & regenerative nature of the farming techniques used by their growers, with several sungrown strains of our own promoting the legacy of Humboldt County.
What makes Humboldt County weed special?
Humboldt County is part of the “Emerald Triangle” – three counties in Northern California renowned for being some of the most ideal climates to cultivate cannabis in.
The unique combination of soil, sunlight, rainfall, wind currents and altitude makes Humboldt County a perfect setting for growing cannabis in natural conditions. The cultivators in Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity are true stewards of the land, and have developed an expertise that allows them to work with the natural elements to produce some of the most in-demand cannabis in the world.
Many of the strains loved across the world were bred, developed and perfected on a remote hill by these passionate farmers – who wanted nothing more than to produce the best bud they could. With decades of innovation and quality coming out of this relatively small area – Humboldt is around 4,000 square miles – its no surprise it has earned such a distinguished reputation.
True Legacy Cannabis Farmers
Perhaps most importantly, Humboldt cannabis farmers were doing all of the above in a time where cannabis was highly illegal. California legalized cannabis for medical use in 1996, and the current recreational law went into effect in 2018. This means that Humboldt County’s cannabis farmers have been facing persecution for the vast majority of their tenure.
During these times of prohibition, cannabis growers had to strategically grow their crop, hidden among the dense woodlands in the Humboldt hills. They were under constant surveillance from local, State and Federal police – a permanent target of Nixon’s “war on drugs” in the 1970’s and Reagan’s “just say no” campaign in the 1980’s. Nonetheless, as more people across America became aware of Humboldt-grown herb, demand increased and supply had to keep up.
The Heart of America’s Cannabis Cultivation
Despite the legal risks & dangers, the cannabis industry represented the best living that a Humboldt grower could make. This was especially true of cannabis that was shipped out of state, where farmers could get several times the street value in California. Along with the first medical dispensaries opening, many of them right here in San Francisco, Humboldt growers had a steady consumer base that was growing exponentially.
Along with the rest of California, Humboldt has produced the volume to satisfy the demand – it has been claimed that up to 70 percent of the cannabis consumed in America is grown in California.
For their renegade cultivation work during prohibition, their innovations in breeding and their ongoing passion for cannabis – Humboldt and the Emerald Triangle deserve the collective thanks of the cannabis community worldwide.
The Influence of Humboldt in Cannabis Cultivation Around The World
Humboldt’s reputation traveled farther than it’s cannabis could, and inspired fellow cannabis cultivators in other countries to start their own operations. While many of them were not able to grow in the same conditions, they were inspired by the approach and attitude. Various European countries developed an underground homegrow culture that is still prevalent to this day. Budding cultivators began traveling to other countries and continents, searching for new and unique genetics to grow.
Continued success of Humboldt grown cannabis
No one truly knows just how many strains were – and continue to be – bred and developed in the Humboldt hills, before being spread far and wide for cultivators everywhere to enjoy. On top of this incredible legacy, Humboldt is still producing a significant number of award-winning strains every year, frequently dominating the sungrown flower categories at prestigious events like the Emerald Cup.
This shows that cultivators in these areas have the expertise to continue setting standards for the best cannabis the state has to offer. As California’s cannabis industry matures and becomes more saturated with mediocre flower brands, the undeniable quality produced in Humboldt continues to stand out, burnishing its already stellar reputation in the cannabis community.
The importance of ‘Appellation’ and ‘Terroir’ to Humboldt and the Emerald Triangle
Since Prop 64 went into effect in 2018, Humboldt farmers have sought to protect the County’s name from being exploited by opportunistic cannabis brands. To achieve this, they would need the region to become a state-recognized appellation – a term that designates a specific region and gives producers permission to label a product as originating from that region.
A well-known example is Champagne, a name used to denote a sparkling wine from a particular region in France. Farmers that make their wines according to certain farming practices and production are then permitted to label them as originating from the specific region of Champagne, thereby protecting the integrity of winemaking in the region.
History is made in Humboldt
The request for the title of Appellation was approved thanks to the co-operative work of local government and the Humboldt County Growers Alliance, meaning that any cannabis grown and harvested in the Humboldt region can bear the County’s official emblem.
This makes Humboldt is the first of its kind in cannabis – the first region to obtain a certificate of authenticity that verifies the origins of a batch of cannabis flower.
Whereas appellation refers to a legal denomination of a specific region, terroir is a term that refers to a general area’s growing conditions – such as soil, geography and microclimate.
To clarify, Humboldt is a recognized appellation in cannabis, while it forms part of a larger terroir that encompasses the Emerald Triangle.
It is this terroir that is responsible for the majority of the hybridized strains that we can enjoy in today’s marketplace, thanks to the incredible innovation, stewardship and skill of Emerald Triangle farmers.
For all the reasons outlined here and more, we at Flore are passionate about celebrating this recognition of Humboldt as a pioneer in cannabis, which is reflected in the majority of our flower menu being sourced from Humboldt. Our in-house brand is specifically focused on Humboldt cannabis farms, thereby helping to elevate these farmers, the county’s status and share its incredible story. Our belief is that Humboldt produces the best flower in the world and by making our community aware of its significance, we hope that the legacy & cultivation methods of California’s cannabis heartland can be used as the North Star for the industry.
Terrance Alan has over 25 years in government advocacy creating both the San Francisco entertainment commission and the cannabis taskforce. He is co-president of the Castro merchant’s and co-chair of CMAC and C2K, both working on cannabis consumption. He designed, constructed and opened a boutique dispensary in the Castro District of San Francisco called Flore dispensary featuring carefully curated cannabis selections with an emphasis on small Humboldt far grown cannabis, social justice brands, equity brands, women owned brands and operates a compassion distribution program with Sweetleaf Joe.