Growing for Good on a Family Farm
written by Gina Williams
It’s a beautiful spring morning at East Fork Cultivars in southern Oregon’s lush Illinois Valley. The Siskiyou mountains, dusted with fresh snow, are shining in the distance beneath a perfect blue sky. Wildflowers are blooming and the farm’s rich soil is freshly tilled for the June planting.
But Sierra, Chantrelle and Corrina Corrina, the farm’s resident llamas, aren’t having it. We interlopers rudely interrupted their pasture nap and they’re obviously less than pleased.
Back at the greenhouse, where young plants are being readied for transfer to the fields, Aaron Howard, co-founder & farm manager, and Mason Walker, CEO, explain that the property was previously a llama ranch and the ladies came with the deal. Despite their attitude, they fit right in to the OLCC licensed and Clean Green Certified® farm’s ethos of working the land with pride and commitment to sustainability.
Brothers Aaron and Nathan Howard didn’t come into the cannabis business easily. The pair had one goal in mind when they got started: grow a variety of high CBD (Cannabidiol) cultivars for their late brother, Wes, who suffered from a wide range of medical conditions. Today, they remain committed to both CBD and being good stewards of the land.
“Cannabidiol, CBD, is a compound that has significant medical benefits. And until very recently it’s been the forgotten and neglected cannabinoid by general consumers and the public,” said Aaron Howard. “For decades, consumers have favored almost exclusively THC dominant strains. This trend all but eviscerated CBD genetics and flower from the market. We’re now at the cusp of a consumer trend reversal and doing our best to act as a catalyst to further the understanding and demand of high-CBD cultivars.”
Walker described CBD, which does not produce as strong of the “stoned” feeling associated with THC, as having the effect of drinking a craft beer versus moonshine.
Jeremy Plumb, a respected Oregon cannabis expert, said while THC cannabis shouldn’t be discounted, as current research shows it also has beneficial properties, he credits East Fork, the only recreational cannabis operation focused solely on propagating CBD varieties, with bringing back neglected strains and educating consumers. An advocate for both scientific and sustainable approaches to cultivating and growing cannabis, Plumb said additional research is needed to help growers and consumers further understand the benefits of all varieties.
East Fork is also unique in that the farm’s sun-grown plants are cultivated in native soil, unusual for the industry, with compost tea created on-site as one of the only soil amendments. Rows of wildflowers chosen to attract beneficial insects are planted alongside the cannabis to mitigate the need for pesticides. And an eco-friendly drip irrigation system ensures efficient water use.
Listening to Howard and Walker talk about their farming practices sounds more like wine than weed. The terroir of the Illinois Valley, Aaron Howard said, imparts a unique smell, taste and effect to their products. And the farm is located between the East fork of the Illinois River and the Siskiyou Wilderness, an area some consider the “wine country” of sun-grown cannabis in Oregon. East Fork is licensed to grow one acre of cannabis on the 10-acre property.
The farm is also committed to socially responsible employment practices, getting to net-zero energy consumption within the next year and will soon launch a local “give back program” supporting its Josephine County community.
By the end of 2017, Walker said East Fork expects to double its workforce to ten full time employees.
“That’s pretty amazing on a 10-acre family farm,” he said.
Across the field, even the llamas seem impressed.