When the southern plains had been parched by over-farming pioneers, great winds would sweep walls of dust across the land. When all wealth had dried up, families headed west to California. It is this story of the Dust Bowl that won John Steinbeck the Pulitzer prize and planted the Salinas Valley within the collective American mythology. In the 1930s it was this valley where internal migrants found prosperity, but “the Salad Bowl of the World” is now drying up and repeating history.
It is there among scarred fields and the remaining lettuce and strawberry patches that Christina DiPaci and her cannabis company Paradiso took to the land. Along with two childhood friends, DiPaci created the brand with the Earth and the goodness it brings in mind.
“As a cannabis farmer you’re growing a medicinal plant even if you use it recreationally,” DiPaci said in a recent interview with Honeysuckle. “It really makes you think about how we grow other plants, how we use other plants, how we use plastics, how we use synthetics, how people exist on this Earth and how we use the Earth for resources, the role that we play as stewards on the Earth.”
Paradiso now uses 200,000 square feet of the Salinas Valley for mixed-light, controlled environment greenhouses. With carefully tended plants they curate high-THC strains on-trend for California. DiPaci talks about the buds like any doting plant mom: “It’s pretty weed, it’s purple and it’s crystal-y.” She describes the company with the same devotion. The trio of founders started the venture with a desire to create a connoisseur-level product while rejecting antiquated ideas of farming, cannabis cultivation, and male supremacy.
“A lot of these systems are failing right now and they have been for a while,” DiPaci said. “They’ve been propped up in the name of wealth that’s starting to get called out on a massive scale because this is the first year we’re really feeling the dramatic, undeniable effects of climate change. Especially being out West, we just had a big fire season; we had very little rain. So you’re always asking, ‘What’s my role in this?’ especially as the cannabis industry gets bigger and bigger and more legalization happens.”
Paradiso first began in Humboldt County north of Sacramento under grand trees and in the heart of OG cannabis cultivation. Their operation was surrounded by multi-generational farmers whom DiPaci felt were less than thrilled about a female-owned cannabis company. Upon surviving the lean start-up years, the operation moved to Salinas, an area once synonymous with fertility. However, after decades of monoculture planting, tilling, and extensive pesticide usage, the topsoil was far beyond the toxicity limits allowed by clean cannabis laws.
“We’re in greenhouses that were for 40-50 years large-scale floriculture,” DiPaci said. “The amount of chemicals and pesticides that were put on those flowers for production are still lingering. So we can’t plant into the soil of our greenhouses; they’re insanely toxic.”
Using footed pots to avoid contamination, Paradiso managed to continue the experimentation of growth. To combat pests, they introduce spiders. To attract helpful insects, they plant marigolds and alyssums. They use garlic juice and essential oils to take care of whatever invaders remain, and they release bacteria to combat fungi.
Through an intimate connection with the greenhouse’s ecosystem, DiPaci and the budtenders realized that every time surrounding broccoli or lettuce fields were tilled, they would receive an influx of unwelcomed spider-mites. It is for this along with reducing a soil’s ability to retain water that those in regenerative agriculture reject soil tilling. With more sporadic weather, inconsistent rainfall, and progressively worse fire seasons, DiPaci doesn’t think sustainable practices can wait.
“You’re just a part of this system and you need to learn more about what’s happening in your system. Nature loves complexity, so how can you diversify your system.”
DiPaci says this trial and error of start-ups and farming along with an attention to detail helped Paradiso survive when competitors fell to the oversaturated California market. She thinks it’s her attachment to the creative process and adherence to the laws of nature that helped the little farm that could thrive. The brand’s packaging and accessories designs draw the consumer’s eye with elements representing West Coast beach culture, all palm trees, sun, and waves, distinguishing it from the smoky or muted aesthetics of many other cannabis companies.
DiPaci thanks her artistic background for these skills. Creating helped her develop the process of keeping an eye out for little victories and then expanding upon them. With a bachelor’s in art and a master’s in scientific illustration, she was always inspired by the Earth.
“I think there’s nothing more fascinating than being in a garden,” she said. “The way life takes shape and the way life takes forms and the way life changes those forms and dies and recreates—it’s so surprising and there are so many textures and forms and colors. You think you can control it but you can’t.”
Paradiso keeps their connection to the Earth in mind when choosing packaging as well. With glass jars, recycled lids, and groovy tins for rolling papers, they hope consumers will recycle or, ideally, reuse. Their rolling papers are made of rice, therefore eco-friendly but also, in DiPaci’s opinion, providing the best burn. She thinks consumers are drawn to this “thoughtful, mindful approach.” As an artist, she works intimately with the packaging team to provide a modern Earth-mother feel to everything Paradiso puts out into the world.
“In 2013 and ‘14 we saw what the industry was like,” DiPaci said. “Going to those trade shows, everyone is like ‘We have a booth and we have half-naked ladies.’ So when it was our chance to make a consumer-facing brand, we wanted it to be approachable for everyone while being mindful that other people are buying weed besides guys.”
DiPaci jokes that she made a cannabis company just so she could become a creative director. With merch beyond cannabis, there is a great deal for her to take charge of. She is the only female in Paradiso’s trio of founders and believes her position is a beacon to other women hoping to join the industry. However, she makes the distinction that women in male-dominated fields should not submit to the pressure to adhere to toxic-male communication styles.
“I’ve been really amazed how, especially in Salinas, putting women [in positions] as foremen instead of men has altered attitudes of both the dynamics of our groups—how they communicate and how they operate and how they get things done—but also how when people come to our company, the pathway that they can see. The start-off can be data entry, but then if they look up and they see a woman in charge of compliance they think ‘I could just keep going up this ladder.’”
Paradiso is hoping for the gender and racial representation within their company to be reflected by a diverse consumer base. They have a constant awareness of price points in order to keep products accessible to all. DiPaci believes anyone comfortable with high-THC products will appreciate their strains. She says their breeders aim for “complex terpene profiles that aren’t abundantly sweet or grassy.” Moving forward, Paradiso plans to maintain this mindful approach to breeding.
Within the company of her plants in Salinas, DiPaci is keeping an eye on the horizon and hoping that as legalization grows, more large-scale research will bloom. She hopes for a better understanding of the medicinal properties of the plant and how it could help women with things like period pains. As she waits, the Paradiso team will continue their exploration of sustainable large-scale production.
“Nature will always prevail and we’re a part of that,” she said. “There are cycles of rebounding and that doesn’t mean they’re perfect or they’re back to where they were but I find that if you focus on what’s working, it’ll often lead you to more inspiration for what’s possible and what can work.”
When the Dust Bowl came to the Great Plains, livestock died by the thousands, parents gave children wet rags to place over their mouths and, ultimately, practices changed. After everything had been pulled from the land leaving dust and little else, people realized that the Earth must be respected. And yet, like DiPaci and her ilk, there were a few brave souls that had to go first and march forward with only the hope of paradise to guide them.
Featured image: Christina DiPaci, founder and CEO of Paradiso. (C) Paradiso