Uncovering the regenerative cannabis ecosystem of Sonoma Hills Farm and why it matters.
Sunny Sonoma, California
Just north of San Francisco, traveling through the Sonoma area of Northern California is a slice of Americana that feels perfectly preserved from a bygone area. Time here seems to move just a little slower, the sun shines just a little brighter, and the sky is just a little more blue. Tucked between the rolling hills and grazing lands, you’ll find Sonoma Hills Farm, the site of a premium craft cannabis company. Once you set foot on this land, you can’t help but notice the land itself seems almost to hum with a certain rhythm.
History of the Sonoma Hill Farms Transformation
This unique space is rich with history; the land at Sonoma Hills Farm was previously regenerated via cattle grazing for about 30 years before beginning its transformation to a fully regenerative farming ecosystem that is now blazing the trail for how cannabis can be grown and thrive. It’s part of a greater experience of becoming one of the very first OCal “comparable-to-organic” -certified farms in California.
Transparency for Cannabis Consumers
Curated by Aaron Keefer – former Executive Gardener for Thomas Keller Group, parent company of California’s destination farm-to-table restaurant The French Laundry – all that comprises Sonoma Hills Farm tethers back to a deep commitment in the idea that consumers deserve to know how their cannabis is grown and where it’s sourced, just like their tomatoes, lettuce, and beef. It’s this commitment which has led to the Farm achieving the very important milestone of OCal certified. A rather obtuse acronym, OCal is a new certification program through the California Department of Food and Agriculture and is the first cannabis certification program of its kind in the U.S. Mirroring the USDA's National Organics Program, OCal ensures consumers that cannabis products bearing the OCal seal have met the consistent, uniform standards ensuring that one is consuming only the cleanest, most robust, naturally grown and cared for plants.
Awarded in late 2021, the certification was a true labor of love for Sonoma Hill Farms that could only be accomplished with an unprecedented commitment to understanding all the ways in which plants, animals, and people could work together more like instruments in a symphony than simply machinery tilling soil.
“OCal cannabis certification celebrates the integrity and transparency of cannabis growers who use long-established organic practices such as cultivating healthy soils, fostering biodiversity, and eliminating the use of cancer-causing pesticides,” said Kelly Damewood, CEO of the California Certified Organic Farmers. “Like all agricultural crops grown in California, cannabis can, and should, be grown with production practices that protect the land and our communities. We applaud Sonoma Hills Farm for leading by example.”
It's no secret that cannabis is very sensitive to its environment, which is why the open space and natural terroir of West Sonoma County matters. The rolling hills don’t lend themselves to large industrial farms like those you’d find in California’s Central Valley. Instead you find a world peppered with dairy farms, thousands of acres of regenerative grazing, and the sustainable oyster farms of Bodega Bay. As you explore Sonoma Hill Farm, you can’t help but notice that there’s a certain balance to this place – everything in equal measure.
Here, the soil is the foundation. The earth fuels a bounty in which everything works in synchronicity. This is a place where one doesn’t just feed the plants and animals, one feeds the soil and unlocks something truly magical in the process. The Sonoma Hills Farm team digs in to their inspiring commitment that if you are taking something off the land, even when utilizing the most responsible farming and cultivation practices, you need to bring something back in.
They must replenish the ground following each harvest with a keen gratitude. And here is where the ecosystem really starts to reveal itself, taking from their own animals and compostables alongside oyster shells from local oyster beds in Bodega Bay, glacial rock dust and kelp meal that, when woven together, deliver the perfect blend of local nutrients to bring vibrant life back to the soil. Everything on the farm has a relationship to something else and in that relationship one can see the most wonderful of ecosystems reminding even the most jaded that what you put in your body matters.
Regenerative farming is better for consuming what comes from the land and Sonoma Hills Farm puts the same care that goes into organic produce into the world of cannabis. By creating a healthy microcosm under the soil - one teeming with life - all the goodness comes into play in the plants themselves, delivering unprecedented flavor-rich flower with some of the most interesting cannabinoid and terpenes levels that elevate as much as they enrich.
Things don’t just taste different here, they look different and that has a lot to do with the sun. Frankly, sun-grown cannabis looks different and there’s a clear reason. While the plants produced are rich in terpenes and flavor, there is also a more intense, wider light spectrum from the sun vs artificial lighting – meaning it makes more chlorophyll from natural sunlight – so the colors are darker and more pronounced. It’s the natural expression of the plant, and this plant wants to reach its full genetic potential. Natural sunlight paired with the larger spectrum of nutrition from the soil changes the look of the plant and leaves it with a deeper green and hues of color so specific one might need to call the team at Pantone to match them perfectly.
They say patience is a virtue and, if so, the Sonoma Hills Farm team must be the most virtuous of people. They wait until the time is just right for each flower pulled from the grow.
Doing the right thing for the land
There are simply no shortcuts to quality and at Sonoma Hills Farm, it shows at every level. And whereas their commitment to “doing it right” may equate to more work and greater cost, it also results in products with remarkably better flavor, and flower that boasts higher terpenes perfect for an advancing consumer taste profile.
Their winning recipe for success is simple: if it is the right thing to do for the land and for the overall environment, then it is right for the plant too. That is the real story of Sonoma Hills Farm – a love letter to what cannabis can truly be when grown with and fueled by passion.
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A version of this article first appeared in Honeysuckle's 420 print edition, featuring Lil Wayne and Young Money. Get your copy now.