Local Cannabis Appellation Exploration: Moon Made Farms, Southern Humboldt County
We came to Moon Made Farms back in October to gather material for this fifth and final installment in our series about cannabis farms in diverse locations in the Emerald Triangle. The series features farmers interested in pursuing appellation designation – a process in the works at the state level, and it is an attempt to put words to local terroir – both the characteristic taste and flavor imparted to cannabis by its environment and the complete natural environment in which cannabis is produced.
Click back to catch up on parts one through four.
Palo Verde is in the vicinity of Bell Springs Road, a historic and formerly major travel route between Humboldt and Mendocino counties. The nearby locale of Harris was an important stopover on this route, which was called the Overland Route or Mail Ridge (among other names). The history of this area is as richly textured as the landscape. Local present-day institutions include the New Harris General Store, The Heartwood Mountain Sanctuary and the Palo Verde Fire Department.
This is a rural community, about 45 minutes southeast of Garberville. A drive out here from town can bring encounters with cows and horses meandering on the road. The roads are windy and can be rough – everywhere you go around here, you go up or down. The vistas are expansive and spectacular. Pratt Mountain and Jewett Rock stand tall as landmarks in the rippling fabric of grass and oak and fir woodlands.Moon Made Farms Owner-Operator Tina Gordon tells me that Palo Verde is named for “Rancho Palo Verde,” a ranch that was supposed to be a gentlemen’s getaway for hunting and fishing back when Chamise Creek was going to be dammed. A sportsman’s lodge was built at what is now Heartwood, but the dam was never realized. The owner at the time decided to subdivide and put all of the parcels up for sale.
These days the community is made up of a range of “heritage folks,” Gordon says, people that came here to homestead back in the 70’s and early 80’s. “Second-generation” residents are their kids, basically, the ones that grew up here. There are also a number of residents that came in the last 20 years or so, people that embraced this community and decided to stay.
Gordon falls into the latter category; a thoughtful and unpretentious businesswoman, she is very salt of the earth when she tells me how moving here from the city helped her awaken to the natural world. After all, in the hills of southeastern Humboldt County, you really see the darkness of night, you can tune in to the quality and feel of the air, the water and the seasons…She is now piloting Moon Made Farms, which has about half an acre of cannabis cultivation split across two parcels, including terrace gardens on contour with the land. The location is roughly 26 miles from Shelter Cove and the Pacific Ocean as the crow flies, about 43 miles overland. Elevation is about 2,200 feet. Chamise Creek, a tributary to the main stem Eel River, is due south.
The terrain is fairly steep and the native soil is rock and clay. The tree community here includes a number of oak species, plus madrone, maple, pepperwood and Douglas fir. There were preexisting cultivation sites when Gordon landed here years ago. Over time, these garden areas have been modestly expanded in order to optimize light and to work with the ever-changing trees, always in sync with the contours of the land, Gordon said.
The ag water source at Moon Made Farms is a rainwater catchment pond that has been around at least as long as there have been maps, Gordon says. “The story that I’ve heard is that it’s a natural pond. It has been reworked, but it is water catch.” Water from the pond is pumped and stored in tanks to minimize evaporation before being gravity fed to irrigation lines, but first it marinates in the pond, coming into contact with the ground and the pond’s ecosystem.
Gordon’s initial forays into permaculture and holistic farming techniques led to years of experimentation with Hugekultur, the technique of building raised, mounded garden beds with woody debris and other green waste. Given the semi-arid environment and the amount of wood generated from tree trimming and fuels reduction, Hugelkultur was an appealing method for both utilizing scrap wood and water retention.
There are variations on the traditional mounded style at Moon Made Farms, including what Gordon calls “on contour Hugul-mounds.” The on contour mounds involve some degree of digging down into the earth to increase moisture retention and to better enable roots to interact with native soil. Gordon also describes the “Hugel-beds” that have taken a few years to settle into their sweet spots.The first Hugelkultur on the property was a deep trench that she filled with wood, straw, compost, manure, apples and a bunch of leaf from the land. “Anything I could find, just threw it all in,” she says. Gordon went deep in the name of increasing water retention. The more recent on contour Hugel-mounds cross the forms of traditional Hugelkultur and this deeper trench style.
While Moon Made Farms does not have plants going directly into native soil, Gordon says there is a particular time of year – “a sweet spot” – when it’s best to break up native soil and incorporate it into planting mixes. Oak woodchips are used for garden beds and in their mulch mix, which also includes leaf and organic rice hull; scrap conifer goes into woodchips for pathways.
Moon Made Farms uses Integrated Pest Management strategies to deal with pest pressure, like inter-planting, cover cropping and beneficial predator bugs. It’s a matter of devising buffers and traps – holistic ways to protect the lush gardens set against a rather dry summertime landscape. Aphids, cucumber beetles and thrips may come and go, but Gordon throws out the bright side: Dealing with pest pressure forces her to become a better farmer.
The climate here is relatively mild. Temperatures don’t often crack 100 in the summer; nights are in the 50’s with days in the 90’s. Winters are wet with less of a temperature spread. It does freeze, but if it snows, it doesn’t stick. Gordon says the precipitation pattern in recent years seems to be rain in the fall with somewhat of a break in December and January. February, March and April can bring heavy precipitation.
Fog is not a factor, but there is a northerly wind that rushes through all summer long like clockwork between 3 and 6 p.m. As we talk about the wind, she points to the sky and makes a “whoosh” sound while drawing an arc where the sun tracks; then she directs us to the end of the terrace where we are sitting. The plants follow the sun, she says, but those last plants on the terrace are really leaning, a result of absorbing that wind.
And all of the plants are absorbing or soaking up the environment – the air, the light, the water, the human touch and intention… Gordon believes the essence of their surroundings is eventually transferred to the consumer, which “is why we put so much effort into creating a beautiful space for these plants,” she says. “We want them to have an incredible life, [we want] that essence to be transferred to whoever is ingesting the flower.”Gordon finds that CBD-dominant plants do well for her, and she in fact uses CBD on a daily basis. It resonates with her. More than half of the crop this season was comprised of high- and mixed-ratio CBD strains, such as Harle-Tsu, Cannatonic and ACDC. The remaining THC-dominant varieties are in the elevated and inspired realm, Gordon says, and include Huckleberries from Huckleberry Hill Farms on the west side and a THC-rich Pennywise phenotype.
A lot of the farmers we spoke with this season spoke about plants “doing well” for them, so we asked Gordon what it means to her for a plant to do well. It’s a plant that accepts nurturing, she says, a plant that expresses health and vigor and appears to be in balance with its environment. “Some people say it’s like having a good student, the student that soaks up every lesson and really understands what you’re trying to teach,” she said.
When we ask Gordon how she came to the name “Moon Made Farms,” and she tells us when she first started working with cannabis, she observed plants under the moon and thought, how are the plants receiving this light right now? How are they responding to it? How are they using it? “The night cycle in particular contributes this subtlety to the plants that I don’t think we understand yet.”
Whereas the sun expresses in broad strokes over the season and can be considered a masculine symbol, the moon expresses in discrete cycles every night and is connected with the feminine. The name Moon Made Farms pays homage to the night cycle and the fact that cannabis – “the most powerful plant on the planet” – expresses in a female form.
Gordon is a deep thinker, a careful farmer and a relatable person. She told us how everyday looks down into her garden to consider where any given day is in the context of the season. “I gravitate to the cannabis first, always,” she said. “I look at the plants and I look at the trees and I look at the hills, and that gives me a sense of where we are in the year, where we’re coming from and where we’re going to.”
That is just one snippet of a long conversation that gave perspective on how she stewards this place, on the deep consideration she give decisions in light of what came before. Talking with her made us realize how profoundly people make the place, how hard these farmers work to bring out the best in their land and how cultivating cannabis enables them to channel the beauty, peace and cleanliness of their environments to consumers down the line.
The point of this five-part series was to look at local cannabis farms in a different way, the difference being not only our positive approach to considering local cultivators and their farms, but also in the deliberate focus on place, product, process and culture. We wanted to highlight the unique settings of cannabis farms across our region in front of a legal process for appellation designation.
While each farm we visited is very different with distinct climates, soils and landscapes, the proprietors all definitely share a culture of positivity, determination and holistic farming.
All of us in the broader Emerald Triangle community are fortunate to have cannabis farmers that are ready to speak on record about what they do and willing to let the world into their gardens through press projects like this. However, mere words and images cannot possibly capture the totality of the people and these places. Either trying their products first-hand or spending real time, deep time at these farms is the only true way to experience true terroir.