Local Appellation Exploration: Sun Roots Farm, Covelo

Forrest Gauder and Patricia Vargas cannabis garden

Forrest Gauder and Patricia Vargas next to one of their large cannabis plants. [All photos by Emily Hobelmann]

Round Valley is Mendocino County’s largest swath of level ground, recognized for its rich soil and proximity to the nearly million-acre wilderness of the Mendocino National Forest. Sun Roots Farm is a cannabis cultivation site located in the northeast section of the valley, just outside of Covelo.

Co-Owners Forrest Gauder and Patricia Vargas are holistic farmers growing cannabis in the ground amongst a myriad of other herbs, fruits, vegetables and farm critters. They are cultivating strains with Jah Goo genetics, a localized family heirloom that started with Gauder’s brother Mike about 10 years ago.Cannabis garden Emily Hobelmann cannabis garden

Gauder and Vargas welcomed me to their farm in mid-October to talk about their land and their standards, practices and varietals for the fourth-installment my five-part series about cannabis farms in diverse Emerald Triangle locales.

The series was undertaken in the spirit of future cannabis appellation development, and with the goal of putting words to terrior – both the characteristic taste and flavor imparted to cannabis by its environment and the complete natural environment in which cannabis is produced.

The first installment of the series features Whitethorn Valley Farm and background on the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s CalCannabis Appellations Project, the agency tasked with establishing a process for licensed cultivators to establish cannabis appellations by January 2021.

The second installment is all about Sunboldt Grown in Holmes, where cultivator Sunshine Johnston dry farms cannabis in a well-known agricultural community on the Main Stem of the Eel River.

The third installment takes us to NorthCountry Farm near Hayfork to meet Adrien Keys and Angelina Wright, cultivators working with surprisingly dynamic clay soil on old cattle grazing land.

This is not a scientific series. It is a chance for readers to step into a handful of cannabis farms in diverse yet local places through images and words. The fifth and final installment will feature Moon Made Farms on the east side of Southern Humboldt. Stay tuned!

Cannabis garden Emily Hobelmann cannabis garden

Walking into the Sun Roots Farm cannabis gardens felt more like entering an apple orchard. At the time of my visit in mid-October, their mature cannabis plants were 12-15 feet in height (some taller) with canopies of equatorial-esque circumference, giant buds and substantial trunks.

Sun Roots Farm Co-Owners Forrest Gauder and Patricia Vargas practice biodynamic farming, which Vargas describes in uncomplicated terms as Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy of creating living soil. They view the systems on their farm as an interconnected whole, not only influenced by what is happening on the earthly plane, but also by what is happening in the cosmos.

They are all about closing the loop on their farm, which means sourcing what they need from the land and not bringing in outside materials, if at all possible. Gauder and Vargas have a ritualistic approach, taking lunar phases and planetary cycles into account when planting, feeding and tending their gardens.

They grow from seed and cut clones from their own seed plants. All of their cultivars have Jah Goo genetics (Purple Jasmine X Af Goo); as such, they are descended from phenotypes that showed traits suited to this particular environment. For example, their cultivars demonstrate a looser bud structure, as opposed to dense, compact nugs. This is more ideal for resistance to mold. This season’s varieties include Silver Goo, Strawberry Goo, Candy Goo (Candy Land X Jah Goo), Velvet Purps and Magic Bus.bud Cannabis garden Emily Hobelmann cannabis garden

Throughout the growing season, they provide their plants with specifically formulated preparations, which can include yarrow, valerian, chamomile, stinging nettle and horsetail plant. Each ingredient has different purposes and properties, and everything is sourced on their land. For example, Vargas describes valerian as warming, so “it brings a warmth and a light to your plants.”

They even stir the preparations in a specific way while making them, creating “vortex and chaos” in the water. All of this is done with intention and in harmony with the cosmos and as a complement to compost and mulching practices. Their system inputs include hemp stalks, green material that they scythe from the property, third cuttings of alpaca fleece (yes, they have alpacas), leaf mold and leaves from various trees on the property.Alpacas Cannabis garden Emily Hobelmann cannabis garden

In keeping with the character of Round Valley their land is flat, but the diversity of plant life contained therein is anything but. Established trees include corkscrew willow, ash, birch, walnut, valley oaks and fruitless mulberries. Cultivated herbs include ashwagandha, chamomile, mallow, mullein, Echinacea, zinnia, comfrey and white sage. They have grapes, apple trees and vegetable gardens.

Their soil is obviously quite fertile; Gauder calls it “real nice chocolate topsoil [with] lots of worms and life.” Gauder and Vargas have been planting in the same holes for years, “building them up,” and they don’t till, using Meadow Creature broadforks instead to gently loosen the soil up in advance of planting.

Through the UC Davis California Soil Resource Lab’s SoilWeb Apps, I learned that the soil at this location belongs to the Mollisols order which the University of Idaho Department of Soil and Water Systems “Twelve Soil Orders” site describes as,

…the soils of grassland ecosystems. They are characterized by a thick, dark surface horizon. This fertile surface horizon… results from the long-term addition of organic materials derived from plant roots. Mollisols are among some of the most important and productive agricultural soils in the world and are extensively used for this purpose.

(Hat tip to Redheaded Blackbelt commenter “Matthew Meyer” for pointing me in the direction of this portal to incredibly detailed information about soils all over the United States.)

People didn’t need modern science to arrive at such a strong conclusion. The History of Mendocino County, California text originally published in 1880 describes the soil of Round Valley as “a very rich, black loam, a great deal of it being reclaimed marsh land, which is by far the most productive in the state.” (Original imprint: Alley, Bowen & Co., San Francisco; quoted from the Mendocino County Historical Society’s 1967 reprint.)Hands in dirt Cannabis garden Emily Hobelmann cannabis garden

More on their environment: The landscape beyond the gardens is a grassy savannah leading to a ring of mountains at the valley’s edge. Elevation here is about 1,400 feet. Summers are hot; temperatures can top 100 degrees. Winters are cold; temperatures bottom out in the teens. The mountains get snow, and sometimes it snows in the valley, maybe a couple times a year. Average rainfall is 42 inches.

Harvest season is milder, averaging between 70-80 degrees during the day, and, in keeping with summer, harvest time temperature swings on the order of 30-40 degrees. Gauder and Vargas find that Round Valley gets its own weather, especially in the wintertime when there is a “sit down” of moisture coming off the mountains, creating a dense fog on the valley floor.

Round Valley is surrounded on all sides by wilderness; it’s an island in an upland sea. The Mendocino National Forest lies to the north and east; the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness is contained therein. Anthony Peak is east; Poon Kinney is west; Bluenose Ridge is north; and the Sanhedrin Wilderness and its Big Signal Peak access are south. The Middle Fork Eel skirts the south end of the valley; the confluence with its tributary Black Butte River is east.

There is much to see when you look out from Sun Roots Farm. Now let’s turn back in to hear how polyculture is the backbone of their pest control strategy. Plant and soil health is achieved through fostering a complex web of life, including beneficial insects like the hover fly, mycorrhizal fungi and trap plants. Gauder and Vargas minimize bad actors by nurturing life that is advantageous to their gardens.

Bugs will always be a factor, Vargas says, but they never spray with harsh chemicals, since whatever they spray will cycle right back into their well water supply, which Gauder describes as clean and delicious right out of the spigot. They want to keep it that way.

So when aphids popped up this season – a first for Sun Roots Farm, Gauder and Vargas sprayed with things like lactobacillus, milk and vinegar to reduce the population. They also used high-pressured water to knock the aphids down. They experiment and adapt, trying different companion plants or natural materials that uplift their garden in the face of disease.

It is harvest season at the time of my visit, and we talk about what goes into deciding to start taking a plant down. First and foremost, Vargas says, the plants will just tell you when they’re ready. But you have to listen and know what to look for. Rain in the forecast, trichome color, broken branches or the presence of mold also come into play. Ultimately, they view the farm as her own entity; so they follow her flow.

After drying, they buck the plant material down into airtight food safe bins, then cure for at least 6 weeks in a temperature-controlled room. They flip the plant material maybe once during this time, but not more. “The less we touch it the better,” Vargas says. And cleanliness is paramount – “We don’t touch anything without our biodegradable gloves.”

And thus the product goes out to be trimmed and sold, marking the final part of the season in which the strands of their garden’s unique storyline are drawn together. The nature of the farm plus all of the efforts and decisions made over the year will be expressed in the final product, which is primarily wholesale flower.

Vargas says they are “fortunate” that their flowers are typically rated AAA, but these consistent top-notch ratings are not due to chance. The vigor of their plants and quality of their flowers is a testament to the effectiveness of their biodynamic methodologies and the fact that they put in a lot of time — each plant receives attention on a daily basis, and it shows.

I think people can relate to their commitment to minimizing outside inputs and closing the loop on their land when Vargas puts it this way: “If you really want to tune in, preserve your land and help the environment, it’s important to get down on a local level and appreciate the things that are [there] already.”

The Sun Roots Farm is an abundant place; there is a lot to appreciate. And via legally distributed Sun Roots Farm branded cannabis products, consumers from out of the area can connect with this place, with their soil, fresh air and diverse garden, with their distinctly Northern Mendocino terroir.

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49 comments

  • No pictures of the food gardens, just dope plants and some amended soil?

    Good read, but the visuals are lacking.

    Could a story be written about a Triangle property actually growing food?

    With so many vegans around, one would guess there are people growing things besides weed.

    Maybe vegans or weed should be banned, possibly both….

    Either way, selling fake dreadlocks is really where the money is at, so who cares.

    • I have real dreadlocks for sale if you’re interested.

      • Cut them off, wrap them in tin foil, and mail them to me.

        • Monsanto new agenda take down these new strains will be deployed across the United States and other marijuana growing regions developed with genetically modified ditch weed mixed with ruderalis ensures that it will pollinate year round and grow in the most extreme weather conditions their genetics have been spliced to ensure sterilization of any strains that it comes into contact with they are hermaphrodites and self propagating after they have taken down the global marijuana they will be introducing their new mind control simulants that will crispy your cerebral cortex leaving Humanity with no imagination just Mindless drones to do their bidding

    • “dope plants” 🤦🏻‍♂️

  • That’s one plant? Looks obese from over-board do-gooders adding weird-ass combinations that are uncalled for – that brought about the aphids.

    Dispensary bound Silver Goo, Strawberry Goo, Candy Goo (Candy Land X Jah Goo), Velvet Purps and Magic Bus.

  • Please tell me Kym, that your fifth and final installment of this series is going to be about Indica and Sativa.
    You know, those old hippies, or their offspring, doing it right. It won’t take 29 paragraphs to explain the process.

  • A fine story that unfolds when the interface between the “most productive soil in California” meets dedicated and highly talented young cultivators. What’s not to love?

    I can dream about the experience of personally visiting this farm. A place on Earth where life is absolutely celebrated.

  • Beautiful! I would like to see our youth go to College and study sustainable biodiverse farming.
    This region could lead in this niche. Come on Growers time to give back & donate scholarship money!

    • Kids are learning that in high school. The part they don’t need to learn about is growing pot, which is an epidemic in humbolt county.

      • Motivating kids to go to college is a good thing. And kids are not learning other methods of farming in high school.

        • The agricultural dept at Fort Bragg high school which crosses over science with farming does teach sustainable farming, not quite sure what you mean. Hands on not just text books. Growing pot should never be a motivator for going to college. Drug free America.

    • Check out the College of the Redwoods farm at Shively.

      • My neighbor, rest her sweetheart soul, used to work there and brought home some of the best herbs and veggies i’ve ever seen.

        • Farmers aren’t a dying breed, yet, but getting the next generation to stay on the farm has been one of the most overlooked parts of the underground economy. People working the land, supported by an illegal plant, up until a few years ago. How can a plant be illegal?. If it grows on this earth, there must have been a good reason god put it there.
          https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=2y6A3MaoaIs

  • Cheers, Emily!

  • Billy Casomorphin

    Organic and biodynamic! Awesome product without trucking in soil, water, diesel, plastic.

    This is the model for sustainable and niche, boutique and “high end”…

    Do you “crystal infuse” as well?

    If I used cannabis, I would want this farm’s product!

  • Holy shit the gauders grow pot!

  • “People didn’t need modern science to arrive at such a strong conclusion. The History of Mendocino County, California text originally published in 1880 describes the soil of Round Valley as “a very rich, black loam, a great deal of it being reclaimed marsh land, which is by far the most productive in the state.”

    The soil description is pulled word for word from the GLO (Government Land Office) Cadastral survey notes from around 1862. If you like I can send you the copies of the originals. Written in cursive they’re sometimes difficult to read, but provide a wealth of information concerning soils, creeks, and other salient features. The notes compiled by the Benson Syndicate are dicey and shouldn’t be taken at face value, but fortunately they weren’t involved with Round Valley. To the east of Round Valley a different story. Pr-eighteen seventy five notes are superb.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benson_Syndicate

  • Thank you, Emily, for this article, and also Rod Gass, for your comment, which really does sum up the Sun Roots Farm experience in a nutshell. This article is part of a series on cannabis, so that’s what the focus is on, but it’s truly only half the story. For the record – Forrest Gauder has conscientious farming, as well as love for the good earth, written into his genes. He first learned farming from his father Michael Gauder, one of the most respected apple growers and arborists in Northern California. In Patricia he has found a partner who shares his passion for caring for the land and giving back to it; together they are true stewards, who bring Steiner’s spiritual truths into every aspect of their work. Yes it is a shame there could not be more pictures, though I appreciated what was depicted. But there is so much more to Sun Roots than just excellent weed. They produce their own honey, wonderful fermented delicacies, Patricia has her own line of cosmetic and skin care products made from their botanicals, I could go on, but you get my point. This is what the future of growing in Mendocino County should look like, a thing of balance, harmony, and gratitude, not the envy, greed, cutthroat business practices and pillaging of the earth that, sadly, we see too much of, and more with every passing year.

    • Amen. This should be the future of the entire region. Growing sustainability with a conscience and wisdom. Caring about self and community in a holistic manner.

      I would like to see a Logo representing this method of farming. Perhaps Mother Earth in the background. How about having a contest involving local artist!

  • Thanks for all your reporting Kym,

    Im enjoying this series.
    and this installment with Sun Roots is the Best one so far.

    it’s obvious They have good intentions and are working hard to create the next generation of regenerative mendocino farms. In so doing their keeping the “heirloom” strains of all types going and building our collective future into something bigger and better. Respecting the earth, being kind, and having integrity with take you far!

    Wishing these multi- generational farmers success! And definitely will make an effort to support their products.

    Is there a potential for follow up stories with these featured farms in coming years ? I would be interested to see this series turn into a longer story format.

    • Emily is writing these for me so it depends on her wishes but I have asked her to do some other pieces. I’m enjoying being able to post about all the good practices that I know are happening.

  • I’ve never grown marijuana but I have been known to grow some great vegetable gardens. I took a class in organic gardening some years ago. You need a well drained soil with the correct PH. Add plenty of organic matter from your compost pile, water with manure tea on occasion, and it’s all about nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus in the correct amounts at the right time. Am I missing something? Edit: I forgot mulching to help prevent weeds and help retain soil moisture.

  • I like this farm it is inspiring to hear this story I have always wanted to raise alpacas 🦙 myself .

  • Who actually still grows like that and makes money? Get with the times !!

  • Disgusting supervisors

    If theres no money then why does the county want hundreds of thousands(non refundable if denied) to obtain a cultivation license?????????????????????????????? If they want people to be sustainable, more to come into the light why dont they make it affordable and quicker!!!! Because there lying theives

    • “If there’s no money then why does the county want hundreds of thousands . . .” ?
      People in hell want ice water.

      The plain fact is that money is a con game worse than any sideshow scam, is now and always has been. And we are being forced to play this con game via “Legal Tender Laws” which are themselves illegal.

      Can you say, “forced and inequitable contract”?

      For over a hundred years, we have been treated to the spectacle of otherwise sane Americans accepting nothing but an I.O.U. from the Federal Reserve in exchange for our apples and widgets and labor.

      That’s where the staggering “National Debt” of the Municipal and British Territorial United States comes from — from all the credit that we have extended to them under force and duress of “Legal Tender Laws”. And that’s what makes us their priority creditors.

      Paper really isn’t equivalent to labor, which is the only true currency.

      That, and the fact that we paid the blackguards up front face value for their otherwise worthless script. We, ourselves, underwrote the ‘money’ even before anyone began trading it, which adds another whole layer to the fraud.

      Robbed, embezzled, conned — call it what you will. Our public serpents have done this to us all and the banks have colluded with them on it.

      The day is going to come when many of the masses wake up and shake their heads like Rip Van Winkle and say, “What is all this nonsense?”

      And they will know, as I have known for more years than i care to remember, that money is nothing but a game that we’ve been forced to play by persons having less than zero authority to impose Legal Tender Laws on us in the first place.

      When the peeps finally realize that it’s all just an ugly joke, that we’ve been fools, and that “the government” is at fault for this, they too will know – “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off” -Gloria Steinman.

      And they will wonder—- oh, my! oh, my! — what do we do?

      The first thing most people do is run headlong down to the jewelry store or gold exchange and start buying gold coins and bullion and stock in mining companies, but there, too, they’re being short-changed.

      It’s the whole proposition of money that stinks, not just the form of it.

      It doesn’t really matter what is used “as” money — paper or metals or plastics. Wampum beads will do as a cure. It’s all just nothing but Flim-Flam de Jour.

      And that is the part where waking-people will balk and blink and think: what? There’s no good alternative? It’s not even a matter of alternatives? It’s all just bunko in the first place?

      But if there’s no money — no money at all — what then?

      Then we finally deal with the reality of life and our need to be able to translate bongo drums into shoe leather and pig snouts into pomade. And we deeply consider — maybe for the first time ever — how to construct a monetary system that is honest?

      • You can’t by law, construct another form of currency without getting into some hot water with the money lenders. Your reality isnt going to garner attention, unless you become effective. We all want to be effective and fulfilled, but even wanting to live free has its limitations.

        • There are several spots on the land that do have their own currency exchange. Seems like maybe Petrolia is one. Upstate New York – Ithica – they trade time for time. House cleaner goes to dentist for teeth cleaning, she cleans the dentist’s home. Another one is up in Washington. This one is set-up for when a monetary remedy is reached in court. You send the paperwork and the amount is donated to charities in your area -as a place to begin- and it flows out into the community businesses and peeps who agree upon the value exchange. Just remembered, Canada – Nova Scotia – has it going on. I just joined Q a few weeks back -the newest.

          That’s all money is – two (or more) people who agree on the value of what’s going from one hand to another. Trading debt notes for value -well, look where its brought us.

          Don’t get me started on what i can do “by law”. Too few people recognize the definition of law to bother bringing it up again. Court of law – really? When have any of us EVER in our lifetime been in a court of law? Answer – never.

          Living free? My freedom stops where yours begins.

          Money lenders? Banks do not loan money. What do we need to see this – a thunk on the top of the head w/an iron skillet?

          The genie is out of the bottle . . .the 100 year blackout is over . . .the king is across the board . . . checkmate.

          • I was disgusted by the hypocrisy when the company (the Ron Paul dollar) issuing gold and silver minted coins was charged and convicted of forgery.

            https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberty_dollar_(private_currency)

            And I was thrilled by the irony when a very talented artist paid for a cross country road trip by drawing bills in different denominations and trading them at drawn face value.

            https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._S._G._Boggs

            Here’s the truth about fiat:
            http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2013-10-17/hidden-secrets-money-part-4-biggest-scam-history-mankind-7-easy-steps

            • “If ever again our nation stumbles upon unfunded paper, it shall surely be like death to our body politic. This country will crash.”- George Washington, 1732-1799

              “If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks…will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered…. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.” . . . “Paper is poverty. It is the ghost of money and not money itself.”– Thomas Jefferson, 1743-1826

              “History records that the money changers have used every form of abuse, intrigue, deceit, and violent means possible to maintain their control over governments by controlling money and its issuance.” – James Madison, 1751-1836

      • Humbucks has been around for decades.

        • I did not know that. Or i don’t remember it, other than vaguely. Can you elaborate? When, where. how . . .

          • And what about the mateel Nations coinage the return of peoples giving back to the community The Majestic silver lion roaring love one another a $20 one troy ounce piece in 999.9 pure silver order yours today at the new mateel nations.com you can also pre-order your 2020 rise up coin with Bob Marley Reggae on the River A Time To Shine with the healing of a broken heart on the other side we can only make this happen together free t-shirts with every order over $1,000 add lifetime membership for all orders over 10,000 a percentage of the profits will go to help feed the hungry thank you for your generosity

            • Thank YOU Joe Dirt! This is a big part of the picture puzzle – if not the biggest.

              “If ever again our nation stumbles upon unfunded paper, it shall surely be like death to our body politic. This country will crash.”- George Washington, 1732-1799

              “If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks…will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered…. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.” . . . “Paper is poverty. It is the ghost of money and not money itself.”– Thomas Jefferson, 1743-1826

              “History records that the money changers have used every form of abuse, intrigue, deceit, and violent means possible to maintain their control over governments by controlling money and its issuance.” – James Madison, 1751-1836

  • Disgusting supervisors

    Pea brain prohibitionast. Lol. Go hand your life savings too the state and county for a buissness that has absolutely no future, with big corprate money soon to ablitarate what was once ours. Pennys on the doller real soon !!!!!! Feel sorry for all of the people of the emerald triangle bad politics stole our future.good luck to those who are keeping up hope and have been played by the government / local & state. Overproduction!!!!!

    • “Overproduction!!!!!” Of what? Pesticide laden all-look-alike nugs, grown by the uninformed, sold at Dispensaries for smoking?

      Been there, done that moons ago when mj was sativa or indica -then along came Sensamalia smiles -and Screaming Yellow Zonkers 🙂

      Plant hemp for tiny homes, plant the herb for medicinal purposes only, plant hemp for clothing, oil, seeds for times of control-planned famine etc., etc., etc. . . . .. . .

  • Loving this series !! Thank You Kym, Emily~ Looks Lovely Sun Roots here’s to a big bloomin future’ >!!

  • Worst place in the world to live!!!!

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