Penny Ellis is pretty much a farm tour queen. She co-founded Santa Cruz’s Open Farm Tours five years ago to bring consumers and farmers closer together, and her passion for agritourism has recently led her into some new territory: cannabis tours.
Although she admits to being a marijuana novice (both in practice and in theory), she says the techniques and sustainability of cannabis farming are currently more relevant than ever.
“When people go out and meet farmers and see where their food is grown, it makes a big difference,” Ellis says. “And that applies to cannabis, too. I really believe that people getting out and meeting the growers and asking questions, that’s a really important part of the whole picture.”
Since many of the practices that apply to organic agriculture also apply to the cannabis industry, Ellis created the tour to help make consumers more aware of the practices behind cannabis farming since legalization. The three farms that will be featured—Coastal Sun, Bird Valley Organics and Lifted Farms—are all established commercial growers that supplied medical marijuana dispensaries prior to legalization.
“A lot of the farms are really excited to be coming out of the shadows, because before legalization they were living underground for so long and hiding everything—it didn’t feel legitimate,” she says. “That’s got to be hard. So this is really a big deal for them.”
The staff of Therapeutic Healthcare Collective will also talk about the necessary role that dispensaries play in the cannabis community as a source of education and access. After the tour of the three farms, there will be a farm-to-table, family-style dinner prepared by local chef Dare Arowe featuring some terpene-infused dishes and beverages. While terpene is a non-psychoactive component of cannabis, it’s responsible for the aroma and more mellow “high” effects like anxiety or stress reduction.
But don’t be fooled by the promotional video with cameos of joints the size of dinner plates, dabs and delicious-looking whole-hog BBQ—for Ellis, the focus of the event is on the education and appreciation of cannabis farming. While the dinner is bring-your-own-4/20 friendly, the organizers will not be selling or providing cannabis, and consumption is not allowed on the tours.
“I’ve learned so much it’s unbelievable. There is a massive amount to cannabis production,” Ellis says. “After I heard about the history of cannabis, especially in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, it was fascinating. To hear about the strains that began in Corralitos, like Blue Dream, I didn’t realize that this area played such an important historical role.”
When Ellis began planning the cannabis tour, she says she was in contact with eight farms. But once conversations around security began, she says some of the farms were concerned and ended up opting out of the tour.
“The three farms on the tour now are very secure, there’s always people there, and it’s not like you can just go and walk around,” she says. “But security is always a concern because the crops are a lot of money, and it’s not unusual to get poachers, especially with outdoor growers.”
“Right now there are so many misconceptions about cannabis. There is still a stigma around it, and it’s gotten a really bad rep, but in reality there are so many things that we don’t know about it,” Ellis says. “We want to turn that around so people can see it as something that can be really good in their lives.”