Forty-Fiveyears ago, Dutch immigrants began arriving in the Carpinteria Valley to escape strict government regulations in the flower-growing business. But now, since dabbling in the morphing marijuana industry, they are begging to be regulated.
Growers say the once successful flower trade in Carpinteria has been strapped by several factors: An estimated 80 percent of all flowers sold in the United States now originate from Colombia; the adoption of Carp’s “Greenhouse Plan” has restricted greenhouse size and scope; and new statewide rules hiked minimum wage and overtime rules, and also increased diesel standards, among other things. This forced some operations to lay off employees and make other cuts. But others that began growing marijuana are flush with cash.
“Some growers feel they have no choice but to grow something that will produce more money,” said longtime Gerbera daisy grower June Van Wingerden, who said she does not want to grow marijuana. “I don’t like it. I was once a high school teacher and have seen the damage marijuana can do to teenagers, but I can understand that a grower who has worked their entire life growing flowers just sees marijuana as another crop, a more profitable crop.”
The burgeoning cannabis industry in Carpinteria Valley is both widely known and somewhat hush-hush. It is legal to grow medical marijuana in Santa Barbara County, but it remains unclear what the number of growers is who have dabbled in — or delved into — the industry. The only local enforcement is essentially nonexistent, driven only by complaints to the county sheriff or building inspectors of skunk-like odors.
Sheriff’s Lieutenant Mike Perkins said grievances have waned in recent months, but he used to receive several per week near the greenhouses along Carp’s northern border. Depending on which way the winds are blowing, traces of what is unmistakably marijuana can be sniffed from Carpinteria High School. “That is not desirable,” said County Supervisor Das Williams, who lives in Carp. But “those are issues you can take care of by requiring a standard to be met.”
The county supervisors are in the process of establishing such standards, following the passage of the recreational marijuana initiative by California voters in November. “This would be right up their alley because they have always been innovators,” said Williams in an interview. They have increased flower production per acre, worked to keep all water on site, and prevented pesticide migration, which “frankly, other agriculture industries could imitate,” he said.
But since marijuana is still prohibited under federal law, flower growers who grow cannabis tend to keep low profiles. Williams appeared sympathetic to the plight of growers, but in an interview afterward, he offered measured remarks. “We don’t want Carpinteria to be the marijuana capital of the United States,” he said. “That being said, with the passage of Prop. 64, somebody is going to grow it.”
In anticipation of Prop. 64’s passage, about 50 growers with varying degrees of experience growing marijuana formed the Cannabis Business Council of Santa Barbara County. They have hired attorneys and public relations representatives to help lobby the county supervisors to adopt their proposed ordinance.
Liz Rogan, a founding member, said she moved to the area 15 years ago after seeing the many benefits of “the relationship between plants and people.” She works with a Carp grower who delved into marijuana five years ago and also manages several delivery services in the area. She explained that though openness around the issue has occurred, marijuana growers are still overcoming stigma.
Many growers, though, are slowly edging toward speaking about their operations. Several declined to be interviewed for this story, but some publicly spoke in front of the county supervisors last week. To determine how prevalent marijuana cultivation is in Carpinteria, just perhaps follow your nose. Rogan acknowledged the strong whiffs of pot, but she said growers are working on ways to control odor. “Unfortunately,” she added, “when you live in an ag area, odors are part of it.”