Good Farmers Can Be Great Neighbors

High Standards in Cannabis Cultivation

Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission unanimously affirmed that good farming creates great neighbors when it approved Busy Bee’s Organics application to cultivate cannabis in Buellton. The commissioners cited the support of Busy Bee’s immediate neighbors as one of the primary reasons for they all voted to approve the project.

As founders of the North County Farmers’ Guild, we use and recommend certain specific agriculture practices in order to be the best neighbors we can be on the farms where we live and work. These include thoughtful efforts to reduce any odors released into the air during the natural cultivation and necessary processing of cannabis.

Our fundamental mission is to develop the highest standards in cannabis cultivation. We also share our passion for sustainable farming, environmental stewardship, and healthy communities. Finally, we value creating greater local economic opportunities for workers and businesses in Santa Barbara County.

While words like “skunky” and “gassy” are often associated with the aroma of cannabis, live plants themselves do not produce strong odors during cultivation outdoors. Physical disruption of the plants and post-harvest release of aromatic terpenes through evaporation are the two primary factors behind potential cannabis agriculture odors.

Aromatic terpenes are produced by glandular trichomes — the fuzzy looking “hairs” — on surface of cannabis flowers. The trichomes retain and hold odors unless some sort of disruption causes the smell to be released — like strong wind whipping flowers against stems or through the harvesting process when harvest crews’ hands and arms are touching flowers and breaking trichomes and, especially, during the drying process. Fortunately, these occasions are rare and contained to only a few weeks per year. And they can be controlled through thoughtful practices. For example, we utilize natural foliage screens and hoop houses to protect plants from winds that can cause plants’ leaves to collide and release aromatic terpenes into the air during cultivation.

Cannabis emits the most smell during the air-drying process after harvest. Trichomes dehydrate, crack, and shrivel, and their aromas are released. Drying, whether done in buildings or outdoors, typically takes 10 to 14 days, a period of nearly constant plant degradation and aromatic emissions. About 90 percent of cannabis terpenes and aromas are released during drying.

At Raw Garden and at Busy Bee’s, we process our cannabis plants primarily for production of concentrates. Since we flash-freeze freshly harvested plants, we avoid the air-drying process entirely and the odors associated with it.

While many people think all cannabis smells skunky, and consider that smell offensive, much of our cultivation is of plant strains that smell like berries, citrus, or candy.

When air-drying is necessary for fresh flowers, we recommend our colleagues utilize the best available technologies to mitigate any odors from leaving the property. These include at a minimum vapor-phase air-cleansing systems that naturally neutralize the chemical nature of terpenes traveling in the air, or, when greater control is required, a fully enclosed environment with carbon filtration for odor capture.

The success of the odor-control efforts we employ and recommend can be summarized by a third-party consultant who told Raw Garden, “You guys do not produce a detectable odor,” and by the founder of a company selling odor-abatement technology who told Busy Bee’s Organics, “I could take your money but there’s no reason to.”

As community farmers who live on the land we cultivate, we are disappointed that some folks have appealed the Planning Commission’s 5-0 decision to approve Busy Bee’s Organics cultivation permit to the Board of Supervisors, a desperate and unnecessary action that runs contrary to both the will of local citizens and the county’s regulatory ordinance for approving cultivation applications and overseeing permits.

The community-at-large stands in support of Busy Bee’s Organics and other local independent farmers who are adopting management best practices in cannabis cultivation because they share our commitment to sustainable farming, environmental stewardship, and healthy community, not to mention the greater local economic opportunities cannabis brings to Santa Barbara County.

John De Friel of Raw Garden and Sara Rotman of Busy Bee’s Organics are the cofounders of the North County Farmers’ Guild and cochairs of Good Farmers Great Neighbors.

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