Intentional Medicine

Sun Roots Farm puts nature in charge.
Sun Roots
Velvet Purps. All photos courtesy Sun Roots Farm.

Entering the gardens of Sun Roots Farm in Covelo in Mendocino County is like entering a botanical fever dream. Giant purple cannabis plants rule instead of humans, and weed flowers the size of buildings sway under the weight of their own colas. Below their sticky canopy, medicinal and edible companion plants twist, bloom, and communicate in soil alive with insects and mycelium.

This sungrown Eden is a place where cannabis is encouraged to express her wildest potential. According to Forrest Gauder and Patricia Vargas, the husband-and-wife team of regenerative farmers who founded Sun Roots in 2015, the less human intervention on this potential, the better.

“The plant has its own potential that is not influenced by humans,” Vargas said. “When it’s exposed to a multitude of beneficial components, such as high-quality soil, the energy of the sun and the moon, clean water, clean air, and the intention we put into caring for it, everything works in synchronicity.”

Sun Roots is a regenerative farm, meaning its practices are centered around healing and regenerating life on earth by improving soil health, bolstering native biodiversity, carbon sequestration (capturing and storing carbon dioxide to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere), water conservation, and enriching the health of the overall Covelo community. 

Sun Roots
High Times Magazine, April 2024

As opposed to the extractive farming practices often employed by cannabis farms, in which pesticides kill everything in proximity to the plants, poisoning the environment and sometimes even the consumer, regenerative agriculture uses a closed-loop system of cultivation that produces no waste and nurtures the environment while doing so.

While Vargas grew up in urban Connecticut and Gauder in the hills above Covelo, California a shared belief in the power of plants ultimately led them to one another. 

Vargas’s ancestors were tobacco farmers from Puerto Rico, with her mother often in the garden as she was growing up. She attended Keene State College in New Hampshire, which she describes as “super hippy dippy.” After 10 years of working on farms in the area, she traveled to California through WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) to grow vegetables year-round.

Gauder is a second-generation cannabis farmer who grew up in the self-reliant culture of the traditional market.

“We were taught by my father to grow our own food on an off-grid apple orchard, homestead-style,” he said. “I’ve always been drawn to the cannabis plant. I love learning from the plant and building the wisdom I gain from it every year. In the same way that it grows, I grow too.”

Shortly after Vargas moved to Covelo to work on a mutual friend’s weed farm, she and Gauder found each other one summer night on a full rose moon.

“I decided to go to a drum circle, and Forrest ended up being there,” she said. “We immediately walked up to each other like magnets. We just knew.”

At that time, Covelo was a different place. Like all corners of the Emerald Triangle, the endless pitfalls of legalization drastically altered the existence of cannabis farmers.

Sun Roots
Magu’s Fruit.

“When I came here, there were so many people from all over the world,” said Vargas. “There was such a robust culture and an energy of excitedness and abundance. The wildlife was so healthy, and the landscape was so beautiful.”

When state voters approved a legal adult-use cannabis marketplace in 2016, things began to change.

“Prices just started dropping,” Vargas said. “Now your profit wasn’t as high because you’re giving all your money to compliance people or taxes. Everybody’s getting a cut. Things went from being amazing, feeling like we were on top of the world, to feeling like we had a ball and chain attached to us.”

The “green rush” and its subsequent fall negatively impacted the environment of Covelo, as well. Due to its rural, secluded location, people began implementing extremely destructive farming tactics to turn a profit as fast and as recklessly as possible. They burned through the valley, leveling huge swaths of forest for makeshift mega-grows, siphoning water from the river, covering mountaintops with plastic tarps, and leaving the trash when they were done.

“We were all like, ‘This is the dark side of this whole culture,’” Vargas said. “That’s why a lot of us going legal were pushing for environmental rights because we saw it happening in our own community.”

Sun Roots
The soil quality at Sun Roots Farm makes a huge impact on the quality of flower.

Undisturbed Soil 

The reason Covelo is such a hotbed of cannabis activity is because of its ideal soil. Covelo is located in Round Valley, which is exactly what it sounds like: a big round valley with a flat bottom and hills extending up from its perimeter. It used to be a swampy floodplain for Round Valley Creek that ran through it until colonizers built an outlet that drained the valley in the 1920s.

“The mountains drained into the valley, creating these deposited silt beds that are particularly rich in the area beneath our farm,” Gauder said. “There are three to four feet of chocolate-colored soil. It’s really beautiful, full of worms and bugs and life and nutrients. Just think of all the stuff that’s been deposited there throughout the years.

“Our farm is one of the best spots in the valley. Some parts are too rocky or sandy or dense with clay. But where we are, it’s a perfect top layer of dirt for growing weed and food, then under that, it turns to rocks and sand, so it drains really well.”

Sun Roots Farm is the definition of true “living soil,” a hallmark of regenerative agriculture, which has become a buzzy marketing term for greenwashing brands in the industry. While we often see the term applied to indoor grows who put a couple of earthworms in their pots and then dump the soil after harvest, true living soil is cared for and nurtured like a living organism.

“Anyone who’s dumping every year, that’s not living soil,” said Vargas. “Living soil is living. You continue to work with it. You don’t just throw it away. You feed it through compost and biomass and mulching, and the plants that you create. If you dump it, how are you honoring the life of your soil?”

“Because you’re adding more decomposing matter every year, you build it with the aim of disturbing the soil as little as possible,” added Gauder. “The less you disturb it, the more mycelial networks that are going to be present, the richer your soil, and the greater the ecosystem.”

This idea that the plants, the soil, and the ecosystem they create thrive in the absence of human intervention is integral to the Sun Roots Farm philosophy. Their hands-off approach to cultivation is born from a deep trust in nature and her ability to do what she does better than we can.

The thing about plants is that without them, we die. But without humans, plants thrive. Humans often interpret cultivation as manipulating the plant to make it do what we want. Sun Roots does the opposite.

“It’s about allowing things to be their most natural and not interfering too much,” said Vargas. “I think with cannabis, a lot of us think—or the habit has been—to go out and buy soil or buy these products for this, to manage this, and control that. What we’ve learned in our practices is that nature is the ultimate teacher. Nature knows what she’s doing. Leave her alone, and let her do her thing.”

Alpacas help to fertilize plants in a closed-loop system.

Alpaca Helpers

One of the most beneficial components of Sun Roots’s regenerative, closed-loop system is their herd of alpacas. Not only do they help control various plant populations on the property, assisting with fire suppression, but their manure is an incredible fertilizer for the cannabis.

“Part of regenerative agriculture is stacking functions, so when we invest in something, we need to make sure it has many uses,” said Gauder. “We’re using their manure as our main fertilizer for all of the crops. They have super hygienic dung piles, so it’s easy to collect, which means that we don’t have to run tractors or burn fossil fuels. They also slim down the brush to a certain height, creating a perfect distance for fire suppression.”

Instead of ripping out plants by their root systems like many other livestock, alpacas maintain the seed cycles of native plants on the farm through rotational grazing, composting them in their stomachs, and redistributing the seeds back into the earth through their manure.

“We also use their shearings as mulch on the earth, which creates a nice layer of fiber and moisture barrier for decomposing nutrients,” said Vargas. “The mycelium love it. Then we’re able to draw in species like edible mushrooms that feed us and the bees and can also be put into fertilizer teas. The cycle continues in a circular motion where everything is in constant use, and nothing is ever wasted.”

Velvet Purps.

A Focus on the Flowers

Sun Roots flower is a culmination of intention, high-vibe growing practices, and, of course, a little magic. Famous for their sparkly, dark purple nugs and fruity, complex terpene profiles, their flower has an energetically dense high that transcends just getting stoned.

They specialize in a Velvet lineage, which started as the sister plants (or different phenotypes) of Jah Goo, a cross of Purple Jasmine and Afghan Goo that is a uniquely acclimated cultivar made in Covelo. Two plants in particular stood out over the years, with which they have continued to create seeds.

The first is the crystal-laden Velvet Purps, with its magenta trichomes, neon leaves, and a high that leaves you happy, buoyant, and at ease. The second is their Magu’s Fruit, a personal favorite of mine for her uplifting and effervescently creative energy, originally dubbed Silver Goo for the silver gown of buds that cascade down the giant plants. These varieties, as well as a number of crosses like Velvet La Flor, Magu’s Velvatron, and Velvet Citrine, are available through retail shops such as Redwood Roots and Solful. 

“This is intentional medicine for spiritual health,” said Vargas. “It’s not just recreational. I’m here to get stoned, yes, but a lot of us are using this for our mental health. So we make sure that we’re putting positivity into this. We need more positivity in this world. We need more love in this world. For us, to be growing a plant that we get to share with the world is an honor. Our greatest hope is that people will feel the medicine behind it. That they will take that seed they’ve been given, and they go on and share it with others.”

This article was originally published in the April 2024 issue of High Times Magazine.

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