Directed by Claire Weissbluth, aka La Osa, and Jesse Dodd, Tending the Garden follows the lives of the people behind three regenerative farms—Briceland Forest Farm, Green Source Gardens, and Radicle Herbs—up close and personal. The film revolves around regenerative farming practices in cannabis, food, and beyond.
Regenerative farming goes beyond organic and sustainable gardening; even when a farmer uses organic products and nutrients, it isn’t necessarily good for the environment. Regenerative agriculture utilizes natural cycles with processes like remediation that work in tandem with the surrounding environment. This might include sequestering carbon for soil, using closed-loop systems, preserving beneficial native habitats, and other ways of farming that don’t drain natural resources.
The core goal behind the film is to dispel myths and show that regenerative farming is relatively easy to do; it doesn’t necessarily mean more expenses—making it a logical choice for both farmers and the environment.
“We filmed it in 2021 in the spring and then followed the farms over the course of the whole year,” Weissbluth says. “And then we’ve been editing it this year. But the idea for the project started when I began working with my co-director, Jesse [Dodd], in 2018, when he started the Regenerative Cannabis Farm Award at the Emerald Cup.”
Green Source Gardens won the Emerald Cup Regenerative Farm Award in 2016, Briceland Forest Farm won the award in 2017, and Radicle Herbs won in 2018. Other similar awards also make these farms shining examples of regenerative farming: Green Source Gardens, for instance, received the 2018 Regenerative Farming Award at the Cultivation Classic.
Weissbluth and Dodd share the same ideals when it comes to documenting these unique farms.
“It’s been an honor to work with such a talented and professional filmmaker as Claire to bring these ideas in beautiful farms to the light of the big screen,” Dodd says.
Dodd is also the creator of Biovortex, a living conceptual art piece designed to stir conversations about the future of regenerative farming. The art piece is portrayed via photography, writing, social media, conversions, and in-depth presentations and provides information on gardening, soil building, and breeding.
Weissbluth started making short videos about regenerative cannabis farms and then focused Tending the Garden on three that she believed were positive examples of regenerative cannabis farming practices. She decided to follow each of them for a whole year.
“[Regenerative farming is] the concept of giving back to the earth,” she says. “And industrial agriculture really has only the industrial model, which only focuses on extracting resources from the Earth, which is really harming the planet. Industrial agriculture is a huge contributor to climate change. And, you know, tilling is releasing a lot of carbon into the atmosphere. And so regenerative farming is thinking about: How do you sequester the carbon back into the soil? How do you use practices that leave the Earth better than you found it every year?”
To truly understand a farm, you have to put yourself in the shoes of a farmer.
Becoming One With the Farms
When working with cannabis farmers, they often end up becoming almost like family, Weissbluth explains, and that happens the longer you stay around them.
“The [people on the] farms are what I would consider good friends of ours at this point. They really, you know, let us stay at their house and cook amazing meals for us and like to hang out with their kids,” Weissbluth says. “I think that is a unique part of this film is that we really went. We were part of the whole thing. And even Radicle Herbs, which is in Covelo, they have sort of extreme temperatures. So yeah, we were waking up at 6 a.m., when there’s still frost on the ground, to go and film, you know, get close-ups of frozen plants and stuff. And then in the summer. It was around this time last year. I remember it was 108 degrees, which was really intense.”
Part of this process involved first-hand exposure to the daily labor that these farmers undergo every day.
“You get a window into what these guys do and how hard they work,” Weissbluth says.
Weissbluth was surprised at exactly how much work goes into farming, work that expanded beyond growing cannabis. Two farms featured in the film also participate in community supported agriculture (CSA) boxes growing farm-fresh vegetables.
“I got insight into how much labor it actually takes to harvest vegetables and make a CSA box and take it to town,” Weissbluth says. “Two of the farms are also at a farmers market—vegetable farmers—and they’re just working so hard all the time. And we wanted to tell that story, but also make it fun and entertaining. And yeah, just capture the beauty of farming this way.”
By following the growth of cannabis from popping seeds in the spring to the harvest—showing the plant in all of its glory—the film became a joyful celebration of a year-long process of creating healthy cannabis while also healing the Earth.
“It’s about caring for land beyond the farm,” Weissbluth says. “There’s a scene in the film with Daniel [Stein] from Briceland Forest Farm. He has experience as a local volunteer firefighter, and also he did some training with the indigenous people in our area, and they’re trying to do intentional prescribed fire and actually burning in a specific way at a specific time of year, but using fire as a tool, like indigenous people have always done for thousands of years.”
In one scene, viewers see Stein using his chainsaw, cutting tree limbs down, taking dead trees out of the forest and burning them. Weissbluth explained that while that might seem a little alarming—not something that would seem “regenerative” at first glance, it is part of the practice.
“We do want to talk about how the concept of regenerative farming is really just kind of a new word for ancient practices,” she says. “The people in the film, none of them are indigenous, but they are very, you know, tuned into these ways of living with the cycles, the seasons. And giving back was kind of always part of the way that people survived on this planet before we switched. Before colonization and before the industrial [era]. Like seeing the Earth and seeing everything as a resource that we can just take and take.”
Educational & Inspirational
Regenerative agriculture can be inexpensive if you know how to recycle materials and take advantage of abundant natural resources. In one scene, Stein of Briceland Forest Farm chops down huge cannabis stocks, grinds them up and makes them into a pile. Then the chips go back into the compost pile and become part of the fertilizer providing nutrition for next year. The farm also uses goat manure from their herd of goats. On each of the farms featured in the film raising animals and growing vegetables becomes a sort of interconnected activity.
“We’re just trying to sort of show that there are ways to do this without buying stuff from the store, even if it’s organic fertilizer or organic soil, that there are ways that you can really produce it yourself,” Weissbluth says. “And for lower costs, lower impact on the environment, not using as much plastic. And that it is possible. We’re trying to make it educational and also inspirational for people to use some of these tools themselves.”
Dodd hopes that, similarly to the wine industry, the film will help people start to care more about the art, the terroir, the places, and the practices that go into growing cannabis. Once people know that they want to connect with those things, he says, then cannabis becomes more valuable.
“The practices themselves are closed-loop systems where you’re actually utilizing the environment, the resources that you have around you to create more thriving, and fertile abundance in your soil and your farm as a whole,” he says. “So the more people learn from native wisdom, the more they learn permaculture practices, the lower their cost of production becomes, and the higher quality their flowers become.”
Utilizing the surrounding environment is practically the opposite of what large grow operations do.
“All of that cost reduction leads to a higher-quality product that, I believe, is just so much more valuable than something grown in a more industrial-type model,” Dodd says, noting there are benefits in the quality of regeneratively-grown cannabis and its effects. “The much more robust, biochemical development with the living soil grown outdoor flower is huge.”
Part of being profitable also involves fighting overbearing tax burdens. Over 300 cannabis farmers and allies gathered at the Humboldt County Courthouse on Jan. 18 ,2022, to rally and support their request to the Board of Supervisors asking them to Suspend Measure S, the county’s cannabis cultivation tax. Humboldt County Growers Alliance hired Weissbluth to document the rally in a separate project.
Weissbluth explains how it’s been disappointing to see how the regulations in the adult-use marketplace have not made it easy for the small farmers and the supply chain. She hopes the Jan. 18 rally in Humboldt County will create lasting change.
She also acknowledges steps to help farmers, such as California’s cultivation tax, which was eliminated in July, and local efforts.
“Those are, I think, steps in the right direction, but the supply chain is still a really big problem for the small farmers who are trying to get their freshly harvested cured product,” she says. “They want to get it to consumers, in the best form possible, the best quality, and because they have to send it to a distributor because they have to send it somewhere else, the quality degrades by the time it gets to people a lot of the time. We want to use the film to talk about that too.”
One thing that sets Weissbluth’s film apart from other cannabis films is that it supports the message of why the small farmers are important, but there is also a conscious representation of female cultivators and the roles they play.
“Liz [Mahmood] from Green Source Gardens, she’s an amazing artist,” Weissbluth says. “And she actually drew the triangle logo that we’re using. She created that and she does all kinds of art for their farm, Green Source. Blair [AuClair] from Radicle Herbs is just like an amazing cook. And just like multitasking all the time… they’re all moms, they’re all raising animals, they’re all like, managing a million things at once.”
For Weissbluth, the contributions of women in the cannabis industry haven’t always been highlighted. So to her, it was important to give them equal representation.
“In the trailer, actually, it’s even more female voices. We didn’t set out to do that intentionally. But somehow, yeah, it just happened. Having that perspective on caring for the Earth and creating medicine for people is important.”
For Weissbluth and Dodd, the problems they saw in the cannabis industry gave them the courage to tackle regenerative farming and spread the message.
“I do a lot of genetic work with cannabis and breed seeds for lots of different outcomes, whether it’s for good hash or certain terpene profiles or certain cannabinoid profiles, certain resistance or strength, all of that,” Dodd says. “And so I ended up going to a lot of events around the world and I just saw this like, the way marketing was happening, and all this crap that’s not really good for the plants or the Earth that people are being sold on. And I just kind of wanted to figure out a way to flip that and make environmentally thoughtful and community-minded mutualistic ideas cool.”
A 20-minute screening of the film was unveiled at the National Cannabis Festival in Washington, D.C., on April 23 , with another screening at Ecology Center in Los Angeles in August . Private screenings are set to be announced soon. The next upcoming screening is May 14 at the New Parkway in Oakland, California and you can buy tickets here.
This story was originally published in the November 2022 issue of High Times Magazine.