Earlier this month marked the inaugural Emerald Cup Harvest Ball. The Santa Rosa County Fairgrounds came alive as the epicenter of craft California cannabis. The two-day Harvest Ball event showcased an epic craft cannabis farmer’s market and celebrated the season’s freshest fall flower. It’s an extravaganza of excellence that honors the year’s most dope organic and sun-grown flower.
After two years of smoking in solitude, returning to live events is an exciting prospect for California, the cannabis community and the culture. I made sure to be among the crowd of 10,000-plus excited cannabis enthusiasts in attendance for the inaugural Harvest Ball and Craft Cannabis Marketplace.
Planning for my trip to the Bay Area, I knew that I would find fire flowers from all over the state. Coming from the East Coast, I was pumped to see what California cannabis was all about. Top priority? Advance my understanding of the quality of the sun-grown smoke coming out of the legendary Emerald Triangle.
Sun-grown, Not Schwag
“The sun-grown herb has a whole different effect and flavor,” said Jason Gellman, second-generation Southern Humboldt Cannabis Farmer and Founder of Ridgeline Farms.
Gellman went on to say, “We have dedicated our lives to growing the finest Cannabis on earth. There are so many amazing farmers in the Emerald Triangle that the quality and potency keep climbing. We grow the best so you can smoke the best.” Color me intrigued.
Jason was kind enough to put me in touch with a handful of other legacy growers from the Emerald Triangle’s Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity Counties. With my leads from Ridgeline in tow, I sent some messages on Instagram and boarded my flight to SFO.
Into the Triangle… Kind Of
I woke up the next day to a text from the legendary Johnny Casali of Huckleberry Hill Farm fame. The man is an actual living legend in California cannabis culture, but more on that later.
Johnny had heard I was here to see the heat grown up on the hill this past season, and he wanted to make sure I saw it perfectly.
He extended an invite to hit the fairgrounds and meet with some cannabis farmers a few hours before general admission.
Early access to the Harvest Ball Cannabis Marketplace? Awesome! A chance to meet with these legacy growers to see and sample their finest flower? Hell yes!
Breakfast of Champions
I met the homies for an early breakfast at the now weed-famous Flamingo Hotel.
Each table in the Flamingo dining room is packed before 9 a.m.—it was a room filled with the architects and arbiters of West Coast cannabis culture, all sharing breakfast together. The feelings of joy permeated the room; it was apparent everyone in attendance was extremely pumped to be back together again.
Breakfast was a vibe, during which, as fate would have it, I was gifted a pre-roll of one of Huckleberry Hill Farms legendary strains: “Whitethorn Rose.”
This heady breakfast joint would be my first experience smoking sun-grown bud from the triangle, and it did not disappoint. Post-puff, I arrived at the fairgrounds parking lot buzzing with excitement and blasted by the berry terpene profile of the classic Casali strain.
Not in NYC Anymore
I must have simply flown inside the fairgrounds because shortly after parking the car, I found myself right in the heart of the event, literally hours before it opened to the public.
In an instant, I was surrounded by food trucks, epic outdoor staging and branded consumption lounges galore, met with giant indoor pavilions and a solid selection of epic, custom-built outdoor activations from some of the biggest hitters in the game. Included were the likes of Seed Junky and STIIIZY.
The Best Indoor Bud and Outdoor Booths
AlienLabs/Connected/Doja Pak shared a fantastic installation for their booth, an epic collaboration with some truly iconic offerings. I grabbed some super stupid good Biskantè indoor-grown by AlienLabs for a friend with serious FOMO who could not attend (shout out, Jon Cappetta).
My runner-up pick for most dope outdoor activations is Cookies. They came through and set up a neon-lit, color-changing geodesic dome. After securing a small stash at the outdoor activations, I continued my way down the central ave.
Compound Genetics was next to catch my eye. They have always had an objectively sick style and consistently clean approach to their brand aesthetic.
The two-story, multi-purpose structure they assembled on-site from a repurposed shipping container. The creativity of this booth alone makes it my choice for the most dope outdoor activation at the Harvest Ball.
Instagram Comes to Life
Inside, on level one of the Compound Genetics booths, I spot two friendly faces, the legendary Breeder and Compound Genetics founder Chris Lynch plus the one and only Jimi Divine, aka one of the hardest-working weed journalists in the game.
We all chatted briefly, and I got the chance to congratulate Chris [Lynch] on the new Apples and Bananas crosses seed drop. Chris told me it was “the culmination of a lot of hard work… extremely excited to be here all together with everyone to celebrate.”
Chris and his relentless optimism always humble me. This positivity appeared to be echoed by everyone during a magical two days north of the bay. Even the cold NorCal rain that poured down all of day two was no match for the positive vibes this group of humans collectively radiates.
Harvest Ball felt like Instagram had manifested itself into reality. I was scrolling through my feed in person, using my legs, not just my pointer finger. I wandered the grounds, sparking up with old homies, new friends and personal heroes, wading through an epic sea of West Coast weed legends. Truly a trip.
Small Farms Initiative
By now, it was close to 10 a.m., and I was excited to get a peek behind the “Redwood Curtain.” so we all said goodbye for now and set off to the indoor “Hall of Flowers” Pavilion.
The Small Farms Initiative at The Harvest Ball aims to provide a platform to promote the foundational local growers to the thousands of cannabis connoisseurs attending the event.
Collectively, those selected farmers represented every corner of the Emerald Triangle. Twenty-seven legacy cannabis farms were assembled and given pro-bono exhibition space, all with the vision of lifting and amplifying these small farms in the global marketplace.
Death by Taxes
It is essential to understand that the past few years have been incredibly tumultuous in California cannabis. Further regulatory hurdles, a flooded market, falling prices and inconceivably high taxes are particularly tough pills (for anyone) to swallow. Given these hurdles, most small, craft cannabis farms have struggled to stay afloat.
Even from an outsider’s perspective, it’s clear as day that the cultivation tax is broken at best and downright predatory at worst. The state’s idea to raise the tax in January to $161.28/lb Feels like an open slap in the face to most of these legacy farmers, in addition to local taxes.
I would love to see anybody try and make a case for how an initial tax rate of over 50 percent is even close to reasonable. Anybody? Go on; I’ll wait.
All that said, the resilience of these Emerald Triangle farmers is impressive, and so was their flower.
A Warm Welcome from the Farmers
Time seemed to race as I spoke with over a dozen legacy cannabis farmers about growing the best sun-grown bud. Everyone I met was so excited to share their stories, passions and labors of love with me, a relative stranger. Undoubtedly a heart-warming experience amid these strange days of social distancing.
I have to shout out Johnny Casali personally here, who leveraged his legendary status among his community of Emerald Triangle farmers, granting me access to their world and their weed.
For those who don’t know, Johnny Casali is a second-generation cannabis grower and breeder. Johnny runs Huckleberry Hill Farm with his girlfriend Rose, where he cultivates and breeds some of the dopest genetics in all of Humboldt.
Casali followed a rocky path to becoming one of the state’s first licensed cannabis operations. In 1992, when cultivation was still very much illegal in California, Casali was arrested after federal agents raided his gardens. Although he was a first-time, nonviolent offender, mandatory minimum guidelines meant he would be sentenced to 10 years to life in federal prison for a plant, and he served eight. Upon release in 2000, Johnny returned to his home in the Emerald Triangle, a folk hero.
Farms Worth Fighting For
While this community is by no means out of the woods (no pun intended), after meeting the people, hearing the stories and smoking the bud firsthand from the farmer, I can say wholeheartedly that this pillar of the cannabis culture deserves saving.
Regardless, one thing is abundantly clear. These farmers care about their communities with such depth that they’re willing to go above and beyond to work through byzantine and largely pointless regulatory hoops to bring you the heat.
I need to give everyone an enormous shout out for showing this East Coast kid what West Coast weed is all about. With that said, let’s get down to it. Here is a rundown of the best buds and hottest heat from the 2021 Harvest Ball. This opportunity warmed my heart, and I can’t wait to see everyone again next year!
Standouts from the Show
This is by no means a complete list of all the heat that one could come upon at the Harvest Ball. We all walk our own path, so by all means, if you saw the heat, and it’s not here, hit me up on Instagram and let me know: @east_coast_kid_
Second-generation grower Jason Gelman of Ridgeline Farm has come into some minor celebrity as of late. He is what I call weed famous. One of the first legacy growers to team up with Berner’s Cookies through the Humboldt Grown Initiative, Ridgeline’s award-winning genetics speak for themselves. The organic, sun-grown flower was the top-selling SKU in Cookies California retail locations for weeks in 2021. That’s saying something.
For Jason and the team at Ridgeline Farms, “The most exciting thing about this collaboration is how many people that have never smoked sun-grown can now enjoy true craft cannabis,” he told me. That said, Jason’s farm in SoHum focuses on quality over quantity that is clear to see.
Best-in-show buds from Ridgeline included Lantz, Green Lantern and Ridgeline Runtz. My favorite was Green Lantern. This strain is pure gas and a powerful illustration of the best that Kush can be. The nose is Diesel fuel dominant, and the flower reaches THC levels as high as 35 percent.
Green Lantern was my go-to ganja all weekend. Far from a fan of pre-rolled pot, I proudly puffed at least 15 of them during my two-day stay in the bay. Keep an eye on Ridgeline Farms in the New Year; definitely cop some yourself if you get the chance.
AlienLabs’ Harvest Ball offerings were impressive. AlienLabs has a stellar reputation for pushing the envelope to create unique exotic strains. The brand is constantly moving the conversation forward, which has earned the team my respect.
Honestly, I vouch for everything that comes out of its operation. Alien is all about finer things, for those who like their finer things a little weird… this is something I can appreciate.
Native Humboldt Farms
I am incredibly excited to get the opportunity to talk about this next heady contender. Native Humboldt Farms is a small farm in Southeast Humboldt owned and operated by Lindsey Renner and Jon Obliskey. To say this small farm is doing big things is putting it mildly.
This past season 5,000 square foot of canopy space was dedicated to growing three top-notch genetics for Cookies. This dynamic duo produces storied strains like Cheetah Piss and Sunshine #4 as a collaboration between legacy cultivators in the Emerald Triangle called the Cookies Humboldt Initiative.
My favorite from Native had to be its organic, sun-grown take on the famous Orangutan genetics by Heavyweight heads. I had the opportunity to compare the Orangutan indoor and sun-grown versions side-by-side. Feel free to call me crazy, but the sun-grown smells gassier and just smacks harder than the same genetics grown indoors. Maybe the most full-spectrum experience does come from the sun? I’m a believer.
Briceland Forest Farms
These heads had an excellent setup at The Harvest Ball. An immersive, farmers’ market-style experience highlighted a cornucopia of buds grown under the sun. The growers at Briceland Forest Farms are faithful stewards of their land, and their passion for the plant is palpable. Briceland’s organic and regenerative farming practices make a perfect model for authentic pot permaculture.
My pick is their Mother’s Milk Pheno #31—a cut from the original Bodhi Seeds cross. THC levels in the Mother’s Milk from Briceland Forest Farm’s reserve is a strong 22 to 23 percent with terp levels exceeding four percent on this latest batch. Needless to say, this fresh farm bud blew me away.
Canna Country Farms
Ted Blair and the team from Canna Country Farm, along with their Forbidden Fruit x Cherimoya cross “The #26,” is a perfect reminder of how variety is the spice of life.
The team at Canna Country painstakingly bred this bud in a clear labor of love that you can feel when consuming the flower. The #26 won the Breeders Cup and took second place in the sun-grown flower category at last year’s Emerald Cup Awards.
The #26 stands out as a favorite from the event for many reasons. Perhaps most notable is the expression of an incredibly rare terpene called Ocimene. The #26 has a sweet, woodsy fragrance and undoubtedly holds therapeutic properties.
The #26 aside, Blair’s breeding prowess is evident. He and his team entered three cultivars in the Emerald Cup, and all three strains were selected within the top 21. That said, you should consider yourself lucky to get your hands on anything these guys breed. I certainly do. Keep an eye out for Canna Country Farms.
The people over at Connected pretty much always do it proper. I have been a massive fan of their Gelonade x Biscotti cross Lemonatti. Not going to lie, I love the name, and I know it’s not the “newest drop,” but I think it is some of the best bud available at that price point.
The result of a tirelessly epic pheno-hunt (#17, to be exact), I think it is a perfect expression of the best of what both parents have to offer. Get yourself some.
Earlier, I noted Huckleberry Hill Farms and briefly touched on the legend of Johnny Casali. Casali is Second Generation grower and breeder in Humboldt. Now I want to let everyone know what’s good with his weed.
Every offering Johnny gave me that weekend was packed with pure power and super-expressive flavors. The Whitethorn Rose; if I put things in a box, I categorize this cultivar as “Dessert Wine Weed.” The perfect antidote to the dessert strain hype.
His other most notable is “Mom’s Weed”—which Johnny grows as an homage to his beloved mother, who taught him all he knows about the plant. This strain aims to honor the vital, though often overlooked, role that women have historically played and continue to play on cannabis farms.
This is one of many things that make Johnny unique as a cannabis grower. Each strain he breeds and cultivates on his farm is rich in narrative. A born storyteller, he believes in the power of the place. His weed has resonated with many because it is unique to the farmer. Especially in the cannabis market today, authenticity is a veritable currency that must be valued and preserved.
My favorite of Johnny’s buds? Personally, that pick goes to the Paradise Punch x Zookies cross called Amalfi. Testing at a substantial 27.98 percent total THC, I challenge any skeptic of sun-grown to hit that and still hold that outdated opinion. With an intense aroma of muddled fruit in a gas can, this strain smells and tastes fantastic, with a cerebral effect that certainly smacks. Ask for it by name. Tell them Johnny sent you.
The entire cannabis business in 2022 is hanging on for dear life. The BIG FARMS are burning through cash. The boutique farms live from crop to crop. The taxing authorities and regulating agencies will bleed all dry. The black market grows. There are too much weed grown. The hay days are gone. One big downturn in the price of weed and like dominoes the industry folds. Only a stoned fool can’t see what is coming without change.