Grassland is a new photo series about the lives of marijuana growers in California’s Mendocino, Humboldt, and Sonoma counties.

Those three counties are known as the "Emerald Triangle." They produce the bulk of California’s legal weed.

Those three counties are known as the "Emerald Triangle." They produce the bulk of California’s legal weed.

H. Lee is, of course, a pseudonym.

Says the photographer: "I unexpectedly found myself in a cannabis-growing community thanks to personal connections, not work."

"It was a world to which I’d never been exposed--and it was beyond intriguing to me, everything from the people and the process to the farming and a community that was bred from, let’s say, alternative activities."

"I am a storyteller, and felt, now more than ever, it’s time for this hidden tale to be told in images, at the very least."

"I am a storyteller, and felt, now more than ever, it’s time for this hidden tale to be told in images, at the very least."

"I am a storyteller, and felt, now more than ever, it’s time for this hidden tale to be told in images, at the very least."

"I am a storyteller, and felt, now more than ever, it’s time for this hidden tale to be told in images, at the very least."

"I am a storyteller, and felt, now more than ever, it’s time for this hidden tale to be told in images, at the very least."

"I am a storyteller, and felt, now more than ever, it’s time for this hidden tale to be told in images, at the very least."

"I am a storyteller, and felt, now more than ever, it’s time for this hidden tale to be told in images, at the very least."

"I am a storyteller, and felt, now more than ever, it’s time for this hidden tale to be told in images, at the very least."

"I am a storyteller, and felt, now more than ever, it’s time for this hidden tale to be told in images, at the very least."

"I am a storyteller, and felt, now more than ever, it’s time for this hidden tale to be told in images, at the very least."

"I am a storyteller, and felt, now more than ever, it’s time for this hidden tale to be told in images, at the very least."

"I am a storyteller, and felt, now more than ever, it’s time for this hidden tale to be told in images, at the very least."

2013-01-24

Co.Exist

This Is What The Marijuana Industry Really Looks Like

A new photo essay looks into the pot-growing communities of northern California and finds they’re not much different from any other agricultural community.

Pot farmers: They’re just like every other small-time farmer. That’s the sense you get from looking at the images in H. Lee’s Grassland, a series of photos depicting everyday life for marijuana growers in California’s so-called "Emerald Triangle"—Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity counties, which produce the bulk of marijuana sold legally in the state.

In an email, H. Lee (a pseudonym) tells me how she ended up spending an entire year between 2010 and 2011—from one harvest to the next—following cannabis growers in Sonoma, Mendocino, and Humboldt: "I unexpectedly found myself in a cannabis-growing community thanks to personal connections, not work. It was a world to which I’d never been exposed—and it was beyond intriguing to me, everything from the people and the process to the farming and a community that was bred from, let’s say, alternative activities. I am a storyteller, and felt, now more than ever, it’s time for this hidden tale to be told in images, at the very least."

The conversation about marijuana consumption in the U.S. has bubbled to the forefront in recent months now that it’s legal for adults over 21, not just those with prescriptions, in Washington and Colorado. It’s a contentious topic, but one that’s slowly becoming more accepted in mainstream society. Marijuana growing is another story. Even within the welcoming arms of California’s lax medical marijuana laws, growers are part of a closed-off world—except within the Emerald Triangle, where pot farming keeps the economy going.

An article in Washington Monthly describes the situation:

"In my rural community we have no outside services," one resident of the Humboldt hill country told me recently. "We had to beg to get phone here. I have no broadband service. It’s an hour and a half for the cops to get here. The hospital is a disaster area. The road doesn’t come out our way. We get no county services. Most of our kids don’t go to county schools." Out of 300 families in her community, she said, only five of them don’t grow pot. And like the colony at Jamestown, where leaves of tobacco became the only practical currency, parts of the Triangle have even seen cannabis emerge as a local medium of exchange. The same resident described a recent effort at backwoods revenue collection: "They passed out marijuana plants to people and said, ‘Grow this one for the fire truck. This plant over here is for the school; this plant over here is for the road.’

I once visited a couple running a vegetable farm in Mendocino county; they were surrounded by pot farmers on all sides. And while the couple enjoyed marijuana themselves, they didn’t like being surrounded by secretive, unfriendly growers. H. Lee describes things differently. "I did not get an 'exclusivity’ vibe at all; it’s more about privacy and caution," she says.

The situation is different with big-time growers that are susceptible to federal raids, but among the small-timers, their operations aren’t too exciting—except for the end product, of course. In the end, marijuana farming towns aren’t that different from other insular farming towns.

A reliance on one crop is always risky, and so the question remains about what will happen to these small-time growers if marijuana is fully legalized and large operations supplying weed to major corporations become the norm. They may get squeezed out. But isn’t that the story of agriculture in America?

Check out H. Lee’s photos in the slide show above.

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5 Comments

  • Mike Vincent

    Wow, some actual truth telling comments here. I'm very impressed and truly believe that what's being said is so close or actually truth in the opinions of what the authors are saying.  I back them up in every way possible.  As a country and/or it's people, me, you, all of us are quickly going to become non-existent if we don't reign in our current legislators, lawmakers & rule-makers who are the very ones, in most part, that are the rule-breakers, the 'do as I say, not as I do', the one's that always seem to be managing things that they have no business in other than making their lives better, while ruining yours.  It's got to be fair, across the board for us all to live harmoniously on this planet.  Another topic that needs beyond immediate attention.  But miracles do happen!

  • Shrdlu

    The whole idea of growing cannabis as a pleasure crop detracts from it's manifold other uses. It could replace cotton as a textile that is more comfortable and longer-lasting, it can be grown for it's oil which has many uses in cooking and other applications. And as paper it could help halt the tragic deforestation which is ruining our country.

  • Malcolm Kyle

    Prohibition has finally run its course: Our prisons are full, our economy is in ruins, the lives and livelihoods of tens of millions of Americans have been destroyed or severely disrupted. What was once a shining beacon of liberty and prosperity has become a toxic, repressive, smoldering heap of hypocrisy and a gross affront to fundamental human decency. 

    If you sincerely believe that prohibition is a dangerous and counter-productive policy then you can stop helping to enforce it. You are entitled—required even—to act according to your conscience. 

    * It only takes one juror to prevent a guilty verdict. 

    * You are not lawfully required to disclose your voting intention before taking your seat on a jury.

    * You are also not required to give a reason to the other jurors on your position when voting. Simply state that you find the accused not guilty.

    * Jurors must understand that it is their opinion, their vote. If the Judge and the other jurors disapprove, too bad. There is no punishment for having a dissenting opinion.

    We must create what we can no longer afford to wait for and end the most destructive, dysfunctional, dishonest and racist social policy since Slavery. 

    PLEASE VOTE TO ACQUIT! 

  • David M

    Being in the legal field, you are exactly right! In addition, a prosecutor's ability to climb the ladder is determined by their win percentage. If you can stop these venomous prosecutors from winning by just saying "not guilty" even if the other 11 jurors are mad at you, you can help prevent the prosecutor whom took the case to trial from becoming the District Attorney or a judge. Once they reach that level, their venom is spewed down upon us all!
    We must also attack the wrongs of Prohibition through our votes! I don't just mean voting for one party over another, I mean voting for whomever is against the waste Prohibition has caused. This includes Republicans and Democrats. However, the. Amorites of those parties consider members that are against prohibition to be on the "fringe". One way together around this is to put your. Ores behind 3rd party candidates.
    The only thing Democrats and Republicans hate more than the other party is the idea of a 3rd party. That is because it would turn our current money and nepotism driven political machine on its head.
    Suddenly politicians would have to follow the true will of their constituents, rather than the will of their donors, or face an end to their political career.
    My whole point here is that we must get up and act FOR OURSELVES rather than watching from the sidelines and commenting.
    If not, we will continue to comment on how unfair our system is.
    David M.