Wine has long flowed through the heart of our state. Whether you’re a connoisseur or a casual sipper, tasting California’s world-renowned wines offers the chance to practice mindfulness, exhibit your adept preferences and appreciate the artful idiosyncrasies that spring from each vineyard. Wine tasting isn’t (usually) about getting hammered. At the inaugural Emerald Exchange farmers market, a group of Mendocino farmers descended upon Malibu’s bluffs to prove that cannabis consumption is no longer about dirty bongs and debilitating highs.
In some ways, the Emerald Exchange is like other farmers markets one might find in L.A.’s more upscale and bohemian neighborhoods. It’s set up on a tucked-away, pebbly patch of land. The ocean is visible from each vendor's canvas booth. There were wealthy women in floppy hats, cute dogs and even a well-dressed toddler. One could sip organic whole lemon–ade, sniff fragrant body lotions or sample fresh gazpacho.
Unlike a typical farmers market, though, all of these wares could be infused with THC.
The market was a way for Mendocino growers to showcase the bounty of the agriculture that grows on their historically fertile land. Since the late 1960s, Mendocino’s ideal climate and remote location have made it a hotbed for marijuana agriculture. In light of the plant’s growing popularity and likely pending statewide legality, growers in the area are, in increasing numbers, moving their business to a less stigmatized market. “I’ve been farming my whole life,” says Megan Champion, founder of Deviant Dabs. “I was ready to move off of the black market.”
In an attempt to move toward legitimacy, Champion and many farmers in her area have joined forces with Mendocino magnate Justin Calvino to divide the county into several “Cannabis Appellations,” or regions defined by their specific location and geological properties. Just as California wines are profiled based on a Central Coast or Napa Valley appellation, Calvino hopes that California cannabis soon will be defined in terms of its origin in places such as the Ukiah Valley or north Mendocino coast. Formally breaking up the area into regions, proponents say, will foster business for local growers, who will be able to uniquely brand their product and establish consistent standards.
Champion, who has been on the legitimate market for only a few months, has already begun to carve out a specific identity for her hash concentrates, which are grown on an all-female farm. “I heard what people were saying about concentrates — that it’s the crack of marijuana — and I wanted to change that,” says Champion, who is infectiously bubbly. Indeed, Deviant concentrates look like something you’d buy in Sephora, not smoke in an alley. They come in sleek silver compacts with an elegant logo that’s reminiscent of Christian Dior. “I also wanted to target women because I am a woman,” says Champion, as she bounces in her cowboy boots to music from the nearby DJ booth.
“We’re above the fog line, which is really great, because the fog is what causes mold on plants,” says Janae Doutel Ebert. She and her boyfriend, Leo Mitri Hartz, are the young, tanned proprietors of Shine On Farms, which is perched at 1,800 feet above Mendocino’s Anderson Valley. Ebert comes from a wine family, and she has brought the principles of harvesting grapes to Shine On Farms, where she and Hartz harvest a wide plethora of organic produce, honey, livestock and cannabis flowers — all without using any electricity. The farm is entirely powered by two solar panels and a propane tank, which the couple uses for their fridge. They brought with them a number of sun-grown buds, including one strain called the Doutel & Mitri — named after their respective grandparents — because the seeds are proprietary and “come from (their) own genetics.”
The easygoing pair brought a bounty of farm-fresh foodstuffs to the Malibu market. Their tomatoes and eggplants contributed to the evening’s communal diner, as did the two roosters they recently harvested. As I spoke with Ebert and Hartz, a happy-go-lucky person named Travis, barefoot in a sundress, walked up with a paper bag of fresh-picked apples. “Thank you so much!” exclaimed Ebert, as she begged him to let her trade them for Shine On Farms veggies.
Dinner was served on the lot at the base of the property, and on the walk down to the dining area, Foria, which manufactures cannabis-based lubricants, had set up shop next to a VW van. Men and women in loose-fitting clothing loitered casually around the vehicle’s exterior. Propped in front of them was a sign that read “Legalize love.”
In the Galaxy’s Easiest Meal food truck, chef Joshua Fisher prepared our farm-to–I-5–to table meal. As we waited for dinner to be served, a DJ spun at a station that was wrapped in living tree roots. There were white Christmas lights hanging above the dance floor and multicolored silks draped on the couches in the smoking area. A few people had cigarettes and several of us vaped flower from Fireflys, the handheld vaporizers used to sample product, as the dry Malibu lot does not allow for open flames.
Mark Williams, the stylish and smiling co-founder of Firefly, presented several of his sleek devices and offered them to the handful of people milling around him.
“Ten years ago,” Williams says, taking a long drag of flower vape, “could you have ever seen this coming?”
When the sun set, the mood became relaxed. At vendor Evoxe Laboratories's booth, which was lit with multicolored psychedelic lighting, founder Michael Katz showed off his essential oil vape pens, which are made in America and come in red, white, blue and black. Each color-coded device was filled with organically grown oils and strains designed to give the user exactly the targeted effect desired: The white pen is non-psychoactive CBD blended with frankincense and tangerine for focus. The red pen will perk you up with sativa and peppermint. The blue one will put you to sleep with indica and lavender.
Dinner was served in near-darkness. There was baba ganoush and grilled veggies and fresh olives, slick and coarse with salt. The venison and chicken that were brought down for the day were served family-style, alongside brimming plates of flat bread grilled just behind us. After the food was set, servers walked from table to table, dishing out small spoonfuls of THC extract for anyone who wanted to “infuse” their meal.
One woman at my table was from Mendocino County. This was her first time in Malibu, and she was a little disappointed by how dry and desertlike it is here. It’s greener where she’s from. “But maybe,” she says, “I’m just partial to home. California is the best place in the world,” she added. All of us, though silently absorbed in our thoughts and food, tacitly agreed.