In the heart of Northern California’s Humboldt County the Mateel Community Center gleans its civil harvest from the stirring of cannabis legalization. Focusing on arts and culture Humboldt Hemp Fest is deemed the original celebration of cannabis. November 10th – 12th will mark Twenty Seven years of cannabis liberation. Marie Mills and a collection of Women founded the Hemp Awareness Group in 1990. Though Humboldt Hemp Fest has always been about the liberation of cannabis when the event started it wasn’t taking into account what legalization could mean for the community.
Serving as the hub of Southern Humboldt County, this rural center provides a sustainable platform for arts, education, and service. It’s literal and figurative roots are nestled into a massive hillside and stages carve through paths cascading into a perspective of unity. This southern region of Northern California’s coastline is the largest cannabis-producing region in the United States. I was honored to speak with the Mateels General Manager Justin Crellin in 2016. I found myself winded not only from my overwhelming appreciation but from the near vertical climb to his treehouse perched office. An offset yet welcoming blend of Humboldt pride stood simply beside the foretold legacy of this charmed land. This was immediately recognized in the eyes of every fortunate Hemp Fest guest and volunteer.
Humboldt Cannabis Community
Crellin recognizes how Hemp Fest has evolved. Humboldt County is an Iconic community. The environment itself, with is hot summers, and cooler winters is conducive to the successful growth of cannabis. As a result, people came to Humboldt to grow. Cannabis has produced an alternative community. The first successful growers were enthusiasts and as the culture and the industry grew it became an economic opportunity. The generations that followed have been for profit. However, the founding principles have survived and today still suggests a more natural co-existence with life.
The Mateel Community Center experienced disaster in 1983 when the building was destroyed by an arsonist’s fire. This provoked a major fundraising campaign that allowed for the center to be rebuilt in the current Redway location. Reggae On The River and Humboldt Hemp Fest were the two largest contributors to the funds needed to rebuild. These events continue to serve a critical role in funding the Mateel’s annual operational needs. I asked Crellin if Humboldt Hemp Fest has deterred people from using the facility? “It’s an evolving public opinion. There is definitely a more conservative contingent, even if small, that views the Mateel Community Center as a counter culture community,” Crellin elaborates, “The majority of people came to Humboldt as part of a back to the land movement in the late 60’s and early 70’s.”
Concerns About Legalization
People are not happy about legalization and Crellin continued to tell me that most people are fearful about what legalization is going to mean. Fearing that people are going to be shut out of a legal cannabis economy the community is now talking about appellations. To have regional appellations growers need to use the natural soils that exist locally. With the costs of permitting and compliance the local citizen may not be able to afford the transition.
Humboldt Hemp Fest is host to an internally organized annual forum. Tim Blake, founder and director of the Emerald Cup in near by Santa Rosa, brought together professionals, entrepreneurs, and local activists to discuss cannabis legalization. Activists in this community in particular have had an effect in advocacy at the state level creating protections for small growers and “Mom and Pop” organizations. Most recently Marijuana has had a negative impact with the proliferation of mega grows that never would have been acceptable five years ago. Concerns that if the people don’t have cannabis to support them they may go back to clear cutting properties or making negative land use choices.
Humboldt Hemp Fest and California Growers Association
The Humboldt Hemp Fest forum introduced the California Growers Association’s Executive Director Hezekiah Allen. The Director spoke of, “Being on the dawn of a future only imagined with fear and trepidation.” Verbalizing his dream for economically viable family farms impressed a sense of capable urgency. It was Allen’s simple layout of process that leant to its familiarity. Speaking of a legislative process as seasonal and similar to an existing agricultural lifestyle. While regulatory affairs were referred to as constant and structured throughout the year. The primary agenda is to ensure that the values of the California Growers Association are reflected in the politics of their affiliated politicians campaign process. Calling for a time for our community and heritage to be professionally represented at the state and local levels.
Swami Chaitanya of the Swami Select: Sun, Moon & Star Grown farms was also part of the Humboldt Hemp Fest Forum. Speaking first of consciousness he correlated cannabis to respecting a Dao or following a path. The Swami co-founded the Mendocino Cannabis Policy Council and serves as a horticultural board member to the California Industry Association. The Swami proposed that if retail pot is $1500 a pound the farmer must produce at least 200 pounds to make living from it.
He also expressed concerns that the track and trace program alone will cost farmers thousands of dollars to meet compliance requirements. The Swami discussed categories defined by a result of human activities and commends California for being the only state looking at these industry standards in detail. He is now part of an industry appallation project bringing experts to the table to mitigate controversies between county and city regulation. Swami Chaitanya believes reaffirming the existing state identified categories through a unique delineation is the first step to protecting the identity of Humboldt’s local product.
These rural progressives with real world values demonstrate a way of building agriculture that serves local communities. Communities that care about each other and our neighborhoods as much as profitability. By keeping a cooperative culture, small coops are coordinating to meet markets while building a multi billion dollar industry that reflects the individual citizens.
Hezekiah Allen states that by best estimate California grows 15 million pounds of cannabis statewide. California can only sell 1.5 million pounds within the existing marketplace and 2.5 million pounds within a potential state marketplace. This means that California alone must reduce its total cannabis infrastructure by 70% to remain in state. Allen suggests, “A tiered licence structure to modulate the supply by everyone scaling back a bit rather than picking winners and losers. Intentionally with efforts to create market controls that are mindful, while creating a broad base of operation.”
Today the average annual attendance to events at the Mateel total to more than 50,000 lucky guests. The Mateel Community Center sustains cultural diversity and economic stability to a very rural region and hopes to be a model for communities everywhere. The Mateel devotion to embracing diversity, vitality, justice, and sustainability is present in their beautiful programs and the events that thrive throughout the year. This constant service will continue to build relationships throughout local, regional, and international circles and manifest a global positive change.
For more information on the upcoming Humboldt Hemp Fest head over to mateel.org
See you in November!