It’s tempting to roll your eyes at yet another precious San Franciscan artisan, farm-to-table pot delivery service, as marijuana crawls out of the black market. But unlike the handful of its predecessors, PremaFlora isn’t just another primo weed delivery service – it’s a sobering social enterprise, designed first and foremost as a vehicle for social and environmental change.
The company signals a cultural shift in California, as small, artisan growers who’d created the industry struggle to stay afloat, being squeezed out by waves of corporate and out-of-state cash flooding the Green Rush.
“California’s existing cannabis industry is experiencing a monumental shift from informal to regulated,” says PremaFlora founder, Jeff Jones. “We’re using a social enterprise business model to keep small cannabis farmers alive who produce quality, artisanal and sustainable products so they can continue to contribute to their local economies,” he says.
PremaFlora aims to preserve California’s rich cannabis heritage and sustainable rural economies by hooking up farmers with sales and marketing, while educating buyers that, toke by toke, artisan cannabis has a revolutionary potential for fair trade and social justice.
Jones, 40, spent over a decade as a program director for nonprofit and social enterprise, building and managing programs designed to grow micro and small businesses, including at a large international NGO. Disenchanted with micro-finance and the way artisan farmers were being left behind, he saw how PremaFlora could use the power of solid, scalable business practices toward social, environmental, and economic issues.
“When structured within social enterprise business models, cannabis can positively impact important issues such as reducing income inequality, developing and preserving sustainable rural economies, and promoting sustainable and regenerative business and agricultural practices,” says Jones.
The humble weed can help rural communities, small farms and small businesses survive and thrive. Priced right, it also gives farms incentive to adopt effective and cost-efficient production methods that simultaneously support biodiversity and environmental health.
Says Jones, “Our hypothesis is that a farm-to-table, sustainable-cannabis brand will be the best vehicle for accomplishing (this).”
The cannabis industry was perverted by prohibition, driving it indoors with the supply chain optimized for risk reduction, at the cost of quality, consistency, and transparency to the consumer. Indoor production focused on potency alone.
“One need only look at analogous products such as wine, coffee, chocolate, homeopathic remedies, and produce to know that, once educated, there will be a groundswell of consumer demand for high-quality cannabis products produced sustainably by artisan or craft producers,” says Jones, adding “Hands down, craft farmers using sustainable production methods grow outstanding cannabis: vibrant flowers with beautiful hues and iridescences, complex palates and bouquets, robust flavors, and super clean effects.”
It’s not called the Green Rush for nothing. According to the New York Times, medical marijuana sales hit $2.7 billion dollars last year. If states vote to allow for recreational use, the market will double by 2020. Already 25 states allow for some legal marijuana use, and another 9 will vote to consider doing so this year. All that cash means land prices and other overhead costs have tripled for growers in the last decade.
What’s being lost in the great stride from the underground to Main Street and big money is the concept of cannabis terroir: that the soil, climate, and human nurturing creates uniquely, multi-note complexities in taste and quality. Many artisan farms are creating their own terroir with local know-how, natural ingredients, and genetics.
If the climate is too hot and dry, the flowers lack bouquet. If it’s foggy, there is mold and damp, and lack of desiccation stress, meaning the flavor loses complexity.
“Much of what makes Round Valley/Covelo, for example, such a wonderful place to grow cannabis is its combination of hot, dry days and cool nights, “ says Jones. “The dry days create desiccation stress that increases resin production and the cool nights help to bring out the plant’s colors and terpenes. As a low-footprint crop — I’m sure cannabis has the highest crop value-acreage ratio of any crop — farmers can afford to customize the substrate for their plants and generally do not rely purely on native soils (such as chalky soil with certain wine grapes).”
The farmer’s skill in remedying the soil environment, in choosing what varieties to plant, what nutrients and what water to use, as well as their approach to pest and fungal management, all play a huge role in the overall quality of the final product.
And then there is most potent element: the love.
“I can’t put it any other way, and I’m about as far as you can get from a hippy,” says Jones, “But talking about this, I have to say it’s the love.”
Craft, artisan cannabis is beautiful to behold: frosted, colorful, flavorful and pungent, with multiple layers of flavors and bouquet, with clear, clean effects. These are farms that feed their plants almost exclusively through the soil and microbe web, using compost, soil amendments, and compost teas without the use of bagged soil after the nursery stage, pesticides or mono-cropping. Most small farmers grow food alongside marijuana, rotating crops for optimal soil health.
“I don’t know how else to describe it other than some farms are just vibing on a higher level,” he says, adding, “Cannabis farmers are unique in that they are both the grape grower and the vintner; the grain/hops producer and the brew master – so the decisions they make directly affect the product that many of us directly consume without any further processing.”
Alicia W., a PremaFlora customer, and techie in San Francisco concurs, saying, “I shop at farmers’ markets and pay attention to what I purchase. Why? Because I’m excited about trying the best of the best. I had never been able to buy such high-quality flower – it blew me away.”
And closer, too, perhaps, to a better world, one artisanal puff at a time.