Aid is on the way for struggling farmers in two of the Emerald Triangle’s three counties, with funding available to help improve drought resilience and licensing compliance.
Cannabis for Conservation (CFC), a Humboldt County, California-based 501(c)(3) environmental nonprofit, announced $2.5 million in grant funds to assist small cannabis farmers through the California Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Cannabis Restoration Grant Program via the Qualified Cultivator Funding Opportunity, according to a Feb. 28 press release.
Small farmers in the Emerald Triangle, an area where the economy is built on cannabis farming, have been “pushed to the brink” due to the impact of legalization, Cal Matters reports. It’s a region with over a quarter million people, and nearly everyone living in the region is either directly or indirectly reliant on cannabis. Cannabis has been the area’s staple crop since the ‘70s, with some farms in operation for generations. The rollout of grant funding couldn’t be more urgent, according to locals.
The two grants that were announced—Implementing Drought Resilience Strategies on Humboldt County Cannabis Farms and Provisional to Annual License Transitions for Trinity County Cultivators—will collectively assist 89 farms across eight priority watersheds with environmental work.
“We see a great opportunity for conservation with this nascent industry, especially given that many farmers own large tracts of land in one of the most biodiverse ecoregions on the planet,” said Jackee Riccio, the co-founder and executive director of CFC.
CFC’s Drought Resilience Program aims to improve sustainable water consumption on some 17 farms. They will do this by installing rainwater catchment systems, increasing water storage capacity, and/or hardening and improving irrigation. This, they believe, will improve on-farm drought resilience and reduce direct impacts to water sources during low-flow periods.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “the frequency, intensity, and duration of drought events” is increasing at rates not seen before.
The point of this isn’t to transform small farms into monopolies, however: CFC stipulates that none of these water improvements will be used to increase cultivation footprints, farm size, or number of licenses, but rather reduce or eliminate extraction from water resources during dry periods and in some cases, convert farms to 100% water storage.
The Provisional to Annual License Program, on the other hand, aims to assist 72 Trinity cultivators in achieving an annual County and Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) license. The grant aims to provide professional help to small farmers to finalize annual licenses, including “completing documentation for California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) compliance and Special-Status Species Mitigation and allow for a Technical Advisory Committee between CDFW, CFC, and the county to quickly resolve licensing obstacles that arise.”
CEQA is a California law dating back to 1970 that requires environmental review of proposed cultivation projects. All annual state cannabis licenses must comply with CEQA. The DCC may only issue an annual license once a project complies with CEQA. In addition, DCC has requirements for standard operating procedures, training employees, and how operations must be set up.
CFC’s applied conservation approach focuses on collaborative, on-farm research, biodiversity enhancements, and environmental education.
The goal is to bring together scientists and farmers to implement peer-reviewed conservation practices, with benefits provided to wildlife, land, and water.
“Working with farmers and transforming monocultures into functional agroecosystems is a priority strategy among conservationists globally and we’re doing our part in that here, in the heart of cannabis country to return to the back-to-the-land values that this industry was born from,” Riccio added.