Sonoma Valley turkey ranch turns its soil to cannabis cultivation

An old turkey ranch near Glen Ellen is the site of a very new business model, applying biodynamic principals that have worked well in grape production and other agricultural practices to the rapidly-growing field of legal cannabis cultivation.

SPARC, a medical cannabis cultivator started in San Francisco (as the San Francisco Patient and Resource Center), moved into Sonoma County earlier this year with the purchase of Peace in Medicine, a medical dispensary with locations in Sebastopol and Santa Rosa.

But it’s their ability to cultivate marijuana that’s the cornerstone of their “vertically-integrated” business, said Erich Pearson at the former Gordenker Turkey Ranch off Highway 12.

“We have to continue to cultivate,” he stressed. “We have our existing members at our dispensary that are counting on the medicine that we grow.”

The Sonoma Valley location was chosen when SPARC’s previous Sonoma farm was zoned out of legal production by recent changes in Sonoma County regulations. That was in a rural residential area, which the Board of Supervisors decided wasn’t suitable for cannabis cultivation, after many RR residents complained about the smell, fears of home invasion and other concerns.

The new location is in a LIA zone, land intensive agriculture, said Pearson. Much of the plants being grown on the property are in starter pots, and some in greenhouses, but it’s the cannabis growing out of the biodynamically-enriched soil that’s most newsworthy.

Their advisor is Mike Benziger, founder and former owner of the winery that bears his name, long acknowledged as a pioneer in biodynamic farming in the wine industry. “I have seen it work in the wine business,” said Benziger. “To have Erich embrace this type of farming with his cannabis could create a whole new prototype for how that crop is farmed in America.”

Biodynamic farming is based on organic farming methods enhanced with a philosophical underpinning and some more esoteric practices, designed to “restore and harmonize the vital life forces of the farm,” according to the Biodynamic Association of Wisconsin.

“There’s a little more superstition to it than I subscribe to,” admitted Pearson. “The big part of it that I appreciate is really a terroir-focus approach – how does that change the outcome to the marijuana, and is this a more ‘right’ way to do things.”

Pearson is skeptical of growers who want to apply an appellation structure to California cannabis when many of them use greenhouse or aquaponics, which isolate the plant from its environment.

Though the SPARC farm does use some greenhouses to keep their product flow steady year-round, Pearson is serious about investing in and committing to biodynamic cannabis farming.

“I can’t wait to see how it all plays out, but I am sure we are onto something very special.”

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