Cruise the Cannabis Coast

By Kristen Walker

“I can’t smell any cannabis, can you?” whispered one silver-haired woman to another as we waited outside Coastal Blooms farm in Carpinteria, on a particularly blustery Monday. I discreetly lifted my nose up and sniffed the air, bloodhound-style. Even though I was standing in the parking lot right outside of a 12-acre cannabis farm, I couldn’t smell a thing. I was a little perplexed, considering I can’t even hide the smell of the CBD oil I stash in my kitchen cupboard (anyone hungry for some Cheech and Chong Cheerios?)

A view inside the greenhouse at Coastal Blooms farms. (All photos by Fran Collin

The odor of this newly legitimized crop is much talked about in the small seaside town of Carpinteria, near where Coastal Blooms farm, and others like it, sit. The issue is a contentious one to say the least, which is one reason the free farm tours exist — to invite the public in behind the curtain, explain some of the nuances of farming this stinky weed, and allow people to give cannabis farms the “sniff test” in person.

For visitors, the upside is that there’s a brand new Central Coast experience to be had, something very few people get to do: tour a legal working cannabis farm, and chat with a real live weed farmer.

One of the happy employees at Coastal Blooms checks for pests on the cannabis plants.

In the era of legal Mary Jane, touring a cannabis farm in Carpinteria is the Central Coast equivalent of touring the chocolate factory in Hershey, Pennsylvania — minus the samples, but with heaps more natural light and laughs. Outside the entrance to Coastal Blooms, a stately man with a full head of silver hair and a light Dutch accent chats away with eager visitors. He looks like he could be the younger Dutch brother of Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Starship Enterprise. Ed Van Wingerden, owner of Coastal Blooms and leader of the tour, immigrated to Carpinteria with his family at age 11, in 1967. The Van Wingerden family brought more than 300 years of lettuce and tomato greenhouse farming experience with them — farming experience that tour-goers would later learn is just as applicable to farming the “jazz lettuce” as it is to cabbage and iceberg.

Racks of clones getting their start in growing medium.

Our tour kicks off with Ed introducing himself and his farm, explaining that he got his farming start at 23 years of age. He has been farming for more than 40 years. His first crops were avocados, and then he transitioned into buds. Not the smokable kind, but the Gerber Daisy variety. “It was the exchange rate with Canada that killed our Gerber business,” he explains. When Canada was able to offer Gerbers at a fraction of the price, even long-standing customers stopped buying. “And right around this time,” Ed continues, “cannabis became an option.”

Ed Van Wingerden explains the nuances of cannabis farming on a tour of his farm.

Ed leads us to our first stop on the tour: a humid room, where it all begins, where stems from mature plants (clones) get put into growing medium. If this were a hospital, we’d be in the delivery room. As Ed explains how the cloning process works, a woman in the corner strips leaves from small cuttings that will then be placed in rockwool, a medium used to start the plants off.

Unlike real newborns, these little plants have to prove their worthiness in the “hardening off” area. Only the hardiest, best-growing of the babies will get to be one of the chosen few whose flower buds eventually land in someone’s pipe, tincture, mint, or joint.

“Orange Cookies” clones in growing medium at Coastal Blooms.

As the tour moves along, we wind our way through the various stages of a commercial cannabis plant’s life. Every stage has a tag and is recorded by the state of California, even if the plant gets tossed and mulched. On our way to the greenhouse, one of the younger tour-goers, a clean-cut athletic fellow in his 30s, asks if this farm correlates to any specific cannabis brands. “Yes!” pipes Farmer Ed. “Pacific Stone!” The guy who asked the question smiles. “Aw, I have some of that at home. I like it.” His smile seems contagious as others in the crowd glance at each other with knowing smirks.

Ed Van Wingerden shows off one of his cannabis plants on a tour of his farm.

Much of the cannabis grown on farms that host tours will go directly into packaged brands, such as Glasshouse, ValyCali, Autumn Brands, Pacific Stone, etc. These brands can be purchased directly at dispensaries, bringing new meaning to the highly sought-after “farm-to-table” — or rather, “farm-to-toke” concept. Farmer Ed leads us down a hallway and opens some doors. The air that rushes out feels like it’s straight from Tahiti — warm, humid, and tropical.

As we step inside the expansive, light-filled greenhouse, an emerald ocean of happy, pristine cannabis plants reveals itself. Most of us are smiling, some are downright giddy. It’s hard not to sport a cheesy kid-in-a-candy-store grin when walking around thousands upon thousands of plants that only a short while ago were “verboden,” as the Dutch would say.

As we walk between rows of cannabis plants with labels like “wedding cake” and “forbidden fruit,” Ed talks about cannabis farming practices. He stops and holds up some small bags. “This is persimilis. This guy right here takes care of two-spotted mites … We buy enormous amounts of predaceous insects, which means that they literally go after the bad guy and eat ‘em up.”

Farmer Ed isn’t kidding when he says an “enormous amount.” He goes on to share that Coastal Blooms purchases about $20,000 worth of beneficial insects every week. That’s a brand new Tesla’s worth of insects every month!) The insects are needed because pesticides are not an option for cannabis farmers, due to the extensive testing their finished product goes through before it gets into a licensed shop.

Thankfully, the state of California doesn’t want pesticides or any other nasty chemicals to end up in your legal doobies, so everything sold in licensed dispensaries is tested to an incredibly high standard — we’re talkin’ parts per billion. This has effects that reverberate all the way back to the farm, with the end result being that cannabis farming is one of the cleanest around.

Forbidden Fruit has a fruity, tangy smell.

On our last stop on the tour, Farmer Ed shows off his odor control machine: the technology responsible for concealing the cannabis smell of a 12-acre farm from prying bloodhound-noses, like mine. He explains that the odor control machine creates the olfactory equivalent of a curtain, blocking out the smell of cannabis from the surrounding town and neighborhood. “And it’s not Febreze were spraying here … it doesn’t mask the odor, it neutralizes it.” Apparently, the technology works by pitting terpenes against each other. Terpenes are the aromatic oils that make roses smell like roses, oranges smell like oranges, and cannabis smell like cannabis. Coastal Blooms’ odor control system uses the pine terpene to cancel out the terpenes most associated with the cannabis smell.

Not all farms employ odor control machines. That’s something Ed hopes will change — so that residents will be talking less about smell of weed, and more about the vibrant new industry on the Central Coast.

At the end of our tour, Ed answers questions and shakes hands as people filter back out into the real world — the world where people don’t nonchalantly walk around thousands of weed plants. There are lots of smiles and goodwill, and we all leave with a deeper understanding of the hard work and care that goes into farming cannabis.

How to Go an a Farm Tour
• Email CARP Growers, info@carpgrowers.org, for their current schedule of free tours. Larger groups can have their own private tour arranged.

Know Before You Go
• You cannot purchase any cannabis on the farm tours and consumption is not allowed. This is strictly enforced.
• Wear clothes and shoes that you are comfortable walking in.
• Give yourself a bit of extra time to find the farm you are touring. Cannabis farms often have nondescript, easy-to-miss-entrances.
• Be prepared for lots of Instagram-worthy shots inside the farm.
What Pairs Well With a Cannabis Farm Tour?

After your farm tour, check out these spots in nearby Carpinteria:
• Island Brewing Company: Rest your dogs as you sip some cold ones and enjoy the ocean air at this family-run, award-winning microbrewery

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• Crushcakes, Robitailes, or Fosters Freeze: Got the munchies after your cannabis farm tour? Treat yourself at one of these sweet Carpinteria establishments for cupcakes, candy, and milkshakes, in that order.

• The Palms: For heartier hunger pangs, hit up this historic 1912 bar & grill featuring cook-your-own burgers, steaks, and chops.
• Heritage Goods and Supply: Pick up a “Support Your Local Farmer” t-shirt at this chic boutique off of Linden Avenue.

The Ultimate Cannabis Farm Tour Pairing: A Dispensary!
The ultimate cannabis farm tour pairing is a local dispensary. Smell some cannabis flower, purchase a locally grown brand, ask questions, and enjoy responsibly. You can find local dispensary listings on page XXX.

Other Cannabis-Related Activities on the Central Coast
• Try SB Verde free Self-Guided Cannabis Walking Tours for elevated adventure.

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