Paul Wellman, Sara Rotman and her husband, Nate Ryan, on their farm
To the extent the battle over hoop houses is, in reality, a showdown between wine growers and a new wave of outdoor cannabis growers just now discovering the sublime virtues of the Santa Ynez Valley, Sara Rotman should be regarded as a warrior queen for Santa Barbara’s newest yet oldest industry — marijuana. In previous incarnations, Rotman had successfully invented herself as an icon of iconhood, a one-woman hi-glam fashionista branding machine. Over the years, she became world famous as the ass-kicking, globe-trotting, but brutally down-to-earth triple-A-plus personality marketing executive. Her company — My Own Damn Company (MODCo) — had offices in New York, Los Angeles, and Buenos Aires. For fun, Rotman, who grew up in Michigan, didn’t just play polo; she fielded her own team.
In 2014, Rotman and her husband, Nate Ryan — a third-generation Carpinteria avocado farmer — bought a 65-acre spread adjacent to the Santa Ynez River just outside Buellton to raise polo ponies and get away from it all. Then life happened. Or almost death. First, there was renal failure, then liver failure, then tetanus. All could have killed her. “I was so sick, I’d suck the fart out of a dead duck if it made me healthy,” Rotman stated in an interview the day before this week’s marathon showdown over hoop houses and cannabis at the Board of Supervisors. Such drastic remedies, it turns out, did not prove necessary.
Like many people dealing with chronic illness, Rotman would discover the healing powers of cannabis, or more precisely, the cannabis component known as CBD. It knocked down the pain; it helped fight the inflammation. To get healthy, Rotman had started raising all her own food. It just made sense, she said, to grow her own medicine, too. Before long, Rotman had two acres under cultivation. She started two new companies — Busy Bee and Bluebird 805 — to grow and market cannabis and cannabis products. And according to county documents, Rotman and Ryan are applying for permits to expand to 15 acres. All under hoops.
By Paul Wellman
Therein lies the rub.
For eons, hoop houses existed only on the periphery of most people’s consciousness. In the past four years, however, they’ve exploded, fueled by the arrival of two new industries now transforming the Santa Barbara landscape: berries and cannabis. Not only are there more hoops up, but they’re bigger too, and they seem to be everywhere. Until now, growers didn’t bother with permits, and county regulators didn’t care.
About five years ago, a company growing hydroponic tomatoes wanted to erect some hoops and stumbled onto inconsistencies in county codes. Supervisor Peter Adam — an outspoken champion of all things ag — sought to iron out these wrinkles, thus opening a can of worms that the supervisors spent four hours dealing with Tuesday. At the same time, Santa Barbara’s nascent pot industry started taking off; in North County cannabis grows, hoops are as indispensable as greenhouses in Carpinteria. They shield plants from scorching sunlight, reduce water consumption by as much as 45 percent, extend growing seasons, expand the number of harvests, and provide shade for workers.
Published: March 14, 2019
Founder & Interim Editor of L.A. Cannabis News