California’s biggest licensed cannabis grower isn’t located in the Emerald Triangle, the state’s world-renowned farming region. Nor are they in the Coachella Valley, where massive indoor farms have popped up over the past year.
Central Coast Agriculture, California’s single-largest licensed cannabis cultivator, is located in Santa Barbara County. Yes, snooty Santa Barbara.
With its luxury coastal mansions, historic Spanish missions, and reputation as an enclave of the cultured, moneyed elite—Santa Barbara County is, surprisingly, emerging as a cannabis farming stronghold in California’s legal-and-licensed era.
To be clear, Northern California’s Humboldt County, with its thousands of secluded farms, produces far more cannabis than Santa Barbara by tonnage. But Humboldt actually ranks second in number of licenses issued. As a result, Santa Barbara, with its burgeoning cultivation and easy freeway access to the Southern California consumer market, may be positioned to become California’s largest legal cannabis producer.
This Central Coast county, which ranks 13th among California’s 58 counties in agricultural output, is number one in issuing commercial permits for cannabis cultivation. Through October, Santa Barbara County had granted 1,437 cultivation licenses to 96 operators, with allowable cultivation totaling 345 acres. So far, county officials say, 196 acres are in production—including 150 acres of outdoor farming and 46 in mixed-light greenhouses.
John de Friel, the 32-year-old founder of Central Coast Agriculture, which grows cannabis on land previously used to raise organic vegetables and fruits, says his Santa Barbara County operation “represents the pinnacle of modern agriculture.”
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If Santa Barbara’s 2018 farming boom had a single standard bearer, it would be De Friel.
Four years ago De Friel, now 32, was a Ph.D. candidate in bioengineering at UC San Diego. In 2014, he answered the call of opportunity.
He quit his studies and formed a medical marijuana collective in the picturesque wine country near Santa Barbara—the lush, rolling viniculture landscape famously captured in the movie Sideways. Today, De Friel’s Central Coast Agriculture employs 75 full-time workers and 30 seasonal workers on neighboring 18- and 4-acre farms near Buellton.
Why did cannabis rise here? The political climate can claim at least part of the credit.
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Published: November 24, 2018
Founder & Interim Editor of L.A. Cannabis News