Photos: Cannabis Goes Beyond Organic in California’s Wine Country

Published on January 11, 2019 · Last updated November 17, 2020

More and more consumers want cannabis grown under full sun, in the soil, using organic nutrients. They think it tastes and feels better than lamp-grown, synthetically fertilized plants grown indoors.

Meeting that demand is a new generation of so-called “Demeter”-certified “biodynamic” cannabis farms.

They submit to repeat inspections and pay major fees to get highly coveted, voluntary certifications on their produce.

Following in the path of grape growers and food producers selling superior, Demeter-certified produce at a premium—major San Francisco dispensary SPARC announces two, new, Demeter-certified strains on shelves this winter.

SPARC has four locations:

Their historic Demeter cannabis harvest caps an extraordinary journey for SPARC’s affiliate farm, Terra Luna. Both SPARC and Terra Luna survived the dual apocalypses of wildfire, and then California licensing, to serve customers today.

Leafly sent photographer Jason Henry into the fragrant, hot Terra Luna fields in October, to bring you images of a historic Demeter cannabis harvest in California’s Wine Country.

From Disaster to Demeter

SPARC Terra Luna Demeter crop

(Jason Henry for Leafly)

Above, trending strains of 2018 like Gelato and Purple Punch finish in the Northern California hills.

You’d never know one of the state’s most devastating wildfires swept through the property in 2017.

That October, SPARC founder Erich Pearson and Terra Luna owner Joey Ereneta defied evacuation orders to save lives and property in the raging Nun’s Fire an hour north of San Francisco.

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In January 2018, all the ground was black. The Army Corps of Engineers hauled away a 40,000 square-foot building that the fire reduced to debris. All SPARC’s in-house genetics burned as well.

The team started with new seeds sourced from the 2017 Emerald Cup.

Terra Luna Farms grew almost 50 different strains on two outdoor parcels licensed for up to an acre of canopy in 2018.

Harvest yield totaled around 1,600 dried, cured pounds with an estimated wholesale value of around $2.8 million.

Terra Luna battled a late splash of rain that threatened mold in October. Biodynamic farmers cannot combat mold or mildew with powerful, synthetic chemistry.

“There’s no silver bullets,” said Mike Benziger, a longtime biodynamic evangelist from the wine industry.  “If you have a problem you’re already fucked. It’s a super-anticipative type of farming.”Looking for Pure, Tested Cannabis?

(Jason Henry for Leafly)

SPARC’s harvest reaches consumers as high-quality top-shelf buds, as well as cannabis oil that goes into vape pens and edibles.

Terra Luna farms is situated in the Moon Mountain region of Sonoma County. The growing location and inputs influence the final product, they said.

“Both flowers flavors and effects are enunciated by the unique climate of the Moon Mountain AVA which benefits from a warmer climate just above the fogline and a consistent breeze with winds from both the Pacific Ocean and San Pablo Bay,” SPARC states.

“The finish has been great,” said Terra Luna owner Ereneta.

“If anything it’s been a little scary. We’ve had deja vu with several red flag warnings up until today about windy dry weather. We have a little PTSD.”

SPARC founder Erich Pearson has survived not only the brutal transition from medical cannabis to recreational in the brutal market of San Francisco. Wildfire tested his renegade spirit in 2017.

SPARC's Erich Pearson after Nuns Fire. (Courtesy SPARC)

(Courtesy SPARC)

Above, Pearson amid the ruin of the Nun’s Fire. The fires interrupted a multi-year plan to get the farm Demeter-certified.

Michael Bensinger at Terra Luna

(Courtesy SPARC)

Biodynamic evangelist Mike Benziger, left, helps remediate Terra Luna farms after the Nuns Fire.

“It’s really important for plants to have some relationship to humans,” said Benziger, a local wine celebrity and biodynamic grower.

(Jason Henry for Leafly)

A tag denoting strain type sticks out of the soil next to a cannabis plant.

Biodynamic farming and demeter-certification is all about the soil. The unique, local soil gives a plant its terroir—or unique smell, taste and effect.

Terra Luna’s soil needed three year’s work to get demeter-certified. Conventional farmland cannot qualify for five years unless they remediate.

Terra Luna grew in fabric pots with holes to allow the roots to tap into the ground soil.

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(Courtesy SPARC)

After the fires, SPARC planted cover crops included purple vetch, fava beans and oat hay helped fix the nutrient nitrogen. Those crops got mulched back into the soil. “Biodynamic cannabis farming, with its emphasis on good health, natural inputs and cycles, and honoring the Earth, is the best way to grow this healing plant.”

“It’s not easy to grow this way, but it is simple, because it most closely mimics what nature would do itself,” Pearson said. “The result is a clean, flavorful cannabis with extraordinary powers. I’m delighted to be able to offer these two new strains to our patients and adult consumers alike.”

Biodynamic farming uses all on-farm inoute like manure for fertilizers, instead of synthetic nutrients.

(Courtesy SPARC)

All-natural compost included worm castings, manure, all organic OMRI-certified inputs. Going biodynamic means sourcing all farm inputs from the farm itself. Terra Luna also fertilized with bat guano from nearby deposits.

SPARC worked to pioneer biodynamic certification for cannabis since 2015.

Finishing Strong

(Jason Henry for Leafly)

With trichomes ripe and mature, farm workers chop cannabis stalks and move them on trays into a processing building. Strains of 2018 included Cookies, Tangie, Bubba Kush, and Remedy.

Terra Luna demeter harvest

(Jason Henry for Leafly)

Workers process the cannabis—removing debris and fan leaf, spreading out buds for drying. The fall’s full-sun harvest creates a seasonal spike in demand for labor. Processing wages are declining while regulatory costs have kicked in for the first time.

(Jason Henry for Leafly)

Hundreds of pounds of cannabis dries in a large drying room. The buds get laid flat in single layer per tray. The stackable trays go on rolling dollies. Buds dry for five to seven days in a cold, dark room humming with fans.

Later they go to move on to a stage called ‘curing’. During curing, buds get trimmed and polished.

(Jason Henry for Leafly)

A cannabis bud dries in the drying room. Fresh on shelves at SPARC’s four Bay Area dispensaries this fall, BiodynamicBlack Light offers potent, high-THC indica effects. The musky, floral cross of Black Domina and Northern Lights #1 can help with relaxation and sleep.

(Jason Henry for Leafly)

A top-shelf cannabis strain sits in the gloved hand of a processor. Strains of 2018 include BiodynamicPurple Punch is an indica flower with a sweet berry-like flavor and hails from a beloved cross between Larry OG and Grand Daddy Purple which produces a sedating feeling perfect for winding down the day.

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Terra Luna’s official demeter-certification coincided with its harvest hitting shelves.

Terra Luna's demeter certification

(Courtesy SPARC)

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David Downs
David Downs
Leafly Senior Editor David Downs is the former Cannabis Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. He's appeared on The Today Show, and written for Scientific American, The New York Times, WIRED, Rolling Stone, The Onion A/V Club, High Times, and many more outlets. He is a 2023 judge for The Emerald Cup, and has covered weed since 2009.
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