At Aster Farms, it’s All About the Soil

After surviving the Ranch Fire, the team at Aster Farms preach resiliency and a respect for the land.

The first thing to know about Aster Farms is that they’re here to stay.

Sure, it may sound cliché, but Aster Farms President Sam Ludwig and CEO Julia Jacobson have a compelling reason to emphasize their intended longevity.

During a visit to Aster Farms — located two hours north of San Francisco on property that straddles the border between Mendocino and Lake County — Jacobson, who also serves as Aster’s Director of Business Strategy, recalled the work that’s gone into rehabbing their land after it suffered substantial damage in the 2018 Ranch Fire.

That blaze, which was part of the larger Mendocino Complex Fire, claimed multiple structures on the property as well as the farm’s Sour Maui crop and a cat named Harry.

Far from being discouraged, Jacobson and Ludwig have instead redoubled their efforts. In addition to honoring their feline friend with a pre-roll line (Harry’s Harvest) in which $2 of each sale is donated to local volunteer fire departments in nearby Lakeport and Hopland, the pair has made immense efforts to both restore the property and insure it from future harm. Such actions have taken the form of everything from installing a dedicated fire hose to repopulating the area with insects — including 10,000 ladybugs and green lacewings apiece.

They have good cause for their labor. According to Jacobson, Aster Farms is currently only able to fulfill about 40 percent of the orders they receive.

Jacobson and Ludwig say the high demand for Aster Farms flower is tied directly to their product’s quality, which, in turn, can be traced to the philosophy that guides their business. They built their sun-grown, organic, vertically-integrated cannabis business atop a layer of soil, which they insist is the true star of their operation.

Vertical integration at Aster’s scale is no small feat. By keeping cultivation, packaging, and processing for the brand all in-house, Jacobson and Ludwig can rightfully claim to offer a true “seed-to-sale” product. Naturally, taking on so many additional responsibilities (when cultivation alone already represents a massive workload) doesn’t leave the team behind Aster with much in the way of free time.

Such are the demands for a farm which employs what Jacobson refers to as a “five-phase” approach.

“Basically,” Jacobson explained during a tour of Aster’s facilities, “we have five harvests that are all at different stages.”

This system allows for an extended harvest season, which for outdoor growers, usually runs from the end of August to late October. Aster also grows from their own genetics, as featured in their three core cultivars: Maui OG, Durban Poison, and Sour Maui. Though Ludwig has roots as a third-generation grower, the 80-acre property he now runs with Jacobson is clearly the embodiment of a shared vision.

“We’re trying to do craft at scale,” Jacobson said, “while still being as friendly to the planet as possible. As part of that ethos, we believe it’s the soil that builds the ecosystem. For us, we’re not feeding plants so much as we’re feeding soil which feeds our plants.”

Aster is also careful about who they will collaborate with on product releases. While the operation has reportedly fielded a number of requests to use their cannabis for other products, Jacobson reasons that anything that takes the focus off of Aster is a misguided endeavor.

“We’ve had some pretty big brands reach out to us,” she said, “but if it’s going to be something where the name ‘Aster Farms’ barely appears on the label, how is that moving our mission forward?”

Instead, the founders take a selective approach, opting to work intimately with smaller, local brands whose values align with the Aster Farms model. Several such projects are currently in the works, though details were not publicly available at press time.

In the interim, Jacobson and Ludwig are looking ahead — although they acknowledge it won’t come at the cost of forgetting the past.

Indeed, any visitor to Aster Farms will plainly see the scorched brush that still outlines the property on several sides. Once inside the gate, one is also likely to be greeted by Flash, a once feral Yorkie who approached the Aster founders as they were preparing to evacuate in 2018.

“He was covered in dreadlocks,” Jacobson remembered, “and somehow he just found us. We called him Flash because we kept seeing this blur dashing around but we didn’t think she’d let us grab him. Then he came up to me and just let me put him in the car. He knew.”

Aside from Flash, the scars left behind by the Ranch Fire, and a melted piece of an airstream trailer now framed in a hallway, the only other surviving remnant of Aster Farms is the one that matters most: the cannabis.

“A lot of the cannabis survived,” Jacobson confirmed. “Our veggie garden got hit but the plants largely made it outside of the Sour Maui. It speaks to how resilient they are, and to what’s in the soil here. So that’s our job: to help these plants however we can.”

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