Harry wasn’t the only cat at Aster Farms. In fact, the Lake County property (north of Napa, east of Mendocino) was home to a number of cats and dogs — although Aster Farms CEO and Director of Business Strategy Julia Jacobson confesses that everyone was partial to Harry.
“He was one of our favorites,” she says, “because he’s super-friendly. He was always coming around and trying to get you to pet him and all that.”
Then, last July, the Mendocino Complex Fire began about a mile down the road from Jacobson and Aster Farms President Sam Ludwig. For three days, they kept close tabs on the blaze and prepared their property as best they could. Finally, the order for a mandatory evacuation was issued, which left them no time to search for missing pets.
“It was pretty horrifying,” Jacobson recalls. “We found one of the cats and two of the dogs, but we couldn’t find Harry. At that moment, you have to leave. You can’t stick around. It is a devastating, horrible feeling that I never want to feel again in my life — to have a walk away knowing that we’ve left an animal that we love.”
While Harry’s loss hit everyone at Aster Farms hard, there was also the matter of their compromised harvest to worry about. Prior to the Mendocino Complex Fire, Jacobson and Ludwig had put 600 plants in the ground. By the time they were allowed to return to their property following the evacuation, only 13 had survived.
Jacobson says the fire was only partially responsible.
“We didn’t have access to the farm for about 10 days after the fire,” she explains. “Out of 600 plants, about 80 of them only died because of a lack of water — because we couldn’t get there to fix the irrigation lines.”
Sadly, the property, which Jacobson and Ludwig leased from Aster Farms’ Director of Cultivation, Noah Cornell, sustained significant damage as well. For Cornell and his family, it meant losing their home, although Jacobson confirms that insurance has allowed for them to begin rebuilding. Meanwhile, it was time to decide what to do with the crop they were able to harvest.
It is worth noting that Aster Farms has earned a stellar reputation since it first launched its operation in 2016. Their model is partially inspired by Ludwig’s family, who have maintained a multi-generation, off-the-grid operation outside of Philo.
“Sam’s grandparents moved to Mendocino and they’ve been growing cannabis on the family ranch for about 50 years now,” Jacobson says. “Sam was in a crib while the whole family was trimming around him.”
The pair based their business on some of the sustainability practices embraced by Ludwig’s family. They also found an ideal home on Cornell’s property, which made the destruction the Mendocino Complex Fire wrought all the more painful. Luckily, members of the local community — those within the cannabis industry and outside of it — swiftly came to their aid.
Top Hat Nursery in Salinas donated 500 plants, while the distributor used by Aster Farms agreed to cut their feed to fetch them. TerraVesco donated a sizeable amount of fertilizer. Jacobson also remembers being pleasantly surprised by the police officers she encountered when she and Ludwig first attempted to return home.
“At first, we were a little bit nervous,” she concedes, “but they told us they just wanted to know who was going up to the property in case the fire turned again. Once we got to chatting, they wanted to know more about what we do. The Marin Sheriff was fascinated! He asked how many plants we were growing, and he was worried about whether we’d be able to have a season!”
As a tribute to their fallen feline, Aster Farms is now selling pre-roll packs of joints under the label Harry’s Harvest. Jacobson and Ludwig have pledged to donate $2 from every pack sold to local volunteer firefighters.
“As much as we love CAL FIRE and all of the other firemen who came,” Jacobson says, “it’s the local volunteer firefighters who were fighting to save our house while their homes were burning down. They’re doing this as volunteers. It’s not their full-time job. They are really the heroes.”
At present, Aster Farms plans to sell the line indefinitely.
“We plan to keep Harry’s Harvest going for as long as the company is alive and operating,” Jacobsen confirms. “There are so many other causes that we want to give back to. Whether it’s the opioid crisis or veterans, there’s so much we can do by raising money through cannabis to give back to our communities.”
Harry’s Harvest is available at Vapor Room in San Francisco. For more locations, visit asterfarms.com/harrys-harvest.