Emerald Queen Farms Bets on Community

The Humboldt County cannabis farm is growing more than pot.

The only time you’re likely to spot Emerald Queen Farms co-owner Hannah Whyte sitting on the sidelines is when she’s watching a skateboarding competition go down. Fortunately, she doesn’t have to travel far for the privilege, as the 90-acre cannabis farm Whyte runs with her husband, Riley Morrison, includes a halfpipe on the property tucked inside a barn.  

Skateboarding and pot are indisputably simpatico interests for many, but Whyte’s motivation for constructing the halfpipe was inspired by a desire to provide a place for local kids to stay busy. Whyte and her family live in nearby Willow Creek, a small town of 1,700 located in the heart of “Bigfoot Country” in Humboldt County. One of the many challenges that come with living in a remote corner of Northern California is keeping kids (including her own) both engaged and safe.

To that end, Whyte has enjoyed a fruitful partnership with the Humboldt Skatepark Collective. In 2018, Whyte was a key figure in successfully netting $13,000 for a new skate park in Willets through a grant application filed under California’s Proposition 68. In a similar vein, Whyte has also teamed with local parents and concerned community members to fight for seemingly simple improvements like protected crosswalks in high-traffic areas.

As legal cannabis overtakes timber as one of Humboldt’s most viable exports, Whyte wants to see the cities and towns that have long lived in the shadows embraced and brought into the light. That means common sense infrastructure improvements and a sense of home for locals that extends beyond the front door.

When she’s not advocating for community improvements, Whyte oversees a group of six full-time employees cultivating 12,000 pot plants. Though she met her future husband while both were students studying agriculture at Washington’s Evergreen State College, they found the growing conditions at their site by the Squamish River inferior to the “four-season” territory (a climate and geography where growing cannabis throughout the year is possible) that exists in California and relocated.

Emerald Queen Farms is a vibrant, well-oiled operation. Some plants are cultivated within Emerald’s 12 greenhouses, while a robust offering of sun-grown strains also calls the farm home.

Whyte readily confirms that her operation relies on a small number of trusted employees doing a profound amount of work.

“A little bit of crazy is a requirement, actually,” Whyte joked during a tour of her farm in late September.

For Whyte, “crazy” may also be a synonym for the hard work and long hours required to keep a cannabis farm functioning. During the peak of summer, when temperatures can regularly hit the mid-90s, the crew at Emerald Queen Farms can often be found working 14-hour days. Once the fall arrives, it becomes a matter of outsmarting the rain. Harvest too early and growers risk reducing their yield, but allowing plants to weather a storm (especially one followed immediately by sustained sunlight) too late in the season can lead to mold and ruined product. One thing working in Whyte’s favor is that her land is flat — a rarity in mountainous Humboldt County, where many operations rely on graded terraces, which limit space and increase physical exertion on growers.

Sungrown cannabis is a tricky endeavour regardless of the conditions, but Whyte’s crops are notable for being grown in native soil with organic fertilizer. Adhering to this standard requires more effort than working with potting soil or harsher chemicals (Whyte relies on thyme oil and soap to deal with troublesome pests whenever possible) but the rewards of Emerald Queen’s labors are evident in the end product.

Evidently the industry concurs, as large California cannabis companies like Sisu Extracts and Loudpack have become regular customers. During the farm’s most recent harvest, a sizable portion of the greenhouse crops were reserved for Eureka’s Papa & Barkley. Several rows of GMO (a strain so named for its palpable notes of garlic, mushrooms, and onion), for example, will eventually be used in Papa & Barkley’s “Garlic Cookies” ice water hash. One benefit to having vetted, large-scale buyers — who often commit to purchasing a certain percentage of Emerald Queen’s yield at the start of a season — is that such arrangements allow Whyte to focus more fully on the craft of growing.

It also means that every now and then Whyte can treat herself to a spell atop the halfpipe, watching and cheering as kids drop in and nose stall to their heart’s content. 

On Sept. 14, Emerald Queen Farms hosted the annual “Holiday in Humboldt” skate contest and fundraiser. Even Whyte’s husband got in on the fun.

Then the party came to a close and the countdown to harvest season began.

“We don’t do dull moments,” Whyte quipped. “There’s always more to be done.”

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