Discover more from Francesca’s Substack
David Goodman, AN AMERICAN CANNABIS STORY
Transcript of Interview with Francesca Rheannon, host of Writer's Voice podcast
I had never seen a live cannabis plant before. When I first got to the farm, I saw, as a photographer, how beautiful the plants were and the variety of the different colors and the formations of the buds and the plants and the leaves. They're all different. They're all unique. So visually, it was a stunning story to tell. — David Goodman
Marijuana legalization across many states, with more being added all the time, has turned cannabis farming from a hidden activity into a legitimate and burgeoning business.
One of the early pioneers is Puffin Farm in Washington state. Started by Jade Stefano and Ben Short, the farm grows all its product outdoors according to the principles of organic and regenerative agriculture.
When photographer David Goodman went to Puffin Farm to visit Jade, who's his niece, he was blown away by the beauty of the cannabis plants they were growing.
As he learned more about the farm, he decided to put his photography skills to work to show us the new world of cannabis farming in words and pictures through the story of Puffin Farm.
An American Cannabis Story takes the reader behind the scenes, showing how Jade and Ben grow and process top quality cannabis, what the entourage effect is, and why the amount of THC or CBD isn't as important as we think.
Francesca: David Goodman, welcome to Writer's Voice.
David Goodman: Thank you for having me. I'm really excited to be here.
This was really a delightful book to read. I will confess I do a little bit of personal growing of my own.
Oh, that's really interesting.
I think we're allowed to do that in New York state now.
It's totally legal.
This chronicles a year in the life of Puffin Farm, which was one of the first licensed cannabis farms in the United States. It's a family operation. And when I say family, I mean you're related to it as well.
How did Puffin Farm come about?
Well, of course, that's all documented in the book, but it was a fascinating story. In fact, it's fascinating to me to learn because obviously I've known my niece all her life. So when I heard she was opening up the farm and I went out there, of course I had to go see it. I had to go take pictures.
And when I got out there, I was so fascinated by it that it ended up becoming not just a year study, but it was going on three, almost four years that I kept going out there to photograph different things. And during the pandemic, as the production of the book got pushed off and got delayed, it gave me more of an opportunity to get even more material to put into the book. So I was happy for that—not for the pandemic, but for the fact that I actually had more time to further research and get more material for the book.
But how did [the farm] come about?
So I found this out actually while I was going out there shooting, because I knew Jade and Ben, they were married and they were a happy couple and they were into this farming thing. But I didn't know that they met when they were teenagers. They met in high school and that's really where it started.
So okay, they like to go out behind the gym and smoke a joint together. But it turned into a passion for them where they wanted to learn everything about farming techniques. And they picked up all the handbooks that taught them how to grow.
And after a while, they found their own ways of growing and of nurturing the soil. And they're really fanatics about reversing climate change and how farming can play a major role in doing that. And they're incredible examples of that.
So little by little, my brother Cliff started the whole migration west. We're an East Coast family. Cliff is a glassblower, really talented glassblower, and he owns the Seattle Glassblowing Studio, which is one of the major glassblowing forces in Seattle, which is a glassblowing center. And my nieces, Jade and Serena, both were hanging out with Cliff. They wanted to go visit him. And they just loved it there. So they ended up going to school there. Jade ended up working for Cliff at his glassblowing studio and Serena did too.
And when it became legal for them to grow under the medical marijuana system, which is a whole different set of laws, which is now history since the new regulations came into being in 2014, they got really good at it. And they started growing under the medical marijuana system.
And then when it came, I-502 passed in 2012, I think it was, but it came into force in 2014, they were right there. They got their farm ready. They applied for their license. They got approved and they opened Puffin Farm.
But there was a lot of, as you know, you read the book, there were a lot of roadblocks in the way for them to get to that point. And all four of them got together. So it's my two nieces, Jade and Serena, my niece's husband, Ben, Jade and Ben, they're basically the protagonists of the book. And then my brother Cliff, who came into it, they needed financial backing. Cliff's a very successful businessman. So it was a whole family thing and they all have their individual roles.
And it was a great thing to watch. It was a great thing to discover. I'd never seen a farm before. I had never seen a live cannabis plant before. That to me was when I first got to the farm and I saw as a photographer, how beautiful the plants were and the variety of the different colors and the formations of the buds and the plants and the leaves, they're all different. They're all unique. So visually, it was a stunning story to tell.
So as a photographer, I approached it from the pictures first, but while I was there living with them in their farmhouse over a Corona beer with Ben and a Hindu Kush joint, I got the story out of them of how they met, how they got into the farming technique. And I just took notes. I recorded it all.
I did a lot of time transposing [sic] it and then looking at it and distilling it and re-editing it. And so I got to the essence of the story and it was fun. It was a fun project to work on this book. I discovered a lot about my family and I also discovered a lot about this new frontier in American agriculture—and these are the pioneers, you know, it's in my own family, which is really cool.
And I thought this is an opportunity. I had to do it now. It had to be done while it was new, while it was happening, I said, because this era is going to be gone and this is going to be looked back on as a revolution in American agriculture, I believe.
There's something about the wind blowing through the plants, which change the way the different flavors are expressed and the different effects take place.
Well, it is really a fun book to read. So I can imagine how much fun, even more fun it was to write. You mentioned Hindu Kush. I mean, I had to say my jaw dropped when I saw that they are the originators of the strains Hindu Kush and Lemon OG, which for those of my listeners who do partake of weed, are probably two of the most popular strains around.
So you mentioned agriculture, an agricultural revolution. I mean, they're really part of a much larger agricultural revolution that's far more than just cultivating cannabis. It is really all about regenerative agriculture. So talk about their approach.
For one thing, they grow about 1500 plants outside, not inside. So first tell us, why did they decide to do an outside grow, not an inside grow? What's the difference between them in terms of, you know, the plant itself?
Well, first and foremost, and most apparently, it's a plant. Plants grow outside and you have to go back and you have to look at why are people growing it indoors to begin with anyway? The only reason was they had to hide it.
And when you grow indoors, you're using a huge amount of electricity. I think it's, I think Jade said it was like 5% of Washington State electricity, the exact figure is in the book, which is a huge amount just for cannabis, for growing it indoors.
But you also cannot duplicate the power of the sun. You know, it's just not the same thing. And you can't duplicate growing out in the open field. When you grow indoors, also, you have more problems with pests. And in order to control them, people use a lot of chemical pesticides. When you grow in an organic manner, the way Jade and Ben do on Puffin Farm, there is a whole natural pest control with, you know, this ladybugs and mantises and birds that eat all the bad bugs. And they use things like neem oil, which is an organic pesticide and doesn't harm the plant and it's harmless to humans. So there's ways of farming where you don't have to use chemicals. And that's obviously the best way.
Jade will tell you that there's something about the wind blowing through the plants, which change the way the different flavors are expressed and the different effects take place. The wind, the amount of sun you get, the UV rays, you get the type of water, the type of soil that you have. All affects how the plant comes out in terms of quality. And they have an incredible terroir.
Say what that is.
Terroir is everything that goes into your plant, everything that feeds the plant. They use that word a lot in cultivating grapes for wine. It's the type of soil that you have, the type of water, how it's irrigated, the type of soil, the amount of sunlight, the elevation. Everything goes into how the plant is expressed, the final quality of the plant. And that's what terroir is.
So a lot of people who grow indoors will tell you that you can have more control.And that could be true because to a certain degree, when you're growing outdoors, like any farm, you're subject to whatever is the weather this year. Is it a dry year? Do you have enough water? Is it too hot?
They had a very hot summer a couple of years ago and the plants didn't grow very big. So it affected their yield. They didn't get as much product out of it that year.
And how did they deal with that? Because that was record, beyond record breaking heat, as a matter of fact. I mean, it was off the charts. In fact, I was speaking about it recently with author Jeff Goodell, who just came out with a book called The Heat Will Kill You First.
I listened to that podcast, by the way. It was fascinating.
And they use drip irrigation, so the plants are constantly being watered in a very slow drip level, which conserves water, but it also gives the plants water on a regular basis. So they're constantly getting enough water. And I don't know what it's like this year for them, because it's still July. So August, September, they still have until October before harvest. So it could end up being a really record breaking heat this summer. And that's what it looks like it's going to be. So it's not great.
And that's the thing also, people hear, oh, they've got a pot farm. They must be rolling it. It is a farm and it's subject to everything that any farm is subject to. So, you know, you can have great years and you can have not so great years.
But, you know, they seem to be coming out with a terrific product consistently. And they're winning a lot of awards for it.
So it's doing a good job there.
“We are essentially terpene farmers.”
David Goodman, in An American Cannabis Story you talk about how they build the soil, the soil microbiome, how they see that soil as a carbon sink. And you talk a lot about something called “terpenes.” Tell us about terpenes.
This was really a fascinating part of the book for me. I mean, I knew that terpenes are the operative principle in many ways, but a lot of people don't. A lot of people think it's all about THC and CBD. They don't know about terpenes. So tell us about that and explode the myth of high THC.
Well, that is probably the question of the main, most important subject in the book. And like you said, most people hadn't heard of terpenes. I'm one of those people. I didn't know what it was.
And I remember I was in the farmhouse with Jade and I was in the kitchen and all of a sudden she starts talking about terpenes as if I knew what she was talking about. And I say, “wait, stop, what are you talking about? What is this terpene thing?”
And she says, “terpenes, that's what we do. It's the most important thing.”
I said, “are you serious? What about THC? And what about growing, I thought you were growing weed.”
She says, “we are essentially terpene farmers.”
Terpenes are the chemicals that are in every fruit, every vegetable that give it its distinctive aroma. So in a lemon peel, when you scratch the lemon peel and you know that distinctive smell that you get from a lemon or a tangerine, those are terpenes. Same thing with anything that you can think of, you know, a peach, certain spices, garlic, pepper, they all have a certain aroma. And those are the terpenes that create that.
Well, there are terpenes in cannabis, in addition to the cannabinoids, which of course we know as THC, the primary ones are THC and CBD. There's also some other ones, but those are the main ones. Terpenes come into the chemical profile of a specific cannabis plant in various ways. And there's all sorts of terpenes, there's hundreds of them. And not every cannabis plant has every terpene. Some are dominant in some and recessive in others, and some they have none and others, other cannabis strains will have it in abundance.
And that brings us to the most important concept I believe in the book called the “Entourage Effect.
And that is a concept that was popularized by Dr. Ethan Russo. One of the major gets for my book was to get an interview with this real pioneer in the human endocannabinoid system and in cannabis in general, especially in its therapeutic use.
And Ethan Russo didn't invent it, but he popularized it and he really embraced the idea of the Entourage Effect. And that is that everything in the cannabis plant, all the terpenoids and all the cannabinoids work together to create a specific effect and to create a specific aroma because it all has to do with aroma.
And this has been proven in the past, like 20 or so years since the theory was first developed. So it's all about terpenes.
[It] is an old wives tale that sativa will always produce a certain up effect and an indica will produce a relaxed low key effect.
And the whole idea is to get people who read the book to pay attention to the terpene content because that's what will change the effect, not whether it's a sativa or an indica, which is an old wives tale that sativa will always produce a certain up effect and an indica will produce a relaxed low key effect.
We explode that myth in the book and Dr. Russo also contributed to that chapter in a big way. He really clarifies it for me and certainly for the readers, I believe. So that's what terpenes are and that's how important they are. And that's what this book is about. And thank you, Jade, for point and Ben for illuminating me to that.
And I think everyone I know who has read it, who has listened to it, was unaware of what terpenes are and what they do. All they cared about was THC. How much THC?How high THC?
You know, there's one strain that Ben talks about in the book. It's got low THC. They can't sell it. And it's like 13% THC and nobody wants to look at you if it's under 18 or 20%. And I said to him, why do you grow it if you can't sell it? He says, because we love it. He said, it is such a yummy strain.
“People are fooled by the 13% because whatever the terpene content is,” he says “you get just as good a feeling from that as from other strains, but even more special in its own way.” But no one will discover that strain because they can't sell it to dispensers. “13%,” they say, “I don't want that. We need really high.” They only want high.Not everybody wants it that high anyway.
The story of River is the story of a father's love.
Yeah, in fact, 13% is pretty high. Back in when I was a college student, it was more like 5 or 6%. And in fact, you point out in the book high THC can cause a rapid heartbeat, which can be actually quite dangerous for people.
And say more about the terpenes. You have a story in the book about a young girl named River who suffered from a disease that caused seizures, epileptic seizures.
And she discovered that, or her father, parents discovered that the oil made from one strain was effective, but not from another strain. And these were high CBD. I mean, CBD is what is supposed to be effective with epilepsy. So tell us a story of River.
Well, the story of River is the story of a father's love. John Barclay was a total hero to his daughter. And he was out there fighting tooth and nail to get the treatment that his daughter needed.
It's hard for me to go into this story without tearing up. Every time I read the chapter, it just does that to me.
So River has this disease called Batten disease. And it's a rare inherited disorder of the nervous system. And it mostly strikes very young children. It's always fatal. River lived a lot longer than she was ever predicted. And I think it's due to her father's care and the way he just really loved her into life.
But she was getting intractable seizures, like more than 20 seizures a day. And nothing was helping her. He tried all sorts of pharmaceuticals. He says there are 26, something like 26 pharmaceuticals to treat epilepsy.
Here's the quote I just found, he says that “there are 26 pharmaceutical drugs on the market used to treat epilepsy. And not one of them can help my daughter. And some of them do actual physical harm to her.”
But the Remedy worked like a charm. So Remedy just happens to be the name. It's a remedy, right? But it happens to be the name of a strain of CBD grown by Puffin Farm. And somehow he came upon it.
John had been giving her tinctures of CBD, which worked at first, but they were very weak. And after a while, she built up a tolerance and it didn't help her anymore. So he had to give her gobs and gobs of the oil in order to get it to work.
But then he discovered this Remedy flower. I don't know why he picked the Remedy. He was somehow drawn to it. And he extracted it. He learned how to make his own extractions. And I think he said he put it in a cookie or he put it in her oatmeal. And he figured out the dose.
And as long as he gave her the extractions and she had her cookie or her oatmeal, there were zero seizures. It stopped.
So he tracked it down. He found out from the dispensary that he got it from, that they had several ounces of it. And he said, “please put it on hold for me. I'll buy it.” And they did that. It was really great. And it worked until they ran out.
And then somehow he tracked down another dispensary right near where Puffin Farm was. And they had two ounces, one of Remedy. And they said, “well, we have this other Puffin Farm product called Dancehall, which is one of the original CBD strains.”
And they're very popular on its own. I mean, Dancehall is really good for anxiety. And a lot of people take it to help them sleep. Serena, it's the only strain she uses. She uses it, she says, to stay grounded. It helps us stay grounded. Not a THC, not euphoriant. It doesn't get you high, but it does sort of like something else psychologically, which helps a lot of people with depression and anxiety and just staying focused in Serena's case.
But somehow he used the Remedy first and he extracted that. He gave it to River and it worked. And then he extracted the Dancehall. I guess he figured it's also CBD strain from Puffin Farm. But it didn't work. The Dancehall did not work.
The bottom line is he found more Remedy. He got in touch. He finally got through to Jade and Ben and they set him up and he was able to grow his own Remedy and they gave him some plants and he loved them for that and that was great. So River was getting her medicine.
But why did the Remedy work and why did the Dancehall not work? They both had almost the same level of CBD. So it can't be the CBD. They had different terpin content. Jade's feeling is she thinks it's the alpha-pinine or I think it was the alpha or beta-pinine that was in the Remedy that helped her.
But you know, we're not going to know any of this stuff until it becomes federally legal and until we can start using federal dollars for research. We are now really low down in pioneering of medical research in cannabis.
Well this is an important issue because if it is not legal federally, there is a prohibition actually on doing this kind of research. How is that prohibition? Does it mean you can't do it in the states or is it just a question of you can't access the kind of money that's necessary?
I don't know. I'm not really up on the laws but it seems to me that if it's federally illegal then you could possibly risk getting in trouble as a researcher to do something on that. Maybe in your state it would be okay to do it. I'm really not up on that.
No, I know that there's research being done because Ethan Russo is doing it but he's in Washington State.
I mean we're way behind country. Well Israel obviously is number one but we're way behind countries like Uruguay, Czech Republic. Canada is really way up there in terms of research. We're behind obviously the Netherlands but we're behind Spain. We should be number one.
Blowing up the indica/sativa myth because it is a myth.
So David Goodman, talk about the indica and sativa myth. This was another thing that was totally new to me. A lot of people think that indica gives you that kind of mellow, you know, couch lock high and sativa is good for, you know, concentration and it's more energetic. You say that's a complete myth.
Well I think probably the best way to do that is maybe just read that short chapter because it's only a few paragraphs long and it just blows it right up.
Jade and Ben really turned me on to this idea but it became really clear when I had my conversation with Dr. Russo because, you know, he's so succinct.
I always go back to his chapter in the book because it's mostly his words and he's so enlightening; but in this chapter he talks about the difference between indica and sativa and he just says it just has no meaning.
“Blowing up the indica/sativa myth because it is a myth. Are you an indica person or are you a sativa person? Do you enjoy a strain that has a relaxing, mellow, quote-unquote buzzed effect or do you prefer cannabis that gives you an up energetic creative feeling? But wait a minute, can you actually tell the difference between an indica and a sativa cultivar?
For years we've heard that the way to distinguish between indica and sativa plants is by the way they grow and the shape of their leaves. That indica plants are short and bushy and their fan leaves broad while sativa plants grow lean and tall and their fan leaves are long and narrow.
We've also been told that these two so-called major types of cannabis will produce predictably different effects. That indica strains produce a more relaxing and sedating body sensation or what might be called a classically stoned feeling. Conversely, sativa strains are supposed to produce an energetic cerebral high, the type often credited with bringing out mental clarity and creativity.
Well guess what? Jade and Ben say that's all pretty much malarkey and to toss those ideas out right now. They're among a small but growing number of cannabis experts who understand that the best way to predict how a specific cultivar might react in the body is through testing and studying the chemical profiles, the chemotypes of each plant.
Jade says there is so much variety in the terpenoid and cannabinoid profiles between most of our cultivars that you simply cannot say that any particular strain will always create the expected effect based merely on whether it is an indica or sativa.
Dr. Russo agrees. He tells me there are biochemically distinct strains of cannabis but the sativa indica distinction is commonly applied in the lay literature as total nonsense and an exercise in futility. One cannot in any way currently guess the biochemical content of a given cannabis plant based on its height, branching, or leaf morphology. The terms indica and sativa, they are totally inaccurate, the way they're applied these days.
What was initially described as cannabis indica by Jean Baptiste Lamarck in the 18th century is a plant that doesn't look like what people commonly call indica today. Plus these names reflect nothing about the biochemical content of the plant.
Rather what we really need are the cannabinoid and terpenoid profiles to distinguish one plant from another. This is science. I am not going to use inaccurate slang to describe something that science has clearly established.”
That's from Dr. Russo. So there's that authority for me.
And of course in a product like this, myths abound. And I think one of the, you know, really delightful aspects of your book is that it shows how one can kind of get back to basics with a product of this kind and do good, grow something that's quite beautiful and do it in a way that it was meant to be.
So finally, tell us about the Trifecta. This is a product that was invented by Puffin Farm?
I don't know that they invented it, but I've never seen a version that's as good as theirs because of the way they grow their weed and because the way they make their extracts.
So Trifecta: imagine a pre-rolled joint, you know, those little like torpedo shaped joints that they make now, not like the way we used to roll them.
And then there's a product called hash rosin or maybe it's the flower rosin they use.
So they use the rosin, which they warm up so it liquefies better and they paint it on the joint with a brush. And then before that dries or that immediately they roll it in bubble hash, which is basically a form of granulated Keith, which comes from the dry trichomes of the plant.
So yeah, it's a trifecta. So it's got a regular joint plus rosin, plus hash, rolled in hash. So you got the three things and it definitely packs a punch. It's not for the inexperienced user or if it is, just one hit is enough. It's an ooey-gooey, very full of terpenes, very terpene rich, delicious, yummy type of a joint. And it's good to bring to a party.
I wouldn't recommend it for everyday use, but it's a good special occasion type of treat and they're pretty to look at too.
David Goodman is a photographer in New York City. His work has appeared in print and online publications like the New York Times, Vogue Magazine and Huffington Post.
His most recent New York City gallery show featured his photo series on Manhattan's Highline Park.