As the cultivation of cannabis transitions from illegal backwoods growing to a multi-million-dollar industry, some wonder: 1. Can we slow, if not stop, the inevitable corporate takeover of weed? 2. Can cannabis be cultivated in a way that is beneficial both for the earth and for the people who have historically produced it? According to Madrone Stewart, the author of Feminist Weed Farmer, the answer to both questions is yes. Yes and "do it yourself."
Stewart is an experienced cannabis farmer who spent years in Humboldt County working an array of jobs, from trimmer to farm owner. When she left the region, she passed the pot-growing torch to friends, entrusting them with her grow, Purple Kite Farm. Stewart also passed along some instructions, which were an early incarnation of the step-by-step guide, Feminist Weed Farmer: Growing Mindful Medicine in Your Own Backyard. The guide is part instruction manual, part feminist horticultural manifesto that seeks to empower women through the cultivation of their own medicine.
Feminist Weed Farmer is written for readers who have never grown cannabis before and is jam-packed with information about the specificities of cultivating this particular plant. The book's narrative flow may make it slightly less user friendly than traditional how-to gardening books, but it's an easy read — even if you are not familiar with some of Stewart's horticultural references. She includes diagrams and describes tools and procedures in enough detail to keep the first-time gardener in the loop. At the same time, she interjects anecdotes regularly, making the instructions feel more personal and more feasible.
This guide is also especially helpful for Humboldt residents, as Stewart often offers tips and tricks tailored specifically for Humboldt County climates and conditions. Admitting that her instructions may not be "scientifically sound," they are "commonly practiced in the hills" of Humboldt County and, she argues, are just as reliable. This text does many things, the first of which is teach you, from start to finish, how to successfully cultivate cannabis. Stewart walks her readers through germinating seeds, choosing clones, preparing beds, watering and fertilizing plants, harvesting, drying, trimming and processing your bounty over the course of several chapters. Clearly an expert on the topic, Stewart leaves no leaves unturned — you will find detailed descriptions of pests, advice on where to plant for your exact longitude and comprehensive instructions for sexing your plants ("If you find a male plant, kill it immediately"). If you dream about growing your own weed one day but are not quite ready to start, this book will help you plan for a future garden. If you are an active gardener (not of the cannabis variety), this book offers great general gardening advice, like how often to water and how to effectively stake and trellis your plants. Even if you have no intention of growing anything green, Feminist Weed Farmer provides meaningful insights into local life and the industry that supports it and creates a "cultural artifact for the community of people who taught [her] how to grow" and so she has.
Can growing weed be a feminist endeavor? Stewart says there are several ways. Most importantly, growing our own weed takes business away from a harmful industry. Stewart notes that while we seek transformative and natural medicine in cannabis and counterculture, we are more or less (willfully) oblivious of the fact that we buy marijuana that does not "embody the principles and values of feminism, environmentalism and/or social justice." Recalling the history of cannabis cultivation and the war on drugs in the United States, Stewart reminds us people of color are persecuted and incarcerated for cannabis-related crimes at a much higher number than white people. She also points out that women and people of color primarily comprised the labor force in the industry and are regularly subjected to sexual harassment on the "the hill," while — especially since legalization of cannabis in several states — white men generally reap the benefits. What's more, Stewart writes that women, queer folks and folks of color have been "radically excluded from the emerging cannabis industry." Infused with critical analysis, Feminist Weed Farmer is particularly in tune with the social and economic climate of this region. "When I lived in Humboldt, I would guess that 2 percent of the land was owned by women, and so it was hardly a surprise that so few women grew weed, relative to men who grew. It is clear to me that this gender disparity in land ownership has directly led to the male domination of the cannabis industry and dismally small number of women cultivators." Though Stewart does not imply that there is a quick and easy way to fix this disparity, she urges women and women-identified readers to resist the systems of oppression built into the industry by growing it themselves.
Growing your own cannabis can be an empowering experience, according to Stewart. Not only does the cannabis you grow have consciousness expanding effects but seeing a project through from start to finish, making something grow and sharing it with your community can have transformative, liberating results. For her, cannabis cultivation is also a practice of mindfulness, requiring close attention to "cycles of life and death" and studying nature to learn from it. This text passes on knowledge, skills and a trade that are ages old. When you trim your final product, you are doing something that women have done for decades, tucked away behind the Redwood Curtain. For Stewart, cultivating weed is about intention and reflection, about envisioning a more equitable future.
Knowing that readers will be critical of the connections between feminism and weed, social change and getting high, Stewart quips, "Does this sound like hippie rhetoric? Well, considering that the best cannabis gardens have traditionally been grown by the hippies of Northern California, I certainly hope that it does."