By and large, growers are a proud bunch. If you've spent much time hanging out with Humboldt County cultivators, you've almost assuredly been treated to ribbing — most of it good natured, some of it not — about who grows the best weed and whose thumb is, well, the dankiest.
Well, by the time you read this, with little fanfare outside the industry, one of the most prestigious farming competitions on the West Coast will be underway, seeking to scientifically answer that query.
The Grow-Off, which started in Colorado and touts itself as "the Iron Chef of weed," officially kicked off Wednesday in Humboldt County. But this isn't your typical cannabis competition. Instead of convening a group of enthusiasts to cluster in a smoke-clouded room and puff joint after joint after joint, stuffed with a variety of strains, somehow filling out score sheets through the haze, the Grow-Off tries to put everyone on an equal footing.
Just as the Iron Chef pits culinary whizzes against one another to make the most of a single, surprise ingredient, the Grow-Off starts by giving all competing farmers plants with the exact same genetics. Each farmer gets two identical clones and then has the entire season to work his or her magic, turning those little clones into the best possible versions of themselves.
After harvest, the farmers then submit samples that, rather than being turned to smoke in one giant judgmental session, are sent to a scientific laboratory, where they tested for terpenes and cannabinoids. Those results are coupled with a weigh-in to gauge the highest yield and whoever scores highest in all three categories takes home the prize.
But the competition is about more than just glory and a bit of prize cash, it also asks farmers to record data throughout the season, aiming to discover what variables impact the selected strain's growth either negatively or positively.
And there's a decidedly local aspect to this year's event. You may recall the Journal's March 21 cover story, "Finding a Unicorn: Humboldt Growers Collaborate in a Quest to Find Superior Cannabis Genetics," which detailed a collaborative effort to plant 10,000 different cannabis strains in an effort to find unique cultivars. Well, this year's Grow-Off is featuring a "unique" strain from the project, which was spearheaded by Humboldt Seed Co. and HendRx Farm, a clone nursery based in McKinleyville.
The hunt saw plants grown from seeds long tucked away in sock drawers and hidden compartments, or brought back from Jamaica, while others were crosses or modifications of popular strains, in a virtual cannabis buffet. It also yielded some strains that have since become popular — like Vanilla Frosting and Magic Melon.
But exactly what's going to be the focus of this year's Grow-Off has been a tightly held secret — one that was to be unveiled June 5, just after this edition of the Journal went to press, when growers from around the area were expected to convene at a "clone adoption ceremony" in McKinleyville. The 300 registered teams in the Northern California competition — which includes counties from the Bay Area north — will receive two genetically identical clones. They'll then have six months to prove their thumb is, in fact, the very dankiest of them all.
Thadeus Greenson is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.