While 2020 has been a revolving nightmare for many people both personally and financially, it’s been something of a big and positive year for harvests at the rebuilt SPARC farm in Sonoma County. Wildfires have ravaged other parts of California in the last month, including an area about 35 miles away in Sonoma, but so far this hasn’t had any impact on SPARC’s harvests, and with the second half of September come preparations for the second big harvest this fall.
Following the wildfire disaster of October 2017, during which SPARC lost its first big outdoor cannabis crop before legalization, it’s been a steady process of rebuilding the farm and SPARC’s drying and processing facilities. But the operation is now primed to offer a steady selection of unique strains that have been in SPARC’s hands all the way from seed to sale.
“It’s not the same to have a warehouse in Sonoma as it is to have a plant in the ground in Sonoma,” said SPARC founder Erich Pearson in a recent interview with SF Weekly. “I think a lot of the market still tends towards really frothy-looking indoor cannabis, but, over time, I believe consumers will start to understand that outdoor, organically-grown marijuana is not only healthier for you, it’s healthier for the environment too.”
Along with lead cultivator Chris Hayes, Pearson and the farm team are hoping the 2020 growing season will be a sort of proving ground for the idea that California cannabis can have appellations, just like California wine.
Hayes has been busy since the spring leading SPARC’s gardeners to produce an abundant crop of over a dozen strains sungrown cannabis.
“A lot of what we’ve chosen to grow this year is based on customer demand and customer feedback from the last few years,” Hayes says. “We’ve also introduced some new strains that fit those profiles that people are looking for, including a wide variety of terpene profiles. So we’ve got some 30 flavors and aromas, from the super fruity to some of those fuel/diesel-y smells that people really respond to.”
Hayes and the team have gone about selecting strains that they know respond well to this Sonoma appellation and this cultivation site in particular. There’s a good mix of indica and sativa strains on the farm right now, but the crops are somewhat sativa heavy this year — which has a lot to do with what grows well outdoors.
After the 2017 fire, SPARC had to turn to a number of industry partners to replenish its mix of clones and unique strains, and Hayes says that 12|12 Cultivation has been a primary source for the SPARC farm this year, along with Dark Heart Nursery in San Leandro.
The first harvest in July was primarily two strains: Watermelon Frosted Zinn, and Cookie Dough Thin Mint. Those are both in packaging and should be hitting retail shelves shortly. The current crop will begin being harvested in a few weeks, and Hayes says there are about 20 different strains on the farm right now.
This year’s winners for successful, thriving plants, are the Blue Dream strain. “They just took off on us,” Hayes says. “They’re monsters. They’re all starting to bud really well and the smell out there in the field is great.”
Shop: SPARC Flower Selection
Hayes cites some of this year’s success on the farm with a new, high-tech, ozone-based water filtration system that is feeding SPARC’s plants with some of the cleanest, most oxygenated water money can buy.
“Our water is really clean, and the plants are really showing it,” Hayes says. “We’ve got a fast rate of growth. The health of the plants is there — we’re not seeing a lot of root problems or anything like that.”
The filtration process pulls out any heavy metals, sodium, or bacteria in the water, and then it adds dissolved oxygen to that water and constantly recycles it through the day.
“Root systems love that,” Hayes says. “Root systems thrive on oxygen. CO2 is for the leaves, oxygen’s for the roots.”
As for this year’s garden staff, Hayes has nothing but raves after being away from SPARC for a couple of years.
“I feel really blessed to have come back on this year,” Hayes says, praising the professionalism and skills of the five gardeners he works with every day. “I’ve said to them multiple times this year, ‘I’ve worked with a lot of garden crews, and I’ve worked with some fantastic gardeners, but this is the strongest garden team, as a whole, that I’ve ever worked with.”