If you’ve read the last few issues of Grow, you may have seen the first two articles of our series about the Palo Verdes area in northern California. The first briefly detailed the long and significant cannabis culture history of this and surrounding Southern Humboldt areas.
While the beauty of the landscape is awe striking, it is also rugged. And, while tales of hippie homesteaders–living in peace amongst nature, raising families and animals, growing food, and cannabis–sounds blissful, there is a rough and rugged tone to the history of what has unfolded here. Going back to the time of the Native tribes who settled in the valleys below the hills, along the creeks and bends of the Eel River, the Palo Verde has seen as much harshness as it has harmony. Even with legal cannabis in California, this balance of striving and struggle continues today.
I wanted to tell stories of amazing cannabis and legendary growers; stories of interesting people who have built their lives in a unique and interesting place. Our little hidden center of the Emerald Triangle has some outstanding permitted and licensed cannabis farms (some that likely rival the top quality you could find in the world) with authentic stories that would intrigue the minds of curious stoners of all generations. In this series, we can and will continue to explore them all.
But what about the growers who decided not to or couldn’t get a permit and a license, including many who dedicated their lives and worked hard to build an industry they don’t get to be a part of?
I bring people, many who happen to be growers, up to the mountain to visit all the time from all over the country and even the world. Everyone seems the most surprised by how many of the people here are actually growing cannabis on a decent scale. Even people from other parts of Humboldt ask me all the time as we drive down the road to my farm, “Is it really just about everybody up here?” I answer, “Pretty much all of us, yes.” This area became that way organically, evolving naturally, before the “green rush.”
However, of all the growers here, only a few are actually legal. I can’t imagine the others’ stories not being told and being left in the dust. While controversial, I’ve decided to tell one of them, of an old timer who’s actually done growing now.
I met “Running Todd” years ago when I was managing a farm for one of his surrounding neighbors. Most days, he would ride past me on his way to the mailbox at the end of the road. He’d often stop by, sitting on his little Honda bike, which never saw an oil change, and chat for a bit. Old timers up here are usually pretty apprehensive of new people, but I think Todd realized I was a good neighbor and a passionate grower. We gradually became friends.
Over time, Todd and I got to know each other pretty well. Through conversations smoking joints over morning coffee and afternoon visits gazing out at the hills talking about weed, I got to know his story. Guys like Todd represent a certain type of mom-and-pop, old homesteader who truly wanted nothing more than a simple, peaceful life amongst nature. He always grew cannabis, but not to get rich and afford fancy things. His ambitions were only to live peacefully on his property, surrounded by nature on a ridge top, in a hidden corner of our neighborhood.
When he first came to the area 30-plus years ago, he and some friends went to a local realtor in town asking for help to find a piece of land. The realtor asked them what kind of property they were looking for. When Todd and his friends hesitated briefly, the realtor said, “You guys looking for a place to grow dope? Just tell me if you are, I’ll show you where you want to grow dope.”
He brought them to the Palo Verde, a recently subdivided large ranch. There were only two properties left. They settled on a piece that was relatively forested, enough to hide secrets under the canopy from the helicopters. It was at the end of a road through a few neighboring parcels on a ridge-top peninsula. The non-forested side is a northwest-facing ridge top, flat, then terraced a bit, then straight down rugged cliffs. The view looks out from the middle of the Palo Verde to the beginning of Island Mountain Road, out at Bell Springs Road, slightly over the Humboldt side, high enough to see past Pratt Mountain, all the way to the King Range. The back end and northeast side of the property is forested with madrones, oaks, and some pretty big and pretty old Douglas firs. It’s gentle and sloping at first, home to a row of 5,000-gallon water tanks, which are filled every winter to sustain life and gardens for an entire year. Below a forgotten tool shed, the land steepens and goes down ravines into a valley towards Jewett Rock and a whole bunch of wild Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land.
Todd truly lives in nature, maybe more so than anyone I’ve met. I could see him being featured on a PBS or National Geographic show about survivalist homesteaders living deep in Alaska, except Todd is an old Deadhead hippie pot grower living on a ridge-top peninsula high above the mountains in Southern Humboldt.
Todd has developed a special relationship with animals. Birds and squirrels carelessly relax on his deck, which is tucked under the forest canopy. The deer co-exist with him like a friendly neighbor. He puts out food and water in several places for the animals, hoping to help them survive each harsh dry summer. He actually doesn’t allow any vehicles to drive onto his property at night to keep engine noises and headlights from frightening the animals that live there. He keeps his house minimally lit at night. He’s the type of guy to look up and say, “Hey, do you see that hawk up there? I saw a bald eagle a few weeks ago right over that ridge.”
One day, he sped over on his little Honda bike in a hurry. I could tell he was distressed and something was wrong. That’s always a bad sign when you’re a grower. I thought for sure there was a law enforcement convoy headed up the hill.
On a related note, how did he get the name “Running Todd?” Apparently, years ago, helicopters where flying the area pretty hard. Someone got a little overzealous and fired some rounds in the air. That guy took off on his quad towards Todd’s part of the neighborhood. Soon, the Feds sent a caravan up after being shot at (I guess they don’t like that).
While the narcs were sitting at the top of the road, they heard a generator humming in the distance and started creeping onto the property.
I don’t know the whole story, and maybe parts aren’t mine to tell, but Todd was on the way to visit a neighbor. He saw them as he was making his way through the woods, and, before they could see him, he ran!
He ran through the woods, past the cops at the top of the road, without being seen and managed to reach a neighbor calling a few folks to warn them. He didn’t get busted that day; he continued to run and they didn’t find him hidden in the trees. As for the guy who took off on his quad–he also got away, but others didn’t.
So, back to the day he showed up in a panic on his bike breathing heavily and looking distressed. He explained that a bear had ripped open a freezer full of food on his deck and dragged it into the woods. Then he told me the bear must have eaten a shit-load of pot brownies that were in the freezer and he’s concerned about the bear’s well-being. “I’m just worried he might be so stoned that he could lose all his animal instincts and approach someone,” he said. He elaborated about picturing the bear alone in the woods, high out of his mind and losing his “bear instincts,” potentially deciding to approach someone in a friendly manner and getting himself shot. He was also worried the bear might develop a taste for weed and come back for his plants or mine.
I offered to help him clean up, but he declined, instead asking me to be on the lookout for the bear. He then went on his way.
While I felt bad for him and shared a little concern for the bear being all stoned in the woods, it was hilarious to think about. I went back to the cabin and had a good laugh about it with the guys on the crew. I remember laughing so hard we were all almost rolling on the floor screaming until our stomachs hurt. It was truly one of those stoned moments where something so ridiculous happens, laughter is good for the soul.
Before legal cannabis, when the traditional market plummeted and forced him out, Todd had some beautiful cannabis gardens. He grew in medium-to-small pots on the flats of his ridge top, terrace down a few rows layered into the hillside, and in a few raised beds. He had a nice little homemade greenhouse outside of his house where he started seeds and kept males, other houseplants, and veggie starts. He was never a big grower. He expanded a bit each year to keep up with the dropping prices and to cover his cost of living.
He had some cool old neighborhood strains, including some Mazari and Matanuska hybrids, and Purple lines. They grew big fat buds, chunky, with unique smells I don’t notice often. They were stable seed lines where all the plants of each strain could be trimmed and mixed together without any noticeable variation in the pounds. He tried growing some of my seeds one year and really loved my Blueberry Muffins. His last several years goingand it was actually the majority of his crop. I always had him save me a little smoke from his “Muffins” and loved to see those plants thrive at his place.
His cultivation technique was simple: organic soil amendments, minor inputs throughout the year, and experience. His weed was classic good Humboldt outdoor: clean as the water running through the creeks in the winter, tasty, and with a buzz that gives you the vibe of looking out over his ridge-top views.
His property has a series of little cabins throughout. They kind of remind me of little hobbit houses. Nothing fancy, just little cabins for guests and trimmers, with a little kitchen cabin, all connected in a little maze.
After more than 35 years taking care of the land on his property and tending to cannabis gardens, it became too much. A combination of health, prices dropping, and being just tired of it, he no longer grows cannabis.
With everything in modern cannabis evolving so rapidly, it’s important that stories like Running Todd’s are told. Maybe not significant to today’s market and the fast-paced, make-it-or-break-it business mentality, but this is cannabis history.
Cannabis culture and the counter culture was real; it was deep. There are generations of those before us who paved the way, and many whom are now gone or won’t get to see the light at the end of the tunnel with us. Remember this the next time you purchase legal cannabis. By knowing the past, you might develop a greater and more profound connection with cannabis and enjoy it even more.