California Forum

Northern Exposure

Pot growers work on rules

Pot farmers are asking for it.

Growers thinking more like bottom-line business owners than buzzed-out stoners convened a daylong gathering aimed at developing countywide regulations: taxes, land-use ordinances, business licenses. Working elbow-to-elbow with bankers, environmentalists and county officials, they staked out a process to regulate weed grows like any other crop.

Large outdoor cannabis cultivators want to comply with “best practices” that ensure “economic and environmental sustainability,” said Thomas Edrington, outreach director for the California Cannabis Voice Humboldt, which speaks for marijuana farmers.

With recreational pot expected to appear on the 2016 ballot, Humboldt growers hope to have regulations in place that enforce size, water diversion, trespass and chemical usage for cannabis cultivation, which represents 26 percent of the local economy.

The county’s mom-and-pop pot growers have emphasized their concern for the environment over many years, said Supervisor Estelle Fennell, who attended the meeting. “Keeping farms small and doing it properly are prerogatives,” she said.

Proving that government can speed with the proper incentives, an ordinance could be ready for public comment by January and adopted in time to serve as a model for statewide regulations. “We want to show California how to get its act together,” Edrington said.

Growers also want to protect their brand, the as yet-unregistered but highly touted Humboldt weed. And they are wary of an influx of large-scale money-grubbing outsiders taking advantage of a regulatory free-for-all at their expense.

Edrington, still high days later on the degree of agreement, called the energy generated “crackling.”

Town rings up a century

The grande dame of Young’s Market sat stoically on the counter as her 400 guests mingled around celebrating her 100th birthday. Her only utterances were the regular rings emanating from her 3-foot high oak case, made by National Cash Register in 1914.

Ask market owner Kelly Tan why she threw a party for her cash register and she’ll wax enthusiastic about the machine’s reliability: “She doesn’t break down. She doesn’t complain.”

And that’s the genesis of the gender Tan assigned: “Something that’s been working that long and that hard has to be a woman,” she said.

Considered the oldest mechanical cash register still in use in the West, the Taylorsville machine has been on the job since former store owners had her made to replace the predecessor, which robbers of a local stagecoach dynamited after they couldn’t open the cash drawers.

Adorned with ornate brass panels, the register operates by pushing buttons – red for dollars, black for cents – and pulling a crank, which opens one of three cash drawers. The only limitation is sales over $99.99; Tan has to ring them up twice.

These days the centenarian tallies purchases of local produce and gourmet cheese, Zantac and Seventh-Generation diapers, Fritos, Copenhagen and beer. Tan, who bought the market in 2012, eventually wants to open a restaurant with a pizza oven.

The grand old National register will remain, serving the community as its most indispensable and celebrated fixture. Besides, said Tan, “She’s adorable!”

Students plug into outdoors

In laid-back Loyalton, the kids are unplugging and ditching their classrooms.

No pads, no pods, no phones. Just journals, drawing paper and the great outdoors.

How better to encourage original writing and artwork than exposing them to local biomes, said Mark Fisher, Loyalton High School science teacher.

“These kids are quite used to just Googling and regurgitating meaningless facts. The goal is to break the technology cycle,” he said.

His earth-science students made a map of Smithneck Meadow – without Google Maps – by identifying landmarks and pacing off distances and angles. Biology students squatted streamside to identify a signal crawfish, smooth scouring rush and a long-jawed orb weaver.

The results are a charming montage of original field sketches surrounding a hand-drawn, four-color map identifying forests, cultivated land and the meadow near Smithneck Creek at the eastern edge of Sierra Valley.

Fisher’s students are among about 2,000 from elementary to high school who are part of Feather River Land Trust’s Learning Landscapes, a conservation and education program. Each of the 12 schools in the upper Feather River watershed has an outdoor classroom within five minutes from its campus, said Rob Wade, the program’s coordinator.

Teachers design their own outdoor programs. Fisher capitalized on his love of cartography.

The most practical lesson his students learned? Mastering the pattern of a trio of overlapping agricultural sprinklers well enough to make it out of the field without a soaking.

Jane Braxton Little, a freelance writer, covers science, natural resources and rural Northern California from Plumas County. Reach her at