Cultivating empowered women through cannabis
As the first permitted cannabis farm in California, Blessed Coast Farms has stepped out of the dark and into the light. Siobhan Danger Darwish, who runs the farm and spearheads the Grow Sisters, took a moment from farming to satisfy our curiosity about what it is like to be a legal cannabis cultivator.
Heads Lifestyle: Siobhan "Danger" Darwish, can you tell us about the Danger part of your name? There must be a story.
Siobhan Danger Darwish: Oh, everything is more fun with a little element of Danger, you know.
HL: How did your relationship with cannabis, in particular cultivating, first start?
SDD: My relationship with cannabis has been an absolute love affair since I was a child. I grew up watching my father tend his plants and at a very young age I learned to speak the language of cannabis. My first memory of the immense love I feel for cannabis was around eleven years old. As a preteen I began to feel the stress of growing up in an intense world and remember wanting to help in the garden to escape the outside world. My father often put me on watering duty where holding a hose was the main job. This became a meditation for me and I still feel that in my garden today.
My father often put me on watering duty where holding a hose was the main job. This became a meditation for me and I still feel that in my garden today.
HL: As the first farm in the state of California to be awarded an official permit to cultivate cannabis, what kind of pressure do you feel to set a precedent, do it right and pave the way for the industry?
SDD: As the first permitted cannabis cultivation site in Humboldt County, which is also the first county in the state of California to issue these permits, Blessed Coast Farms has been gifted the honour of setting a precedent. Our farming methods are not only sustainable but ethical as well. On Blessed Coast Farms, we plant directly into the native soil. We amend our soil and use only compost tea. We have never used any synthetic or bottled nutrients. Our family farm focuses on cultivating high quality craft cannabis and we are proud that we have been recognized for our sustainable practices. Being the first permit, we are honoured to pave a sustainable path for the industry that supports family farms, because that is what Humboldt County was built on. I personally felt like a heavy weight had been lifted from my community once we started posting about our lives on social media. More farms felt comfortable to proceed with the legalization process and share their farming practices. Social media has created a platform where consumers can research where and from whom they purchase their cannabis. The pressure we felt to set a precedent has become the best transparent way to showcase our farm and who we are.
Photos: Hannah Gart
HL: Prior to legalization, growing cannabis was notoriously stealth and hush-hush. Grow Sisters seems to be flipping the script on the old ways. Why have you chosen to take this approach?
SDD: Grow Sisters has certainly flipped the script! We are celebrating stepping out of the dark and into the light by telling our story, communicating our passion, and expressing our newfound freedom on social media. Freedom is sharing our lives and cultivation knowledge on such a large platform! I spent my life hiding in fear and not telling anyone what my family did. Now we can celebrate the medicinal herb that we love and believe in. We took this approach because we have knowledge to share and the platform to do it. By spreading our cultivation knowledge, we hope to encourage our viewers to grow their own medicinal cannabis. If our viewers are not able to grow their own cannabis, they can still watch where and how their cannabis is being grown. When Grow Sisters Flower is purchased it comes with a story, a farmer, and an education behind the medication.
HL: What elements of black market farming have proven to be still useful as a fully licensed cultivator? What are some of the old ways that you've had to shed?
SDD: Elements of the black market that have proven to be useful now as a licensed cultivator really span in so many directions! As black market farmers, we had to quickly learn to adapt to make each harvest happen. Factors such as location, funding, and water source were always pieces we had to work at getting to fit correctly. The cannabis black market was much like Ninja training. Seventeen seasons of cultivation has certainly given us a head start. The black market sharpened my negotiation skills and now working with contracts versus dirt road handshakes has certainly made things easier. One of the larger reasons we decided to go legal was to end the old black market farming practices. Most were not clean, sustainable, or ethical and we were ready to see the change happen.
The black market sharpened my negotiation skills and now working with contracts versus dirt road handshakes has certainly made things easier.
HL: Your business sense, in particular your social media game is strong. How do you see social media’s role in terms of building a cannabis or cannabis-related brand?
SDD: The birth of Grow Sisters in 2017 was fuelled by the longing to educate others about cannabis growing and our Humboldt lifestyle behind the Redwood Curtain, while providing Blessed Coast Farms with free marketing through the rising popularity of cannabis. But we soon discovered that after hiding our entire lives; Grow Sisters was the liberation from our childhood fears! Finally a way to join in and celebrate and normalize cannabis with the world! Through Grow Sisters, we have really enjoyed sharing our lives and cultivation knowledge. Social media’s role in building a cannabis brand is huge! Legalization’s momentum has created a transparent marketplace. We see this carrying through in social media. Consumers want to know where and from whom their cannabis is coming. What are their ethics? What are their farming practices? Consumers are now able to not just know their farmer, but also see how the product is being grown. Cultivators are being held to much higher standards through legalization, which has created transparency. When a consumer purchases Grow Sisters Flower they know it's from a sustainable farm and can be assured of its purity.
Photos: Hannah Gart
HL: You seem very comfortable being the face of Blessed Coast Farms and the modern female cannabis entrepreneur. Have you always been centre stage? Were you an outgoing kid?
SDD: It is a massive honour to finally legally share my legacy. I celebrate the attention and am humbled daily to still be here as a small farmer. I have not always been centre stage on a stage this big! Maybe the goofball stage with my friends as audience, but not like this. Growing up it was bad to draw any attention to yourself or our business. I have always been outgoing and now I can share my weirdness with the world!
HL: Grow Sisters is by no means a one-woman show. Who’s on your team and what unique skills or characteristics do they bring to the table?
SDD: Last season, I launched Grow Sisters with the help of my biological sister Sloan Reed, as a way to market our farm. The recent change in legal age to be on a cultivation site means my sister cannot work on the farm this season. Since then the Grow Sisters have "grown" to represent an association of women coming together to support female empowerment in all forms. We realized the importance that education plays towards achieving this goal, so Grow Sisters decided to plant a new sisterhood for this season. The Grow Sisters Season 2: Sister Grow Your Own Summer Project is dedicated to helping sisters cultivate the many aspects of this medicinal and recreational plant, blooming a larger sisterhood that expands beyond cannabis farming and providing a richer and more robust foundation for true female empowerment, in both plant and person, both online and in product and service!
Those being our stated objectives, Grow Sisters is currently a one-woman show. Though I do have the support of my community and sponsors of the Sister Grow Your Own Summer Project.
Photos: Hannah Gart
HL: You mentioned that your previous venture—a skin care boutique—was essentially put out of business when a big block retailer moved into your town. It’s no secret that big pharma is taking a huge interest in the cannabis industry. Do you anticipate a similar threat to cannabis farming? What can you and other small to mid-sized farmers do to protect yourselves?
SDD: Yes, I owned a skin care boutique called Lady Luxx and I was put out of business by a large block retail store. We see this happening in the cannabis industry with big pharma and this was a major reason for launching Grow Sisters. Through education we create conscious consumers who ask the right questions about the products they purchase. Questions like: Who grew this? What are their farming practices? And, Is this a cultivator I want to support? I feel the cannabis industry has the momentum to flip the script on big pharma with conscious consumers using their purchasing power to take a stand against generically produced cannabis. This is the age of the conscious consumer, the farm-to-table movement and knowing your farmer. Through continued consumer education and transparency other family farmers will strive in an industry that truly belongs to them.
I feel the cannabis industry has the momentum to flip the script on big pharma with conscious consumers using their purchasing power to take a stand against generically produced cannabis.
HL: Where would you like to see the cannabis industry in 5, 10 years?
SDD: Currently, the cannabis industry in California is quite the rollercoaster. In five years, it would be wonderful to see the foundation of the cannabis regulatory structure become secure in supporting craft farmers. By this time groups like the Cannabis Certification Council (https://cannabiscertificationcouncil.org) will have established the quality bar for clean cannabis and their education efforts will have reached consumers. Educated consumers will know what is in their medicine and where their cannabis is coming from. In ten years, we will have a system in place where all patients in need can access clean, affordable cannabis.
Photos: Hannah Gart
HL: When you aren’t lovingly tending your plants and your social media followers, what keeps you busy? Do you have any passions or hobbies?
SDD: Thanks for asking! I love my horse, dogs, and cat. My animals keep me very busy and bring so much joy to my life. I also enjoy dirt biking and surfing whenever I can get off the farm!
HL: Got any pet peeves, cannabis-related or other?
SDD: My biggest pet peeve is dirty cannabis cultivators. Unfortunately even permitted farms are still cultivating just for the money and not for the medication. Farming practices using mass amounts of plastics or synthetic chemicals need to stop. This is why it is so important to research your farmer. Social media is a fantastic place to start. Social media pages with no photos of gardens or the faces of the farmers usually mean they are hiding something. You really need to question their practices. Find farmers you can really trust and love to grow your cannabis.
Unfortunately even permitted farms are still cultivating just for the money and not for the medication.
HL: Who do you look up to, find inspiration in or strive to be like?
SDD: I have a major love for Alexis Bortell. Her story and strength have been a huge inspiration. Alexis is a 12-year-old girl who is spearheading a campaign to legalize medical cannabis across the United States. She and her family had no choice but to move from their Texas home to Colorado to treat her severe epilepsy. Now, her family and a handful of others are suing Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). I admire her and her family in their efforts to help others with epilepsy. Grow Sisters is a sisterhood of women contributing to the many facets of the cannabis revolution and Alexis is a true Grow Sister.