Sunshine Johnston is the owner and lead farmer of Sunboldt Grown located on the banks of the Eel River in southern Humboldt County, where she has lived and farmed since the 1980s. Johnston is also member of the Southern Humboldt Community Alliance and hosts a monthly talk show on KMUD community radio where she covers all things cannabis.
Q: What have been the most difficult steps for you while trying to become legalized?
A: I don’t have enough capital starting out, faced with needing investors and no longer having complete ownership of my farm. I find it difficult to give up the freedom I have had as a farmer up til now and be accountable, answer to authorities and be regulated, and take ownership and responsibility for my company. I only recently started production farming.
Q: What are your views on automation of bud trimming and automation of the industry in general? Do you think that trimming jobs will be mostly defunct in the near future? Would you ever use a trimming machine?
A: I do not compromise quality for quantity, great care is taken on my farm to preserve resin heads and I do not foresee the use of a trim machine. I do however welcome the use of automation for packaging.
Q: Do you have any issues with the current legalization laws in place in California? What would you want changed about the laws?
A: How the state regulates licensing and in particular distribution, will determine the economic landscape. The State and Proposition 64 are very divided in their licensing structures. I believe that market accessibility with many points of entry will provide a diverse and robust industry.
Q: Are there any benefits to growing marijuana in Humboldt compared to the Central Valley or other areas of the state or is it just because it’s been happening there for so long?
A: Both the State and Prop 64 protect county of origin. This encourages cannabis to be sold like wine, based on the region, and can make opportunities for all scale of farms. It can be argued that the quality in Humboldt has gone down over the years as farms have scaled up but we do have consistency that lends well to marketing a region.
Q: How did you get into growing pot for a living?
A: Grew up in Southern Humboldt. Enough said.
Q: How much control do dispensaries have on the price of your weed?
A: Someone else has to take my herb to a dispensary. It is treated as a commodity and there is a glass ceiling on the price for outdoor because our premium outdoor has been sold as indoor and outdoor sold as a value buy that puts me at a disadvantage. Dispensaries work a margin of 50 percent and higher and now farmers have similar expenses going into regulation and we have a smaller margin to share with distributors and transporters.