Yesterday afternoon, after poring over what we thought was a final total of 10 offers for South Auburn Organic Farm, John and I prepared to call our broker and let him know we’d made our choice. Though many offers were well over our asking price, one offer really had our attention: While “only” full asking, it was both a cash offer with almost no contingencies, and, came with a letter from the buyers. The letter explained that they were homesteaders and craftspeople that had moved to Maine 2 years ago from AZ with their young daughter and fell in love with it, It explained their goal to stay in Maine, find land to work and homestead on, and continue practicing their crafts of herb-growing, herbalism, ceramics, and metal-smithing. They detailed formal training and education in environmental science, and understanding of land stewardship and sustainable practices. Just like on the Penguins of Madagascar, after reading their letter, John and I and the kids all looked around at each other and nodded, lol! We knew we’d found our family and we teared up with joy.
Just as we were about to make the call, two bohemian-looking, thin young people appeared on our front porch apologizing for the intrusion but saying they had just driven 7 hours to see the place and would we consider letting them look around. We explained the situation and that we had pretty much settled on a buyer, to which they said they were cash buyers and could make an offer immediately. We agreed to let them look around. During the tour I asked them about themselves and what they did for work. The young man deflected entirely stating he had food allergies, and the early-twenties looking girl explained that she’d grown up picking strawberries in Russia, neither really answering the question. While looking at the garden the young man commented that wow, the Rhubarb was still going really strong! It was actually Swiss Chard. When we pointed to the pile of 200 yards of organic compost in the upper rotation that comes with the farm, they nodded vacantly, though they were very excited about the kitchen appliances.
We let them know that we had promised an answer to all the other folks with offers on the table by 6pm, and it was 5:10. They plead with us to allow them to submit an offer, saying it was everything they’d been looking for. We said that to be fair to the other buyers, they needed to have their offer submitted within 20 minutes to meet the same deadline we’d given others. Ten minutes later the broker called saying they had a cash offer that was tens of thousands higher than our AZ family! The catch? They were cannabis growers.
While not a user myself, I don’t have anything against marijuana growers or users. I realize the plant has both medical and recreational value to folks. However, I do come at this, as I do everything, with a food system lens. During my time in graduate school I’d learned of substantial challenges with the competition that cannabis applies to the food system. While this doesn’t apply to all cannabis growers, there is among many of the new and emerging growers an overall lack of agroecological and soil health understanding. The industry is generally characterized by high soluble chemical fertilizer usage, and monocultures tend to dominate the cannabis landscape. Soil compaction caused by heavy equipment, gravel, and/or high tunnels is commonplace. Additionally, state land-grant universities and other federally funded institutions are at risk of losing funding if they engage in any education or research activities related to cannabis production, and historically, farmers have relied on Extension research and education to improve their production methods and adopt best management practices. There is therefore a dearth of this best practice information in cannabis growing.
All of this is not to demonize the industry, nor suggest that all growers do not possess agricultural knowledge – I personally know several who do. Rather, simply to point out what many folks don’t realize yet, which is that anytime a new industry emerges, you can expect growing pains and challenges as it finds its place – and many of those challenges relate to the food system. Marijuana cultivation as a legal, widespread practice is still quite young and there is much to do to integrate it effectively into the agricultural landscape. We’re only beginning and I think we need to move sensibly and practically. I encourage cannabis growers to become active in trying to assemble, work with other farmers and agriculturalists, and create mechanisms to establish industry best practice.
We did not get the feeling nor any evidence to substantiate that our surprise visitors yesterday were established agriculturalists who understood land stewardship, soil health, and sustainable practice. Frankly, I would have loved it if I had gotten that feeling, because the extra money could really get me out of a couple of jams right now lol!!! It was fairly painful to walk away from and Johnny didn’t completely share my decisiveness lol! But, we decided together that replacing ourselves with good land stewards was most important, and we made the call to our broker.
We hope the community will join us in welcoming the next inhabitants of 310 Sopers Mill Road, the family originally from AZ but currently residing in Brunswick, Maine, when the time comes in a few brief weeks! For today, time to get my grubbies on and start packing.