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‘Under natural sun’: Wild and Scenic Film Festival Earth Day celebration features cannabis farm tour

Regenerative cannabis farmer Daniel Fink said he practices responsible farming techniques because he believes in “cosmic karma.”

Fink bridged the gap last week between sustainable farming practices, ecological responsibility and cannabis cultivation during Nevada County’s first ever cannabis farm tour on just over a half-court of permitted space in the French Corral. The tour was sponsored by the Wild and Scenic Film Festival as part of the organization’s Earth Day celebration.

Down Om Farms, “a family-owned and operated cottage cultivation in the Sierra Foothills” has some defining features — worm troughs, llamas and heaps of fresh compost.

The llamas are low impact on the worn terrain, Fink said, adding that his farm’s particular location around the corner from Mountain Bounty Farm’s Bridgeport location would benefit from regenerative farming because of the long-term effects of hydraulic mining in the area.

“This is just clay,” Fink said, gesturing the ground. “At some point there was probably feet of top soil.”

Fink described the hydraulic mining process, applied across southern Nevada County, as washing “entire hillsides down with water cannons,” uprooting any stabilizing features. Mineral veins were then searched for gold, which sank to the bottom.


According to the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce, hydraulic miners at Malakoff Diggins used highly pressurized water to move an estimated 41 million cubic yards of earth, leaving an open pit more than a mile long and 600 feet deep.

The stark walls of Malakoff Diggins stand in memory of hydraulic mining.

Major water systems, including reservoirs and flumes, were constructed by mining companies to bring water to the hydraulic diggings, and many of these systems are used today to supply water to local communities.

In the 1860s and 70s, hydraulic mine tailings clogged streams and rivers, destroyed farmlands and caused flooding in the valley. After a lengthy legal battle, the hydraulic era ended Jan. 7, 1884, when Judge Lorenzo Sawyer issued a permanent injunction against dumping mine tailings into the Yuba River

Local ecology was destroyed, Fink said, including trees far “larger than we’ve ever seen in our lives” — definitely older than his property’s 100-year-old blue oaks.

Fink said his work is a direct response to the land’s history and abuse, but also noted how his sustainable approach to growing set his farm apart before the cannabis market fell to new lows this year.

Upon Fink’s arrival to the area over a decade ago, he was immediately immersed the culture of old time cannabis growers.

Fink said the growing community he was introduced to began cultivating in the 1960s, and “they didn’t go to the grow shop to buy bottles of fertilizer. They made compost from their kitchen’s veggies scraps — and they made the best weed.”


That’s the other reason Fink said he cares about the plant’s nutrient source: he smokes.

Fink acknowledged the instinctual concern that arises when gardeners don Hazmat suits to put pesticides on their plants — particularly those that are eventually inhaled.

The native New Yorker began cultivating when he was 13. Between growing stints in Lake County and North San Juan, Fink worked in orchid production — a highly controlled, unsustainable process.

Fink said he was grateful his neighbors on the Ridge taught him values from a relationship that began with the land and the cannabis plant as early as the 1960s.

The current style of cannabis growing across the county, in raised pots to isolate and optimize outcome through controlled ingredients, is not sustainable, Fink said, adding that the plant’s benefits to both environment and consumer are lost.

When Fink started Down Om Farms just under five years ago, when the county was first permitting cannabis farms, he and his wife had twins on the way.

Tour attendees were unable to actually enter the area where cannabis is grown, as the cultivation permit limits the product’s proximity to anyone but business employees. Fink talked through chicken wire and raised beds of rotten logs and plant debris, an ancient farming technique called hugelkultur.

“This is one of the smallest permitted farms in the state of California,” Fink said of his 2,500 feet of permitted growing space. ”My current permitted space comes up to half a basketball court, if it was all clumped together. We are hardly even ‘micro.’“

Fink said his farm makes up a reasonable patch he can tend to himself, but the recent over-industrialization of cannabis cultivation “is causing traditional farmers and people that have made sustainable livelihoods out of this to struggle.”

“One of the saddest thing about legalization in California and across the country is watching the rampant over-industrialization of a plant that can be grown so simply under natural sun,” Fink said. “Huge facilities — hundreds of acres of steel and concrete — were built for the expressed purpose of growing this plant in the last couple years. This is all leading to a massive glut, over supply in California.”


Fink estimated that over half of the originally permitted farms in Nevada County are up for sale, and noted that he works four other side gigs to make enough money for his family to survive.

Fink said although he is supplementing his income, Down Om’s cannabis is sold in dispensaries in Nevada City, North Lake Tahoe, Sacramento and Los Angeles. Fink said his sustainable growing practices have not only helped the earth but helped him separate himself from other cultivators via value-based branding.

Rodale Institute’s Seven Tendencies Toward Regeneration — applied in agriculture and community, according to Daniel Fink

1. Pluralism

Increase in diversity of plant species

Increase in diversity of business, people, and culture

Increase in diversity of personal experiences, capacities, opportunities and openness to new experiences

2. Protection

More surface cover of plants, ending erosion and increasing beneficial microbial populations near the surface

More resistance to economic and cultural fluctuations because of quantity and variety of businesses and people, which increases overall employment and community stability

Improvement of personal hardiness and an ability to withstand crisis, accompanied by a boost in the body’s immune system

3. Purity

Without chemical fertilizer and pesticide use, a greater mass of plants and other life exists in the soil.

Without pollution of the environment, more people can exist in better health.

By ending detrimental habits such as smoking or thinking negatively, the potential for growth, happiness, and success increases.

4. Permanence

More perennials and other plants with vigorous root systems begin to grow.

As businesses and individuals become successful and stable, they can contribute more to the community.

New, more positive, personal spiritual behaviors take root and provide a deeper meaning to life.

5. Peace

Past patterns of weed and pest interference with growing systems are disrupted.

Former patterns of violence and crime are reduced, improving overall security and well-being.

Negative emotions such as anger, fear, and hate lessen in intensity and are replaced by tolerance, compassion, and understanding.

6. Potential

Nutrients tend to either move upward in the soil profile or to accumulate near the surface, thereby becoming more available for use by plants.

“Trickle up” economics – more resources and money accumulate and are more available to more people.

The positive qualities and resources in yourself and your environment become easier to access and effect more people around you.

7. Progress

Overall soil structure improves, increasing water retention capacity.

Overall community life improves, increasing the health and wealth of its inhabitants.

Capacity for well-being and enjoyment increases.

Fink said he belongs to the Grass Valley Growers cooperative, originally made up of 10 separate permitted family farms “to brand ourselves and get our name out to the world,” and Farm Cut, “a cooperative with four other regenerative farmers in Northern California.”

“By branding ourselves we can teach people about our ethos and why our products are different,“ Fink said.


The tour was one of a few in-person activities the Wild and Scenic Film Festival hosted over the weekend to commemorate Earth Day.

Producer Eric Dunn said the organization was eager to plan the event as Nevada County reweaves the fabric of its community after the abatement of the Omicron surge. Dunn said the film festival celebrated Earth Day this past weekend with a particular blend of art, ecology and cannabis.

The film festival screened short films at the Del Oro on Saturday and two feature length films Sunday at The Center for the Arts.

According to Dunn, a discussion panel on indigenous knowledge featuring Nisenan tribal spokesperson Shelly Covert, Washoe Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Darrel Cruz, and ethnohistorian Dr. Tanis C. Thorne followed a noon screening of 2022 People’s Choice Award Winner “Inhabitants: An Indigenous Perspective.”

The films also focused on the future of the cannabis industry in the face of current industrialization.

Maggie Philipsborn, director of membership and education for the Nevada County Cannabis Alliance, said the alliance collaborates regularly with the South Yuba River Citizens League and has even sponsored the film festival before.

Still, Philipsborn said she was surprised — and grateful — to see “Lady Buds,” a documentary film that depicts six different women’s journey in the cannabis industry, on the docket for the weekend of Earth Day-oriented activities.

“’Lady Buds’ is attempting to shed light on the struggle and inspire some activism,“ Philipsborn said of the film. ”That’s cool that their selection committee saw their alignment.“

The women include a retired Catholic school principal and another grower who began cultivation in the 1990s to provide medical respite to AIDS patients in San Francisco.

The struggle Philipsborn is referring to is the steep cost of legalization combined with the plummeting costs of cannabis flower, and the impact felt in the Nevada County community.

“Who would’ve thought someone could make a film about the small guys that would actually win awards,” Philipsborn said.

None of those featured were Nevada County natives, Philipsborn said, but the film captures the spirit of the small cannabis farmer reckoning with an oversaturated industry.

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com


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