Two California cannabis farms are now certified as the first “comparable-to-organic” cannabis farms in the state, as well as in the United States, by CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers). OCal is a new certification program through the California Dept. of Food and Ag (CDFA). The certification was awarded to legacy grower Sensiboldt Organics of Humboldt County, and The Highland Canopy at Sonoma Hills Farm, a new craft cannabis farm and culinary garden located in Sonoma County.
The first cannabis certification program of its kind in the U.S., OCal's standards, certification process, and regulations mirror almost exactly those of the USDA's National Organics Program (NOP), ensuring consumers that cannabis products bearing the OCal seal have met the consistent, uniform standards comparable to NOP.
“OCal cannabis certification celebrates the integrity and transparency of cannabis growers who use long-established organic practices such as cultivating healthy soils, fostering biodiversity, and eliminating the use of cancer-causing pesticides. Like all agricultural crops grown in California, cannabis can, and should, be grown with production practices that protect the land and our communities. We applaud both farms for leading by example,” said CCOF CEO, Kelly Damewood.
A tale of two farms dedicated to the same cause
With its operations led by Aaron Keefer, Sonoma Hills Farm (SHF) cultivates premium, pesticide-free craft cannabis sustainably grown under the California sun. Keefer and the team’s mission at Sonoma Hills Farm is to bridge cannabis with Sonoma’s rich agricultural legacy by introducing craft cannabis to the farm-to-table lifestyle. In addition to cultivating premium cannabis, the farm boasts a rich culinary garden with the intention of showcasing how cannabis is synergistic with traditional farming and can be integrated into a farm-to-table lifestyle. The farm’s pasture, vegetable, and flower garden have also been recently certified organic.
“It feels surreal after a year and a half journey to establish something no one has done before,” said Aaron Keefer, VP of cultivation and production for Sonoma Hills Farm. “We work very hard to grow cannabis at the highest standards, to get the best expression of the plant, and to create a premium product without compromise or shortcuts. Consumers deserve to know how their cannabis is grown and where it’s sourced, just like their tomatoes, lettuce, and beef, and naturally, that is what this program is about.”
Sensiboldt Organics is the cannabis division within a long-standing family's vegetable and seed breeding farm, Eel River Produce in Shively, which is the longest operational CCOF certified organic farm in Humboldt County. A founding member of the Humboldt Dry Farmed Cannabis Alliance, the farm’s cannabis is grown implementing the same biodynamic, dry farming methods used to nurture their soil for more than thirty years. With a focus on biodiversity, their optimal cannabis traits are expressed when “rich soil composition, Mother Nature's offerings, and mindful practices align.”
“This is a monumental achievement for us, the cannabis industry, and consumers, and it is only thanks to the CCOF team who were committed to making this milestone come to fruition,” said Rosie Reynolds, owner and CEO of Sensiboldt Organics. “This is one of my dad’s dreams come true: every year during CCOF inspection he would try to persuade the inspector to include cannabis in the list of our certified crops and was always baffled that it wasn’t an option since it’s just another crop using the same farming practices. We’re so thankful to officially refer to our craft cannabis as comparable-to-organic, and look forward to being able to remove ‘comparable’ in the near future, as well as bringing our cannabis to the masses, well beyond the limits of our state.”
OCal’s process involves an application, review, inspection, compliance review with the OCal comparable-to-organic standards, and finally, certification for those who meet all the standards. The OCal regulations were designed to adhere to NOP organic regulation and guidance, with minor modifications to clarify cannabis-specific terms, support state administration of the new program, and provide consistency across state cannabis regulations. While OCal is a California-state specific program, the USDA would potentially offer organic certification to cannabis if the crop became federally legal.
Keefer: “National adoption is only a matter of time, and we hope to be a good example for other farms in California and across the United States.”
In addition to OCal certification, both farms are also Sun+Earth certified, a non-profit certification for regenerative organic cannabis and hemp grown under the sun by small-scale family farmers.