Story by Brandy Miceli, Photography by Erica Edwards
On a high mountain ridge above the morning fog in Southern Humboldt sits an 80-acre farm called Alpenglow. The farm is home to Craig Johnson, his family, their fruit and vegetable garden, and of course, his signature cannabis strains— most notably, Coyote Blue.
Craig’s grandparents, mother, and her eight brothers and sisters came to the Milwaukee area from a multi-generation family farm in Finland in 1968-69. His grandpa turned his entire backyard into a lush garden that would feed his whole family.
Craig was born in California, but would soon go back to the Milwaukee area to be partially raised by his grandparents while his mother worked full-time. Growing up around farming, his knowledge for it is innate.
“I spent a lot of time in that garden and hanging with them, and Finnish what ended up being my first language,” Craig said. “People thought I was shy when I was a kid, but it was actually because I didn’t speak English.”
Craig visited Southern Humboldt over two decades ago and fell in love with the mountains, the proximity to the ocean, the ability to drink the water from the mountain springs, and the farming heritage that he related deeply to. These were all things that inspired Craig to move to Southern Humboldt and continue doing what he knew best. Alpenglow supports his family of four.
“I settled in the same area that I initially visited 25 years ago. We like the close proximity to town, and the ability live off the grid and to drink the water that comes out of the ground.”
Alpenglow is in the “banana belt” of its region, meaning Craig’s property is warmer and more dry than the valley below it. The appellation, coupled with Craig’s knowledge on cannabis strains, has been ideal in cultivating his renowned Coyote Blue, a cross between Blueberry, Trainwreck, and Cotton Candy.
Coyote Blue is an indica dominant that packs an intense vibrational body high. Flow Kana puts it in the “relax” category of the menu. Yet Coyote Blue is also very much an alert strain, so despite its categorization, patients have reported sativa-dominant qualities. Its high endures. It smells like blueberries and cotton candy.
“You get that first 30 minutes of chatty, energetic rush,” Craig said, adding that the initial feeling comprises the “Coyote” energy. “The blue is just the mellowness of it, and the longevity of it,” he said, relating the effects to that of water’s flow.
The initial plant came to him as Blueberry Trainwreck. “It was really compact, bushy, and didn’t have much spacing between bud sites,” Craig said. “It was also a phenotype that was overly-red hairy; it was like a red cotton ball. I worked through that one or two seasons, then I introduced it to a Cotton Candy that I’ve been working with for years. And cotton candy is also known as sweet tooth, but it grows very much like a Christmas tree. Lots of space between the bud sites, really nice nose, so I brought those two together, and then went back to it a few more times to stabilize it now it’s where it’s at.”
Coyote Blue was a name Craig’s wife Melanie had come up with, after the 1994 novel by Christopher Moore. She had always wanted to start a boutique bookstore and name it Coyote Blue, which still could happen one day.
“It really matches the strain,” Craig said. “Visually seeing the Coyote Blue, [the name] makes sense. When people say it, they’re like ‘Oh my god, I like that name, it goes well with the cannabis.’”
Almost all of Craig’s crop is Coyote Blue, but he rotates through other strains that he’s kept for genetic purposes. This season, he’s presenting a strain he’s been working on for years—XJ13 crossed with Cotton Candy—and he calls it Cotton Eye Jack.
He preserves some of his seeds in whole bud form. “It really just protects it and gives it more staying power and better storage,” Craig said.
Because of the Alpenglow’s appellation, Craig sources genetics that come in early. Coyote Blue is harvested in September.
“We have amazing sunlight until October 1st, and then the peak of the mountain starts blocking our sun, which is fine to due to strains that we cater toward. They don’t see any rain so our mold and mildews are far few and between.” Craig explains.
Moving Into Compliance
Craig has always farmed his cannabis abiding by the county laws. But since recreational legalization, Humboldt County has been forward-thinking in further regulating cannabis farming.
“As part of my moving into compliance, I have to comply and pay for permitting with State Water Board, which judges the runoff from my gardens,” Craig said, adding that he decommissioned certain parts of his roads for the winter time to keep sediment from going into the creeks and clogging up the salmon spawning grounds of the main river.
Another component was that he had to allow a Fish and Wildlife enforcement agent and a biologist come out to inspect his entire land.
“We went around all my springs and scoped out my roads, and had to have my culverts looked at, and we came up with an agreement about some things I have to change,” Craig said, for example sizing up a culvert here and there. “And there are some regulations on how I can use my water,” he said. “Even though I have seven springs, I can’t touch them for cannabis irrigation for six months out of the summer—the peak growing time. So I have to have all rainwater catchment stored water for that entire six months.”
“So as part of that, we’ve added a lot of water tanks, we have almost like a water tank farm,” Craig said. “We’re also adding a lined rain-catchment pond that will store all our water needs to get through that whole summer.” He calls his cannabis “fish-friendly.”
Fish and Wildlife’s main concern is to make sure farmers aren’t doing anything to harm the fish or the microbiology.
“They were literally dipping a little fish tank net into my creeks, turning over a rock here and there and seeing what kind of aquatic life we have in and around our creeks just to get a feel for what we have going on.
“Even our roads to get to our property have to be looked at,” Craig said. “They want to know how much traffic we have coming in and out of our properties. We’re regulated every possible way, and not all the counties are going that far, I don’t feel.”
The county even monitors “light pollution.” If a farmer has a greenhouse in Humboldt County that uses any type of low-wattage light to propagate seeds this time of year, the farmer has to cover that greenhouse at night so they’re not taking away from the night sky. Generator noise is monitored too.
“We’re off the grid, so we have to supplement some power at times,” Craig said. “Those decibels need to be measured to make sure you’re not too loud and disturbing neighbors. So it’s all good things, especially as more and more people move into the hills. I think it’s good because when I look around, I am a steward of the land I feel,” he said. “I’m trying my best, and it’s something that you’re collectively learning and getting more knowledge as time goes.”
State of the Industry
More and more states are going legal both medicinally and recreationally, so there have been many turning points for the cannabis industry.
“There was a lot of press and social media showing what people are doing,” Craig said, adding that the economic downturn drove people a lot of people to Humboldt at once. “People feel like they can partake in something that is becoming more acceptable. Prohibition is being lifted. So from a moral standpoint people are being more open to it.”
Craig added that given today’s political climate, nothing is certain.
“I think we’re in uncharted territory,” he said. “I think we really have to be respectful of the President we have and realize that he’s ruling this land right now, and there’s no need to push the envelope in any direction. If they let us operate within the medical guidelines, that’s fantastic. I’ve had it so drastic even within the medical guidelines, it was tough. If they just keep us going where we’re at with medical, that feels good to me and I feel good about being able to grow the medicine we grow.”
As Craig’s seedlings grow into the 2017 harvest, he looks forward to having a year-long relationship with the crop. After the cannabis is harvested, it’s off to the distributors. With the new development of the Flow Cannabis Institute, Craig looks forward to continuing that year long relationship with his product alongside Flow Kana.