Rooted in the Round Valley of Mendocino County, Covelo is home to a mere 1,200 people who make this small town truly special. We had our storytelling target set on Forrest & Patricia but we discovered that we can’t share the story of Sun Roots Farm without covering Covelo as a whole.
Sun Roots Farm belongs to a collective of growers, Round Valley Growers Association (RVGA). The founder of RVGA, Jeff, met up to introduce us to the Sun Roots team at The Village Hearth, a cooperative marketplace comprised of a farm-to-table cafe, bulk foods store, laundry and showcase of local artisans and wellness services. In the typical Covelo vibe, this community hub welcomed us with a warm atmosphere and some of the best food, art and locally sourced products we’ve seen.
Down the road, we laid our eyes on the small-town paradise of Sun Roots Farm, which was founded on land that’s been growing cannabis since the ’70s. It’s carefully run by Patricia Vargas and Forrest Gauder, who have lived here since 2011 and worked the land as Sun Roots since 2014.
Sun Roots Farm thrives on mom and pop-style farming techniques, including nurturing and using their own soil and reaching out to nearby neighbors when they need something like hay. (Their community ties run deep: Patricia also helped found The Village Hearth in 2016.)
The health of their holistic approach is immediately evident in the dirt on Sun Roots Farm. Enriched with manure from their alpacas and chickens, the soil is teeming with earthworms and other bugs that make it optimally rich for cannabis growth. The farm tried different manures before settling on alpaca as a primary soil additive, and the benefit of their deep research is obvious in the massive leaves of their cannabis, which are much larger even on immature two- to three-foot plants than leaves we’ve seen elsewhere on fully grown specimens.
If you’re wondering, the alpacas aren’t a hipster choice; they actually positively affect the farm’s operations by contributing to its maintenance and offsetting labor costs. Besides leaving their waste piled in a central location, which lessens human labor to collect it, alpacas are efficient grazers who limit their munching to what’s above ground and leave the roots intact. Also, the alpacas help in “mowing” the land, which used to take a straight month of cutting to manage the overgrowth. The same rationale informed their choice in raising chickens, which not only produce beneficial manure, but also naturally prey on “bad” bugs that are harmful to their plants.
Other methods that distinguish Sun Roots Farm include cutting with scythes that protect the bug population to maintain biodiversity (also, it’s great exercise), refraining from using plastics and doing everything by hand—no tractors even. Unsurprisingly, in addition to cannabis, Patricia and Forrest grow their own vegetables and native medicinal herbs.
The prize crops of Sun Roots Farm are Mulberry Goo & Velvet purps.