A family tradition
By Elijah Kineg
With his dog Koa at his side, Casali walks downhill toward the garage where a rack of clones will be watered and plants fed from a large, opaque tank of organic tea. These immaculate plants are a deep emerald color, the result of selective genotyping by his family for more than 45 years. The strains here are refined and economical in number, and all plants tagged with small track-and-trace bracelets.
His mother is the original cultivator of the Fruitloopz strain, which has now been crossed with Skittles for Casali’s aptly named Huckleberries. (To experience Fruitloopz first hand, its terpenes have been blended with ink, providing an olfactory venture on page 2 of this edition.) Huckleberries is one of just a handful of Northern California craft cannabis strains to win Willie Nelson’s seal of approval and be included in his line of Willie’s Reserve. In addition to Fruitloopz and Huckleberries, a splice of his mother’s plants crossed with the popular Cookie strain will produce Mountain Mist, another player in the farm’s exclusive line of cannabis this season.
“I think it’s important for farms to produce their own strains,” says Casali. Buyers are looking “for quality, but they’re also buying for the story. And we all have our own stories and perspective.”
The activated soil that powers these plants is rich, much like the narrative that explains the farm’s history. As a second-generation grower, Casali has a combination of his mother’s interest and aptitude for herbalism, and the generous, community spirit of his late father. Set on the winding backroads of Garberville, the farm is a single slope of deliberate arrangement, peppered with pest-repelling perennials and an almost antiseptic level of visual clarity. Where some farms have steadily accruing piles of nutrient bottles and mycorrhizae bags, Casali’s farm is designed to visually greet visitors and welcome them. Like the heads of sunflowers turned toward the sun, the farm’s front-facing labels on various plots snake uphill toward four massive gravity-feeding tanks.
These tanks are filled entirely from a rainwater catchment system just down the hill. Two artificial ponds fill during storms and solar-powered pumps then move the water uphill for storage. The pumps currently use six panels, but more will be added later. Casali, a fishing enthusiast, is working with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to stock the ponds with live trout. While many vineyards of Napa Valley have been granted an official Fish-Friendly certification, Casali is the first among cannabis famers to embark on the five-year application process. He says that the state has a “legitimate beef” with many cannabis famers and he wants to help to eventually overcome that stigma.
“Part of my newfound love is giving tours to people and educating them about the environment. Flow Kana really likes bringing them here because I usually have lunch prepared.” So lunch, a private tour, a bit of fishing, shopping for geodes to take home. “All in one experience.”
Flow Kana is ultimately the fuel for Huckleberry Hill’s future growth. The San Francisco Bay Area marketing and distribution company works with small, sustainable farms, distributing products and handling customer communication. While Flow Kana staff have visited Casali’s farm about 25 times, only three of those visits were required before Huckleberry Hill was approved and welcomed into Flow Kana’s family of farms. In turn, Casali pledges to always put environment before profit.
Casali’s home is nestled in the heart of the family property. As you enter the front door, a Humboldt High-Five wall banner is prominently displayed. These are the five farms — Huckleberry Hill, Lady Sativa Farm, Alpenglow Farms, Moonmade Farms and Villa Paradisio — selected by Flow Kana not only for high standards of environmentally friendly growing, but for reinvesting back to the community. Casali has donated to Save the Van Arken project in Southern Humboldt as well as to other causes.
In fact, next to Casali’s greenhouses is a row of pots that will be donated solely to veterans. Financially, Casali says he “probably broke even last year, 300 pounds later, after my income taxes. I like to keep things interesting.”
And adjacent to the pots for service members is a single planter with a Flow Kana logo secured to the side. Every July 4th, the 150 employees of Flow Kana enter a raffle to claim all three pounds of cannabis that will be harvested as a thank you for promoting the best of Humboldt.
Huckleberry Hill and Flow Kana is truly a symbiotic relationship. A sneak-peak of the packaging for Willie Nelson’s “Reserve” shows that Huckleberry Hill is in bold type, while “Powered by Flow Kana” is printed below, keeping the family farmer at the forefront.
Navigating the farm on this early March day can feel a bit like walking through a fairground during the off-season. All the different rides are set into place with none of the lights and bustle. With 2,500 square feet of greenhouse space and 50 pots, the soil is amended and ready to accommodate life. Above ground, however, Casali is surveying the work yet to be done and prioritizing. He is, for the time being, a one-man band.
“A lot of the choices I make are based on the amount of time I have. Doing it all by myself is definitely a little bit challenging,” he says but it has its rewards.
“I touch every plant, I touch every leaf, every part of the soil.”
Casali’s steadfast work ethic of the present was certainly forged in the past. In 1992 Casali was 22 years old — enjoying life, cruising the roads of SoHum in pick-ups and occasionally out on the ocean with his board. At the same time Green Sweep, Comet and MET and other law enforcement efforts were at work doing their best to halt illegal grows. Those were the days of mandatory minimum terms of 10 years in prison for anyone caught with 1,000 plants.
“It became a way of life, dealing with enforcement,” says Casali, of always looking over your shoulder for the law. “It still puts an extra beat in my heart and always will. It’s ingrained in me.”
One day Casali and a friend were working on some small plants with a hope to harvest a few ounces from each. The thick canopy overhead provided diminished light penetration, but at least some cover. He says a neighbor turned him in and when the dust settled, officers tallied up a whopping 1,024 plants. They counted everything, even plants 2 inches in height, often discarded as duds, and some lying in the dirt nearby.
Casali was able to reduce his sentence of 10 years to eight by completing a drug program, but he spent the remainder of his 20s in prison.
“We don’t really know how or why things happen in life,” he said. “They just happen and we need to move forward.
“I’ve dedicated that my ‘moving forward’ will never be about Huckleberry Hill alone. It’s going to be about my friends and family who were always here for me. We can’t allow the permitting process to break us up because community is what is so special about this place.”
When our tour was concluding, Casali stood by his kitchen table while the thump of helicopter paddles overhead grew louder. Stopping mid-sentence, he pointed skyward, letting the sound play for a moment, addressing the neurosis of the past.
Then he continued to speak, coolly, unaffected, to talk about the future of his farm.
Our tour took place on a characteristically gray morning in March, a thick cloud cover overhead. He was speaking of joy about his donation efforts and upcoming crops, but when he mentioned his father, his cadence began to break. He had died just a few weeks prior.
“The people who are giving without expecting anything in return — those are the people I want to be associated with. When I go, when we all go, we end up in the same place.”
“It’s not the money. It’s how we’re going to be remembered. And I want to be remembered as someone good who cared about other people.”