Burned Out Marijuana Farm Fires Up Rebuilding

Even with tubs once again filled with bright green leafy marijuana, there was ample evidence all around of the devastating fires that consumed the SPARC marijuana farm in Glen Ellen last October, wiping out the company’s first cannabis crop just days after it was harvested.

Blackened trees flanked the dozens of marijuana tubs; the hillside looked as if it was covered in black toothpicks; a tractor knocked down the scorched remains of a metal building as SPARC founder Erich Pearson took call after call from his contractor working on rebuilding.

“It took quite a hit,” Pearson said of his farm, “we lost 95 percent of the cannabis we harvested that season.”

The fire claimed several homes on the property as well as 30,000 square feet of historic barns, some of which SPARC was using to dry and store its fledgling crop of marijuana. Pearson said crop insurance would’ve cost a lot and covered little — so the company didn’t have any.

The ground was still smoldering early last October when Pearson made a pledge to rebuild — and upon a visit to the property last week — it appeared he was making good on his word. A tractor poured soil onto a vast plot of land where workers were laying the foundation a new 20,000 square foot barn.

And a nearby greenhouse was filled to the hilt with more tubs of marijuana plants which were a couple of months from harvest.

“This crop is gorgeous this year,” Pearson said, “we’ve done a really great job so far of rebuilding this field.”

In the nearby burned out neighborhoods of Glen Ellen in rural Sonoma County, there were plenty of signs of rebuilding — but also plenty of “for sale” signs. With much of California battling wildfires, Pearson understood the sentiment of those who didn’t plan to return.

“These fires are a real thing,” Pearson said, ”and it doesn’t look like they’re going to get any better so it’s quite concerning.”

Pearson’s company wasn’t the only one returning to the burned-out property. On the far end of the land, farmers Melissa and Austin Lely were busy tending rows of cherry tomatoes, flowers, eggplants and hundreds of chickens.

The couple’s barn burned in the fire as well as the home they were renting. In the interim they were staying at a nearby property with hopes of eventually moving back.

“We started everything from scratch,” Austin Lely said, “so this was kind of a big year for us to be farming and trying to build the farm at the same time.”

Pearson said he was applying lessons learned from the fires in the rebuilding — with plans to install a 150,000 gallon water tank along with hydrants around the property.

In a way, it’s as if the years navigating the regulatory rollercoaster of the illegal/legal cannabis industry prepared Pearson for this very situation.

“I think this business sort of comes with — you don’t quite understand what’s around the corner the next day,” Pearson said.

After a brief tour of the property, peppered with phone calls and text messages, Pearson finally bounded off to meet with his contractor. There was much to rebuild — and a harvest just two months away.

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