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The First Harvest Ball

Though we didn't know it at the time, the bustling Emerald Cup held at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in December, 2019 — just before Covid-19 hit and the so-called Legal Cannabis Industry got undermined by the taxes and regulations its leaders had greedily agreed to — was really the end of the line.  The diminished gathering at the fairgrounds last weekend was called "the Harvest Ball" and did not include an awards ceremony. As acknowledged by Emerald Cup founder Tim Blake in an issue of Skunk magazine timed for release at the event, "Like it or not, Los Angeles is now the focal point for cannabis in the United States."  And so the awards for best products will be conferred at an event scheduled for Long Beach in February 2022. 

Skunk is a glossy quarterly, rich in content, that has become the unofficial journal of the legacy growers. (Albion's Pebbles Trippet is a senior editor and regular contributor. She says they have a distribution deal with Barnes & Noble.) As Blake explained in his piece, the event he launched in 2004 is now "without doubt regarded as the most reputable and sought-after cannabis competition in the world. We intend to retain that title as federal legalization of cannabis takes place in the very near future. With our move into Los Angeles and its global connections to the entertainment, finance, and technology world, we are set up to expand the competition across the country and around the world." In other words, the Emerald Cup is competing for market share in the Events sector of the Cannabis Industry, and the market is not centered in the Emerald Triangle.  

It was fitting that it rained on Sunday. In the early years, when the Cup was held at "Area 101" north of Laytonville, it was always pouring. Vendors stood in puddles on the pavement. Attendees camped in a big field behind the structures. Half the campers knew how to pitch tents and keep them warm and well-lit; they were cozy and content.  The other half were so stoned they didn't know they were miserable. Cars driving through the dark, muddy field came perilously close to the tents. It's a miracle no one got run over. 

Tim Blake's crew did not serve hippie food that tasted like rabbit chow. They could cook and there was meat in the lasagna! Every year more people came.  In addition to providing an outlet for small growers, bakers and tincture-makers from Northern California, the Emerald Cup presented panels focusing on medicine, science, law, and politics. 

In 2012 Blake wanted to stage the cup at the Ukiah Fairgrounds but Supervisor John McCowen nixed the plan. Mendocino County's loss became Sonoma's gain as the Emerald Cup infused a reported $10 million into the Santa Rosa economy. Small wonder Blake is bitter towards the local politicians who have somehow made Mendocino's regulations more onerous than the state of California's. He wrote in Skunk and repeated from a stage at the fairgrounds on Saturday, "the Emerald Triangle is still reeling from the political shell game that led to many of our small farmers fighting to survive."

Maybe looking back years from now, the first Harvest Ball will be seen as a turning point for the beleaguered small growers. That was the optimistic assessment of Covelo's Noel Manners, one of nine Mendocino County growers sharing a large booth in the Hall of Flowers (donated by Blake).  "It was really wonderful how we were helping each other out, selling each other's products, talking about the virtues of organic, sungrown marijuana. It really felt empowering." The small growers' goal is to establish farmers markets or the equivalent of wine-tasting rooms that will enable them to sell directly to consumers.

A Legacy Grower Reads History

Alexander the Irresistible conquered Babylon,
swept through Persia and into India
to become master of civilizations
older than his own.
At the head of his armies
he returned by land to Babylon
where he sickened and died.
He died of malaria.
(The mosquito was king of Babylonia
and symbol of Nergal, the chief God.)
First and Second Punic Wars:
The men of Carthage were sailors
until Rome defeated them
and took away the sea.
Third Punic War:
The people of Carthage became farmers.
A trivial local quarrel developed
between Carthage and Numidia.
Rome sent commissioners to mediate
led by Cato the Elder,
who had retired from public life
to farm with his own hands
(a famous example of disinterest.)
But Cato grew jealous in Carthage.
“Carthage must be destroyed,” he said.
And back in the Roman Senate
he waved a bunch of figs
to dramatize the threat of competition.
When the Roman legions attacked Carthage
mothers in the temple of Eshmun
flung their children over the parapets
and then themselves.
The Romans looted the great granary. 
They poured salt on the fertile soil
then drove a plow through the ruins.
That was a reminder:
those who live by the plow
must perish by the plow.

—Birdie Tebbets 


  1. Douglas Coulter December 18, 2021

    The plow is mightier than the sword
    The foundation of all civilizations
    Feeding our children
    The sword only produces a crop of vengeance
    Children survive only
    To payback loss
    A fresh garden of terrorists

    • Laura Cooskey December 18, 2021

      Did you say that, Douglas Coulter? Good one. I want to be able to attribute it correctly if i quote it… may i?

      • Douglas Coulter December 18, 2021

        Poetry art and music are my weapons.
        It is the fruit of violence, always.
        (Two Silhouettes On The Shade) by the Rays 1957

        Sent our soldiers off to war, the press is glad
        Kill civilians by the score, moms and dads
        Children that survive become
        New terrorists that we made
        Oh what a bloody crimson shade

        A work in progress
        We attack them=National security
        They retaliate=terrorism
        Sherman’s March was textbook terrorism yet history calls it heroic.
        Poetic justice? The poets have been censored.

  2. John McCowen December 18, 2021

    Fred Gardner: I’m not sure where you’re getting your information but your statement is only half true. You said: “In 2012 Blake wanted to stage the cup at the Ukiah Fairgrounds but Supervisor John McCowen nixed the plan.” Tim did want to bring the Cup to Ukiah but far from nixing it (as if I had that power) I lobbied for it. We were still coming out of the Great Recession so it was a no brainer that bringing the EC to Ukiah would further economic development, economic localization and boost local tax revenue for Ukiah and the County. Unfortunately, the very conservative Fairgrounds Board of Directors did not see it that way. Our loss was Santa Rosa’s gain. At some point the Cup would have outgrown Ukiah but it would have been nice while it lasted.

    • Noel Manners December 19, 2021

      Typical McCowan dissembling. Now he says he lobbied for the Emerald Cup at the Ukiah Fairgrounds but of course, failed, due to the conservative Fair Board. This was McCowan’s district. “Our” loss was Santa Rosa’s gain. Egg on his face.

      • Lazarus December 19, 2021

        When’s the last time you heard a politician say I screwed up, or I’m sorry, or I made a mistake?
        That’s what I thought.
        Happy Christmas…!

    • Fred Gardner Post author | December 20, 2021

      You have “plausible deniability” —like Vice President George H.W. Bush, the former head of the CIA, claiming he was “out of the loop” when Reagan and the National Security Council authorized Lt Col Oliver North to sell weapons to Iran and use the proceeds to arm the Contras in Nicaragua. But my sources say your political allies on the Fairgrounds BOD would have certainly acceded if you, the District 3 Supervisor, wanted the Emerald Cup in Ukiah…. I agree that the Cup would have outgrown Ukiah in due course.

      • John McCowen December 20, 2021

        Fred Gardner: Your sources (and you) are most likely toking the full amount of medicinal cannabis allowed by law for your medical conditions – rampant delusionalism.

        “Plausible deniability”? Nope. Strictly factual. I lobbied for the Cup, not against it. “Political allies”? If memory serves I only knew one member of the Fairgrounds BOD and he was strongly opposed to my election. He later changed his view of me but not enough to overcome his anti-cannabis mind set.

        I’ve been a panelist at the Cup starting in 2010 and have tremendous respect for Tim Blake. I was honored when he asked me to be the Keynote Speaker in 2017. With my interest in economic localization, economic development and normalization of legal cannabis, it’s not logical to think I would have opposed the Cup coming to Ukiah. Please feel free to criticize me for anything I’ve actually done – it’s not necessary to make stuff up!

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