Chemistry Visits: Santa Cruz’s Cultivation Legacy Is Alive & Well at Coastal Sun Farms.
Updated: May 18
California’s cannabis history is rich, fascinating, and a little mysterious - like most legends. And there’s no better teacher than an old school farmer who’s lived it.
“The history of cannabis in Santa Cruz goes much further back than when I was born in ‘71,” says Darren Story, CFO of Coastal Sun Farms. “There was no such thing as the Emerald triangle. It just didn't exist.”
That’s because well before the rise of Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties, Santa Cruz wasn’t just the center of cannabis cultivation - it was a place of innovation.
“Almost all the breeders in Amsterdam, they all started in Santa Cruz,” Darren tells me. “The reason they had to move to Amsterdam was because they couldn't really legally do their work here. But Sacred Seed Collective, the Haze Brothers - almost all the early breeders that you heard of all started here in Santa Cruz.”
For the native son who grew up just a couple miles away from the farm he co-founded, cannabis may have been ubiquitous, but Darren’s future role in it was far from certain.
“Most of my high school and junior high friends, almost all of their parents were growers or breeders. They were getting arrested all the time, we didn't think anything of it,” Darren admits. But for the self-proclaimed “vegan and plant guy” with a masters in finance and economics, “it wasn't until I grew up and got more interested in plants and plant-based medicine that I discovered how many people it affects and how wonderful it is.”
The three brands that comprise Coastal Sun - including bioponic blueberry brand Coastal Moon, world-class cannabis nursery Coastal Star, and their namesake cannabis flower line - have shared the same forty acres in south Santa Cruz county for six seasons now. Back in the medical days, WAMM Phytotherapies (one of the country’s first medical collectives) was recovering from a raid and subsequent legal battle with the DEA. WAMM Phytotherapies won, but it eventually lost the north Santa Cruz County parcel where they’d been cultivating medical cannabis for over twenty years.
Darren’s fledgling farm was presented with an opportunity in 2015.
“We signed a lease on a property in south Santa Cruz county around that same time - mostly to grow blueberries, but we also had greenhouses. They asked if we could help them get through the season and grow some weed for their patient base. So we did,” he says.
After adult-use legalization passed the following year, surviving the transition was top of mind for Darren and others in the community. While gathered at a local brewery brainstorming ideas for a new brand, Darren met Greg Eaton. Synergy led to collaboration, and Greg eventually became Coastal Sun’s Marketing Lead.
“I have an artist background, so I liked smoking to try to be more creative but it was always kind of hit or miss: sometimes it seemed to be helpful with anxiety, and sometimes it made my anxiety way worse,” says the Virginia native, who credits California’s medical cannabis as a game-changer. “I've learned that a spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes are really important to me. It's kinda like the cushy softness that surrounds the psychoactive element, the THC: no edginess, no high paranoia, no panic attacks.”
According to Greg, in everything from its brand philosophy to its practices and all the touchpoints in between, Coastal Sun sets out to build upon the organic farming traditions that also define this town.
“Santa Cruz has a lot of history with organic farming and just organic food culture in general,” he says. “We're surrounded by berry farms, all kinds of different cultivation projects, and regenerative farming.”
Darren says at their location, “the light is somewhat diffused with the early morning fog, but it makes it a challenge to grow really dense strains because in the summertime, when you get the most light, you actually also get the most fog.” He notes that while this region may not result in the heaviest yields, the quality of the crops is undeniable.
“Targeted nutrition with adequate amounts of biology,” is how Darren summarizes their practices. “The basic goal of our system is to build a functional immunity within the plant. And you build that immunity by having a balanced diet.”
Coastal Sun focuses its efforts on optimizing photosynthesis to help the plants capture sunlight, and convert it more efficiently into sugars - resulting in a cycle of life that fortifies the plant as it feeds the microbiology in the soil, leading to more efficient crops.
“We do a bunch of different things to create a lot of biodiversity within the ecosystem, which creates resiliency, which basically means that the plants can naturally defend themselves from pests and they can attract beneficial insects,” Greg explains.
Their practices include interspersing rows of native plants with the cannabis to attract beneficial birds and insects (and when it comes to eating pests, Greg says ladybugs and parasitoid wasps are the most savage). They also use lab testing to gauge their plants’ nutrition and make the necessary microbial adjustments. While their blueberry farm is USDA Organic certified, their cannabis farm is ineligible due to federal prohibition. So they achieved third-party EnvirOrganic Certification instead, fulfilling requirements so strict that the farm is considered beyond organic.
Enter Cory, aka The CBD Surfer. After suffering from a Brain Stem Stroke in 2019, he took Chemistry CBD as part of his rehabilitation program, and within 108 days was surfing again. Showing love for both brands, Cory connected Chemistry to Coastal Sun, and a collaboration was born! So what’s the scoop on our two new infused pre-rolls, Pie Gal and GMO?
“Pie Gal is a little bit of a modern take on Jack Herer, so it's got a lot of terpinolene,” he says, explaining that the terpene’s energizing effect is reminiscent of the Haze strains that originated in Santa Cruz. A perfect companion for a run, a trip to the gym, or a music festival, Greg says Pie Gal delivers “focus, productivity, energy, and mood uplift”.
Meanwhile GMO (aka garlic, mushroom, onion) is “this beast of an indica that is really fun because it's really savory,” he explains. Not only will the cultivar’s spicy, peppery flavors leave people wanting more, “it tests into the thirties for THC,” Greg says, adding that, “it also has a ton of different terpenes and cannabinoids that help to round out the experience.”
When speaking with the Coastal Sun team, it’s clear that the medicine is always on their mind first and foremost.
“I love that people can get high and find a path towards wellness,” Darren says. “But for me, it's just all about growing the highest quality plant with the highest levels of medicinal compounds. There's such power in cannabis if we can get back to the way mother nature intended cannabis to be, which is just massively medicinal.”
Written by: Kaisha-Dyan McMillan