Sunshine Johnston came to southern Humboldt County when she was just seven years old. She graduated from Humboldt State University with a bachelor’s of science in geology, and did her senior thesis on the structural geology south of Punta Gorda in the Mendocino Triple Junction region. The degree led her to work on road inventories for Humboldt Redwoods State Park and a gig with Pacific Watershed Associates, but today her day job, for the time being, is brokering wine for local vineyards.
A recreational marijuana user, Johnston discovered medicinal cannabis after a wrist injury. “I had made a topical salve for my wrist, and the 215 card came later when I realized I was medicating for chronic pain,” she explains. Since making that first jar of salve, Sunshine has expanded her apothecary cupboard, adding infusions with many bases, including raw hemp milk, nettles, hydrosol and other healing herbs from the garden. “I grow flowers mostly for the connoisseur,” she adds.
Her Loopy Fruit strain, which this writer partook of at the end of the interview and before the photo shoot, reminded me of the quip, “Cannabis forces us to be more creative than we really are.” Sunshine’s extracts are all made from fresh bud infusions. “I use many different bases,” she explains. “The salve is used primarily on acupressure points; the infused honey I love because it tastes good; the infused coconut oil is used for baking. I also make a probiotic nettle brew used in the garden.”
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Aside from the salve that quells the pain in her wrist, Sunshine juices fresh bud and leaves to prevent illness and give her a general sense of well-being. Her garden is tucked away in a southern Humboldt backwoods kind of way, surrounded by redwoods. Her home is colorful, warm and filled with friendly faces busily working on projects surrounding plants. The garden is a mix of flowers, vegetables and places to hang herbs.
Today, she is a farmer, joining the ranks of others within the Emerald Triangle of Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties. “With the new regulations, I will expand from an experimental, research-based garden and go into production,” she informs me. “I’ll be competing for top-shelf placement in a high-end market, and have a farm-to-table-like model.”
Being a part of the cannabis community in Northern California is important to Sunshine, and she’s planning outreach to help others in the mix. “Education is important in this industry, as the stigma was created based on misinformation,” she says. “I’ll be building community by offering workshops and other services as needed.”
Watershed stewardship is a big deal in California and cannabis farmers are garnering more criticism in recent months than almond farmers, who are purported to use nearly one gallon of water to produce one almond. As farmers in Humboldt install rain catchment systems, invite inspectors onto their properties and get permitted in a historically covert region, change is coming for good medicine and the healing that follows.
“During our recent series of town-hall meetings, we brought in experts on water conservation, and were told that even in a drought we could gather enough water to care for our crops,” she said. “Cannabis farmers will take the lead in responsible water use for agriculture in the state.”
Sunshine waxes poetic on Humboldt’s role in the development of cannabis strains and improved efficacy of the plant in general. A plethora of cannabis strains, including cannabidiol (CBD)-only strains, were developed in southern Humboldt.
“One of the reasons the Emerald Triangle is a leader in producing and growing quality cannabis, and has the highest concentration of farmers, is that we have always willingly shared information,” she says. “It’s not like that in places like Colorado and Washington. As we enter a competitive marketplace, it’s important not to lose this part of our cultural heritage that sets us apart from other places.”