cannabis farm

The Photo


AJ Owen

This aerial photo of a cannabis farm has been shared on hundreds of news outlets and websites since it first appeared after being taken in 2010.

It was photographed by the Humboldt County Drug Task Force as part of a series of photos between 2009-2011 depicting grow scenes. These scenes purportedly illustrate the overuse of water, illegal grading, massive landscaping and other violations of environmental regulations. This image is used in numerous news stories, most often with titles and subjects related to terms like “big-time weed dealers,” “DEA raids,” and even “robbery and murder.”

This is a photo of my farm.

the-photo

No one from the media has ever talked to me about this photo or my connection to any of the stories published with it.

This is the first time I’m telling my story.

The Reaction

The first time I saw the picture was in the North Coast Journal in 2011. I wasn’t even aware a photo had been taken.

Initially I thought, ‘That looks familiar.’ Then, I realized — that’s my farm.

My stomach turned: I started to feel sick. I was shocked, confused and riddled with anxiety: what did this have to do with my farm? There was no doubt it was my property and I knew my neighbors would recognize it.

I worried about the safety and security of myself and my family. Would someone try to to rob us? Was the Sheriff going to raid us?

A Google search turns up dozens of news stories using this image for articles on cannabis.

I felt exposed.

I  hated that people could use this picture of my property without my approval. It’s invasive. It’s bothersome that most of the stories associated with this picture have negative connotations. The Sheriff’s department took the picture. For them, I get it. It’s the media outlets that don’t seem to care that these farms are owned by people and families, and by publishing this image, especially on unrelated topics, they put us at risk.

The Truth

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but it can also be used to tell a thousand lies.

The photo, and by extension our farm, have nothing to do with these countless negative stories on cannabis — but it sure feels like it when you see it on an article. This photo doesn’t depict illegal grading or environmental degradation. It is often chosen to use alongside cannabis cultivation stories because of the large greenhouse. It’s also a very clear illustration of a grow operation.

Cannabis farming isn’t always the most photogenic when taken from a distance. It’s easy to take a nice picture of flowers up close, but to get a picture of a cannabis farm from a distance is tricky. As I reflect on the photo now, I realize I’m proud of how nice our farm looks from the air.

The Farm

This isn’t a picture of green rushers moving in, growing a bunch of marijuana and trying to take money out of the area. This is a photo of a local farm, run by someone who cares deeply about the environment and his property. I make very methodical decisions on where to place things.

The greenhouse from “The Photo,” up close in 2010.

I grew up in the area. I grew up in the cannabis industry. My parents were cannabis farmers. I became good at farming, and when I was 19, I was able to get a piece of land located near my parent’s property. I started my farm by building a cabin on the piece of land. I’ve been around this industry for 30 years.

 

This is not land that’s being exploited or pillaged. When you look at the property, it’s very clean. A lot of thought goes into the operation and where to put a road, a garden, or plants.

Our farm is also not 100 percent cannabis. We have goats, pigs, chicken and sheep. I love agriculture, and a huge part of our farm is food, grown to help feed everyone who works and lives here.

We’re also not a large commercial operation by any means. In the scale of any other type of farming, our farm is actually quite modest. We’re similar to any other small family farm you see at a farmer’s market. When we have a surplus from our crops, we give them away to our friends and neighbors.

I’m glad to get to tell my story to The Emerald Tribune. I didn’t have an outlet before now to defend what stories have been and still are tied to this photo.

The photo’s existence doesn’t scare me like it did before, once I realized it wasn’t going to negatively affect my family. It is a recognizable, even a good, quality picture. These days, I’m proud to say “that’s my farm,” and we’re forever immortalized as a part of the industry’s early days.

The author, in front of his now famous greenhouse.