dirty business soil

Healing people, helping soil

Sarah Schuette

Humboldt County has a funny way of becoming a part of you. I still remember the first time I saw this place.

Almost everyone can relate to the desire to escape their hometown. To edge out into the world and sample everything you can. I was no different. Growing up in Minnesota, surrounded by corn and soybean fields, I knew there was more beyond the state’s borders just waiting to be discovered.

I was 21 years old and living in my car when I left Minnesota for Humboldt. Someone in Minnesota told me that I would really like this little place tucked into the north end of the Golden State. It was confirmed the minute I got here.
I quit my job, packed up everything and headed west. After a two-month-long road trip, my then boyfriend and I arrived in Arcata. We loved it. It was so beautiful, with the trees and mountains and rock-climbing opportunities. And, of course, the pot.

“I wanted to use my medicine, and I didn’t want to spend my life in jail because of it.”

I was a pot smoker back home in Minnesota, but it was illegal and hidden. While using cannabis wasn’t exactly legal yet in Arcata, the culture was much more accepting. Like many others, I legitimately use cannabis medicinally instead of relying on pharmaceuticals. Being here in Humboldt, I knew I wasn‘t going to lose my life or end up in prison because of cannabis use – one of the main reasons I and many others came here. I wanted to use my medicine, and I didn’t want to spend my life in jail because of it.

My days in Minnesota weren’t quite over, but like so many people before me, this region was calling to me, and when it came time to take upper division courses, I moved back and enrolled at HSU. It was then that my status as a medical cannabis user and my love of science meshed. I earned a degree in soil science with a double minor in geographic information systems (GIS) and botany.sarah3
I also used to be a consultant of natural medicine, so this is bringing me back to my roots an an alternative healer. I have seen medical cannabis work for my friends, family and myself. I have a passion for growing clean medicine for those suffering from serious illnesses.

Those convictions prompted me to help form the Humboldt Trinity Collective, where I work with patients to provide clean and affordable medicine. Collective patients receive cannabis that is grown without toxic chemicals and pesticides. Because health insurance companies do not cover the cost of medical cannabis, the Collective strives to keep the medicine affordable.

My interest in science and a strong desire to stay in Humboldt also lead me to establish my soil-testing lab and consulting firm, Dirty Business Soil. Because I have the insight and experience of growing cannabis, and a background in soil and plant science, I know what help most farmers need to make the best use of their land. Our two enterprises – Humboldt Trinity Collective and Dirty Business Soil – work together to help produce profitable and clean crops, and also to keep me way too busy!

Let me give you an example of how different the experience of growing cannabis is from other crops—even if the science is the same.

Farmers in the Midwest, or the central valley, raising corn and soybeans have access to a wealth of science-based information basically for free. If they have a problem with their crops, or a questions about irrigation or fertilization, they head to the farm advisor’s office. Yes, there’s an actual government advisor to help them!

In traditional agriculture, the farmers hire a soil consultant who samples the soil, sends it to a lab, analyzes the results, designs a fertilizer cocktail and sends the recipe to a chemical fertilizer company to mix it and spray it. The traditional farmer simply writes the check. In cannabis farming, all of that work had been the responsibility of the farmer alone. More and more, local cannabis producers are realizing they need to professionalize their farm management.

I started Dirty Business Soil to meet local cannabis farmers’ need for scientific information to streamline their practices and grow crops more efficiently. It wasn’t a given that the area’s cannabis farmers would make use of such a service. Most cannabis farmers hadn’t been exposed to the benefits of soil testing. And, in years past, the profitability of growing marijuana hadn’t required strict adherence to budgeting. Profits were possible no matter what issues arose in the seedling-to-mature plant process. Maximizing yields, preventing loss, and limiting amendment costs are going to become way more important over the next few years.

While we started as a soil-testing lab, now we can also help you read a soil report, advise our clients on the next steps, suggest fertilizer management methods, and introduce the workings of soil microbiology. Ultimately, farmers learn how best to breathe life back into their soil. It’s not a metaphor. In 2015, the USDA finally recognized soil as a living organism. It was a paradigm shift from the typical big agriculture approach of using chemicals that kill the soil. With the USDA’s recognition of soil as alive, maybe we can stop killing it. We can nourish and nurture it; we can bring it back to life. Healthy soil is beneficial to all farming.


Sarah wants you to know that farms can still turn in applications for cannabis permits, even if they don’t have all their Prime Ag soil mapped. Mapping can occur in 2017, but farmers still need to file their incomplete application by the December 31st deadline.