Steve Gieder is a prolific local entrepreneur and cannabis advocate. He founded Northcoast Horticulture Supply in 2001, then began the consulting firm Humboldt Green, going on to launch cannabis events like Cannifest and Humboldt Green Week, plus many other ventures. This is part one of a two part interview.
Emerald Tribune: What lessons have you learned from throwing cannabis events here in Humboldt?
Steve Gieder: Focus on what brings people together. Last year we were escorted to Cannifest by the CHP in a parade. I’m from Philadelphia, and anyone who didn’t grow up in areas like that may not understand the same thing that I do about a parade. It’s a platform for everyone to do different things.
We had folks there for cannabis rights, and people that sold supplies, everyone got involved. We had the guy from Old Town with his horse and buggy. This was a Sunday morning and we went down Myrtletown Ave, waving to the people going into church. I had on a full-body green stretch suit, leading this parade as a Canna-Man.
Don’t allow naysayers to have their way, because nothing will ever get done. Many people said we couldn’t have a cannabis festival at Redwood Acres, or that we couldn’t do a cannabis parade through Myrtletown, because it’s a very conservative, business-oriented, and mainstream part of Eureka. But we did.
Businesses are an extension of who we are, and I’ve always liked to hold the door for someone else. Lots of people have always told me not to do that, and I’ve gone against the people that told me that you have to be crude and cutthroat in business. These things are not true. You can hold the door for people. You can be nice to your neighbor in business. You can put out good energy and expect to get it back.
ET: What are some special challenges that are distinct to Humboldt County?
SG: Behind the Redwood Curtain our resources are limited. We’ve got to bring in construction crews from Redding or Sacramento, because there are just not enough people here to do all the work that’s coming up. For instance, one of my Humboldt Green clients wants 144 greenhouses. Who’s going to build that? I’ve tried everyone locally I can think of, and no one can do the job. We don’t have the resources to build 144 of these greenhouses, period.
ET: What’s something you love about Humboldt that just doesn’t get talked enough about?
SG: Nature has an impact on everyone here. We’re getting nutrient-rich air. Those trees look like that because they’re being misted everyday with fertilizer from the sea. Crushed up shells, seaweed, all the same stuff you could buy in my store, is getting misted onto us and our trees. It has an impact on our wellbeing and our mentality here.
Ten years ago I understood that Humboldt County is the next biggest trendsetter in the world. I believed that ten years ago, and I’m sure of it right now. And 100% of that has to do with cannabis culture. What does that term mean? That’s the tricky part.
A few generations ago, the hills were full of homesteaders, farmers, and hippie entrepreneurs. Now, it’s a business and not a lifestyle for half of people growing. We want to hold on to the lifestyle, but move past the crusty generators, hiding weed underground, and dumping diesel into the river. How do we make the lifestyle sustainable? It’s a unique situation we have here, and I think that’s what we’ll be known for: technologically advanced, educated people that want to change the world.
ET: What are some of your dreams and fears for the future of Humboldt?
SG: There’s a boom and bust culture that doesn’t really fit into my idea of Humboldt. You don’t need a big truck to grow weed in your house, or to go trim for somebody that has a hill scene, either. You only need a big truck if you want a certain status level. But that mindset is spreading. A lot of people have been watching the neighbors’ trucks getting bigger and bigger, and after a while they start to want a bigger truck, too.
Five years ago, Humboldt County chronic, on average, was a higher grade product. The prices have jumped all around because of market pressures, such as the value of pounds being dictated by the friend sleeping on the couch. But once prices went down just a little bit, people’s practices started changing. I sell the supplies. I can push buttons and print out reports to show that ten years ago, customers spent more money on their gardens.
People put less into their gardens because it became a “go big or go home” scenario. So everyone’s racing around to be one of the producers of 80% of the cannabis that’s only getting 20% of the market. It’s a race, it’s a struggle, and a hustle. Prices continue to go down; the quality goes down. Humboldt county’s name and brand goes down.
Worst case scenario: the cannabis that allows for revenue to be created here goes away. Large corporations grow it all because the people here did not organize enough and hold arms together to stronghold the community. These jobs start to go away, and people hang their dreams up on the key hook on the way out. Worst case scenario is that people chase the money down and not the ideals. At that point the whole county would become a retirement community for California. Garberville would all but roll up into a tumbleweed.
My dream is that we allow this energy to help us create the Jefferson state. Cannabis helps California become the world’s second or third largest economy again. Humboldt County continues to improve its resources for community members and vulnerable groups. Humboldt stays at the forefront of the cannabis industry, creating the standards and the metrics for all things cannabis-related.
ET: What do you think are some lingering flaws in legislation?
SG: Regardless of the impact on society, people who love cannabis voted against it becoming legal for financial reasons. One of the lingering flaws is an open-ended ability to tax and add more costs to these perceived millionaire growers. The county just doubled the fees for all of their applications. Local and state governments have to be careful not to ruin the industry.
It seems like the state is giving advantage to large businesses. That’s a flaw. California became the first state in the nation to recognize cannabis as an agricultural commodity, so that was a big deal. But agriculture companies are some of the largest businesses in the world. They’re very closely related and oftentimes owned by pharmaceutical companies, so there are issues there too.
One of the flaws locally, and I don’t agree or disagree with it, is if you were growing previously, legally or illegally, you’re given priority over someone that never grew here before. Focus has been on the land use. Focus is on the money and the environment, which is good, but the social stuff then gets left undealt with, to build up and manifest in other places.
To read part two of this interview, check back next week.