Barry Brand, owner of Arroyo Verde Farms, has run successful farm operations in Carpinteria for over 30 years. Cannabis farming is much like farming flowers, herbs or vegetables, but it comes with a lot more fanfare and curiosity.
“Suddenly, everyone wants to know what’s growing on the farm,” Barry says inside his greenhouse on Foothill Road. In all, the property is 50 acres, of which 12 are planted in cannabis inside of greenhouses. He also grows avocados, herbs and other row crops outside the greenhouses. “The biggest difference for me are all the new regulations. They’re good, but much stricter from a farming perspective. We can’t use pesticides. We like the changes, but it’s a big adjustment.”
Barry emigrated to California from Holland in 1985. There, too, his family farmed. Barry first visited California around Fall of 1984, was impressed by the climate and decided to make the move. He was joined by his whole family, including brother Hans who operates his own Carpinteria farm.
Barry raised a family on the Carpinteria farm, including his two sons, Francis and Thomas, who now manage large parts of the cannabis operations.
Thomas, 23, focuses on the plant from cloning to harvest. “It’s quality control, everything we can do for the plant to make sure we have the best product out there,” he says.
Francis, 22, concentrates on the operations end of the business. He leads projects upgrading infrastructure and grow systems along with processing cannabis flowers. “I look at the big picture projects to increase efficiency and to make sure we do things the best way we possibly can,” he says.
The whole family can attest that skills learned in flower and vegetable growing translate well to cannabis farming. Thomas and Francis reminisce about their childhood milestones achieved on the farm. They used to play hide-and-seek among the lilies when they were young. When they learned to drive, it started with tractors on the farm. Every step of their upbringing revolved around farming and the business of growing flowers and vegetables.
“We know plants very well,” Francis says standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Thomas among rows of cannabis. “We’ve been on the farm our whole lives.”
Barry says that legal cannabis presented a unique opportunity, and that the business had little choice but to seek new ways to remain profitable. When considering getting into medical cannabis in 2014, Barry was convinced by the numerous stories patients shared of overcoming serious pain and illness using cannabis.
“I thought. Wow. This is better than growing flowers. It’s more useful. People are telling me they treated their cancer with it, or they quit using pills and stuck with cannabis to treat their pain,” Barry says.
His father, Jan, and mother, Arida, took longer to warm up to the direction Barry was taking his family business. “I don’t know anything about cannabis culture or what it does to you,” Jan says. “But Barry did his research. He made the right choice.” Though retired, Jan is a regular in the greenhouse and offers valued input earned over a lifetime in farming.
The whole family is quick to point out that the trajectory of the flower market was clear. Trend lines were pointing in the wrong direction, and had been for decades for domestic flower growers. Cheap labor and lax regulations in South America robbed U.S. flower farmers of one crop after the next. Barry had gone into vegetables and herbs. Cannabis sold in California can only be grown in California, so external competition would no longer be a factor.
A few years into cannabis farming, the company has now launched a brand that can be found throughout the state. “Almost a year ago, we launched our consumer-facing brand, Valy Cali Farm, which you can find across 100+ dispensaries in California. Our mission: farm direct flower. As a farming family, we hold the phrase ‘farm to table’ close. Our goal is to build honest and engaging relationships with cannabis consumers, and help de-stigmatize a plant that has been in the dark for too long.”