This is our farm column from farmer Casey O’Neill. O’Neill is the owner operator of HappyDay Farms north of Laytonville, and a long time advocate for the cannabis community in Mendocino Co; more of his writing can be found here. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer. If you would like to submit a letter to the editor feel free to write to [email protected].
Editor’s note: here’s more about this year’s California Cannabis Awards at the State Fair.
Well this was an eventful week for us, we won the Gold Medal at the California State Fair for cannabis strain with the highest testing THCa for our Strawberry Biscotti! I still can’t believe that we’ve arrived at a time when the CA State Fair has cannabis awards, a clear step in the direction of normalization and acceptance of the plant. For us as farmers, it feels good to receive the recognition, a milestone in a journey that has been fraught with difficulty but punctuated by moments of such sweetness and joy that we wouldn’t give it up for anything.
After all the decades of Prohibition, helicopters and paramilitary incursions from law enforcement, it’s surreal to have a category at the State Fair for cannabis. The excitement of it is tempered by the bitter juxtaposition of bad regulation and shit policy from the legislature, regulatory agencies, and local governments, but nonetheless we’re ecstatic to receive the award. There is a lot to unpack here, so I’ll start with the category.
THCA stands for tetrahydrocannabinolic acid and it is the precursor to THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). When cannabis is growing it makes cannabinoids as carboxylic acids that most often convert into non-acidic compounds through a process called decarboxylation. Almost all cannabinoids start off in their acidic form which have differing structures and effects than that of their non-acidic versions.
When we dry and cure cannabis after harvest, the THCa converts from acid form to the more stable THC, which is the cannabinoid that we think of for producing the euphoric “high”. There is still much research needed to explore the many different cannabinoids the plant is capable of producing, and also to evaluate the interactions between cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids and the unique responses they engender in humans based on individual biochemistry.
Strawberry Biscotti is a cross of our long-time favorite Sour Strawberry on the popular Biscotti. Sour Strawberry was bred by our dear friends at Twenty20 Mendocino, originally in the late aughts. We started growing it from seed in probably 2011, and it’s one of my all-time favorite strains. I love the sweetness of it, and the comfortable ride that it offers as it helps me about my day.
Bred from a cross of Sour D by the legendary Strawberry Kush from Cut Creek Farms in Palo Verde, the Sour Strawberry is one of the surviving lineages that Twenty20 created when they crossed the Strawberry Kush onto a wide swath of available genetics. Still lurking in our seed library are a Pure Kush x Strawberry, OG x Strawberry, and the original Ogre Berry that Cut Creek created and that we still work with today after a dozen or so years of back-crossing to hold onto the seed.
One of the most special things about the cannabis community has always been the sharing and interrelationships around genetics. If you found something you really liked, you made copies of it either by pollinating your favorite female plant with a male plant that had the characteristics you liked, or you cut clones from a female in vegetative state and saved them for later. Once you had copies, you shared them with all your friends, and they did the same with the things they liked. Hunting phenotypes (pheno sifting for short) involves cutting clones from each of the females in vegetative form and then keeping them growing until the final flowers can be evaluated from the crop and a selection made from the results.
As the market changes over the years to come, I hope to bring back some of the old Strawberry crosses and sift through them for the incredible versions that they contain. We’ve seen some outstanding things come out of those genetics, but without the stability and structure of a nursery program in the old days, we were never able to find and save those cuts.
We helped with a pheno sift of the Sour Strawberry a few years back, selecting for a short, stocky pheno that finished up by the end of the first week of September. We loved that cut, and were delighted when it went into tissue culture with our buddies up at Humboldt DNA and their nursery Humboldt Sacred Roots. We grew it the next year with great success, and had planned half our crop in it for the 2021 season. When we called to place the order, we heard “well, there’s some good news and some bad news; we don’t have Sour Strawberry anymore because it’s too difficult to clone, but we crossed it onto the Biscotti”.
While we were hoping to grow the Sour Strawberry, the cross sounded delightful as we’d run the Biscotti the year before, so we jumped in with both feet. The resulting Strawberry Biscotti is incredible, super high testing, super gassy with a sweetness underneath that draws me in and holds me. The high is powerful, too strong for more than a couple hits if I’ve got work to do, but in a comfortable, reflective direction that helps me look outside the box and take on new perspectives.
It feels good to have the work that we do recognized at the level of the State Fair. We pour love and good energy into the plants and animals that we care for, and we appreciate the results and effects. Cannabis goes out into the world and helps to change consciousness, lightening burdens and shifting perspectives. We are serious in this work, and we’re glad to continue the process with a new crop of Strawberry Biscotti on the way. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!