Salinas Valley sees green in cannabis

ByKen Miguel and Dion Lim KGO logo
Thursday, December 20, 2018
Pot takes root in Salinas Valley
Inside Pacific Reserve's cannabis greenhouse in Salinas, Calfornia, a new crop is taking root where flowers used to grow.

SALINAS, Calif. (KGO) -- In the early 20th Century lettuce grown south of San Jose was shipped across the country in refrigerated train cars. That lettuce was hailed as "green gold" in the Salinas valley.

John Steinbeck famously wrote about the Salinas Valley's fertile soil. Everything from produce to flowers have flourished here over the last hundred years.

But as the flower industry shifted to South America, it left many of the old greenhouses in Monterey County empty. That created the perfect opportunity for a different kind of plant, cannabis.

Brook Eagle is with Pacific Reserve, an organic nursery and cannabis flower grower.

"Probably a lot of these greenhouses hadn't been used in 25 years or more," said Eagle.

He just finished his first big harvest since cannabis was made legal in January.

"This is a prime location not only for the Bay Area, but for Los Angeles," said Eagle.

Before legalization, cannabis farms often operated illegally in remote areas. Often they were hidden in hard to get to places like the infamous Emerald Triangle, three Northern California Counties that had grown most of the state's weed.

"The reason for that is not because it is the most ideal growing climate, the reason for that was to escape law enforcement," said Gavin Kogan is the owner of GrupoFlor

He is hoping his company will change the landscape.

"So now that, that ground has shifted and we are not concerned about law enforcement, now were interested in issues like distribution logistics, now, we're are interested in controlled environments." Said Kogan.

Kogan is a former cannabis lawyer who now brokers deals between nurseries and cannabis farmers.

He's leased 1.5 million square feet of Monterey County property to dozens of cannabis growers.

Kogan said, "We already have all the plant experts, the mite experts, we have the lawyers who know how to set up the companies for ag, we have the trades people who know how to deal with it, and we have the infrastructure."

That also includes the labor force needed to happen.

"The labor force here is unmatched here in California, so many people here are so used to working with different types of plants, that it just became second nature for them to transfer over into the cannabis industry," said Eagle.

That also extends to GrupoFlor's own massive processing, distribution, and retail center "East of Eden." The name is a nod to John Steinbeck's classic novel based in Salinas.

GrupoFlor CEO, Paul Henderson said, "All of these jobs are right here in our backyard, we know a lot of these people."

Henderson says much of what it sells and processes comes from the Salinas Valley and ends up in the Bay Area. 110 people work here now.

"That's going to grow rapidly in the next several months as we continue to build out our wholesale business, and continue to open more retail outlets," smiled Henderson.

In the Salinas Valley, cannabis is the latest crop growers hope will keep this region famous for being green.