Sun+Earth Certified, a nonprofit third-party certification for regenerative organic cannabis, has just certified its first farm on the East Coast, in the state of Vermont. Nestled among the mountains of Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, Rebel Grown is a half-acre marijuana farm on a 200-acre permaculture sanctuary in the Town of Craftsbury. The farm and brand known today as Rebel Grown has produced hemp in Vermont since 2018 and, in 2022, received a license to grow cannabis for adult use.
Sun+Earth was founded in 2019 by cannabis industry leaders, experts, and advocates with a common commitment to the pillars of regenerative organic agriculture, farmer and farmworker protections, and community engagement. Currently, Sun+Earth has certified more than 60 cannabis farms and manufacturers in five states: California, Michigan, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.
"There was a meeting in Mendocino in 2018, one of the first grower community meetings, it was small organic farmers from the Emerald Triangle who wanted to create a certification process to protect small, multi-generation farmers and people doing regenerative agriculture," Rebel Grown's Dan Pomerantz told the Chronicle. "There were a bunch of younger farmers trying to get into the program to get exposure, but I felt it should be reserved for old timers, so I stayed out at that time. I didn't want to take someone else's opportunity."
But by May 2022, as he got licensed to grow adult use marijuana in Vermont, Pomerantz decided the time was right. "This was a great opportunity to apply this on the East Coast, and now, whenever you need someone to educate about Sun+Earth, I'm your guy," he said.
"Cannabis grown regeneratively, under the sun and in the soil, without toxic chemicals, is not only high quality, but also the best for the earth," said Pomerantz. "We capture carbon through our plants and sequester it in the ground where it can be recycled through our living soils. Rebel Grown became Sun+Earth Certified to bring high-quality, healthy, ethically-farmed cannabis to the people of Vermont, and to become a model for regenerative organic agriculture everywhere."
Some of Rebel Grown's regenerative organic farming practices include cover cropping with rye grass and clover, mulching with organic alfalfa, and using wood ash and manure from chickens, ducks, geese, steers, goats, sheep, and horses. Rebel Grown generates its own compost, and also inoculates its soil with numerous species of microbes, enzymes, fungi, and beneficial bacteria in order to continually balance the microbiology of its living soil and plants' root zones. Made from trees on the farm, Rebel Grown uses maple syrup as an ingredient in its compost teas.
Sun+Earth is not just a rubber stamp certification.
"It wasn't difficult, but we needed to connect all the dots," said Pomerantz. "There are over 60 different things you need to do, such as having to take soil samples to show there is no pesticide and keeping an accurate journal and log showing all out inputs and sprays. Sun+Earth actually follows through; you have to show them how you run your farm. There is a lot of detail," he said.
"And aside from regenerative cultivation, part of it is how you treat people and where you stand in your community. We have to have conflict resolution protocols in place for staff. You have to take care of your people as much as your plants. And we give what we can to local charities," he added.
"The expansion of Sun+Earth into Vermont and the East Coast, with the certification of Rebel Grown, shows that quality sungrown cannabis can be produced across the entire continent," said Heather Dunbar of Sun+Earth Certified. "Indeed, the cannabis industry has the knowledge of how to shrink its large carbon footprint, and the wherewithal to prioritize regenerative organic farming," continued Dunbar. "Investing in cleaner, healthier, and more ethical cannabis just makes sense."
Rebel Grown, which has its roots in the Palo Verde Appellation of Southern Humboldt in the heart of The Emerald Triangle, is one of the only independently-owned, craft legacy brands now available on the East Coast. With an expertise in breeding and genetics, Rebel Grown's Pomerantz has developed dozens of proprietary cannabis varieties covering a broad spectrum of cannabis diversity. His genetics have won dozens of awards dating back to 2011, most notably The Emerald Cup's coveted Breeders Cup award in 2023, 2022, and 2018.
Last year, Rebel Grown also won first place in the "sun grown" category. Rather than keep his skills and expertise close to his chest, Pomerantz has for years freely shared his knowledge through a variety of cultivation classes and educational workshops, as well as trade media articles.
"I bought 126 acres back in 2012 where the previous owners had an organic farm and community. At the time, I was facing a criminal case and needed a place for my girlfriend to go and for when I got out. Then I acquired another 71 acres above and 12 more down the road," Pomerantz related. "We want to create well over 60 acres of mostly forested land and our goal is to have a working farm that does not just cannabis but a ton of food and animals and teaching farm techniques that were used in the past. The hope is that I can use the cannabis business to build other aspects of the farm."
Even though Rebel Farm has the largest type of outdoor grow license the state offers, allowing to grow on up to a ½ acre or 2500 plants, it is still a relatively small operation, with three full-time employees including Pomerantz and seven part-timers. But it is capable of growing hundreds of pounds a year.
"In these first two years, we couldn't afford much and probably produced 600-700 pounds each year," Pomerantz said, "but now all of our rows are elevate mounds, our soil is nicely developed, we will plow and add amendments and spread cover crops, and we can probably grow about 2,000 pounds."
Each state has its own laws governing legal marijuana production, and they are not always congruent with the interests of growers. Pomerantz pointed to a number of state law obstacles to Rebel Grown's success.
"We have a THC cap where we can sell over 30 percent in flower and 60 percent in concentrates. That's complete nonsense," he said. "And we have weird marketing laws. Our advertising has to be approved by the Cannabis Control Board and we have to prove that less than 15 percent of our advertising will be seen by people under 21."
High taxes don't help either, said Pomerantz.
"Between the cannabis tax and sales tax people are paying 21 percent in taxes," he complained. "Do you want to buy it from a store or from your neighbor? The stores aren't meeting expectations."
Nor does the state allow for deliveries, except for medical marijuana operations. Pomerantz said he would like to have direct to consumer sales, subscription programs, and access to farmers' markets, "but it is challenging legislatively."
Obstacles and hindrances be damned! Rebel Grown is going to keep on farming, and leading the way on the East Coast toward healthier, more environmentally friendly, and more sustainable marijuana-producing practices.