Willie's Guide to Weed: Huckleberry Hill Farms
“It’s really my goal when people come to my farm….I want them to leave this farm as different people.” - Johnny Casali
With the action of famed West Coast cities constantly in the media, it is easy to forget that the majority of California is country. This is farmland; there are trucks and ball caps and Carhartt jackets everywhere. Everywhere that is, when you are in town. Huckleberry Hill Farms is just up from Garbersville, also known as the entrance to the Avenue of the Giants; a road known for the impressive Redwood trees and it’s popularity among family roadtrippers. The road to Huckleberry Hill is remote and winding. Though it’s been said many times, the Redwoods are breathtaking. The sun trickles through the branches as we pull up to an unassuming gravel drive and pull up next to the house.
Johnny has lived on this piece of land tucked up in the hills of California’s Emerald Triangle (the largest cannabis-producing region in the United States) for decades. “This is my family home. I’ve been here for 45 years. Really since I was ten years old I was following my mom around, not only taking care of the vegetable garden that included tomatoes and zucchinis, but that also included taking care of the cannabis plants,” Johnny says as we make our way up the gravel path to the voluminous cannabis plants just up the hill. “Certain people believe that certain things are harmful, and I wasn’t brought up that way,” he added, “I realized that [cannabis] had a lot of medicinal value to it from way back when.”
In this area of the world, Johnny’s story might not seem alarming. There are many folks throughout Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity counties who have seen their loved ones, neighbors, or even themselves put through incredible hardships because of their cannabis-reliant livelihoods.
At 19, Johnny took over the family farm after his mother left to travel the world and pursue her dream of commercial fishing. “To take care of the property, to maintain the roads, to maintain the house, and also to take care of the cannabis” he explains, putting into practice the craft his mother so carefully taught him. As he walks us through the plants, he recounts tales that seem otherworldly to those of us who didn’t grow up with knowledge of the cannabis world: constant helicopters hovering on the search for farms, federal agents descending from the sky, and varied techniques for farming in secret. A few years and an accumulation of 1,500 cannabis plants later, Johnny awoke to 30 federal agents at his door, guns at the ready. “When I was 22 my best friend and I got turned in by a neighbor [in them] trying to make a point that they were going to put a stop to growing cannabis,” he reveals. After four years in and out of court, Johnny went on to serve 8 years out of his 10 year sentence. While he was away, his mother passed and the farm stayed empty. “Really that was one of the toughest things I had to deal with then,” he continues, “When I ended up getting out of jail and this permitting process opened, I was able to do something that I grew up doing and that I had this passion and love for. It was just like this blessing. I knew my path forward.” When Johnny returned to the farm after so many years away, many members of the Southern Humboldt community gathered to greet him as he arrived ready to work and put Huckleberry back together.
You can tell Johnny carries the weight of his experiences with him, but, with his determination and support from his community, his spirit has survived. As he walks us around the farm explaining that every single step in the process is done by him, alone, you can feel his energy and excitedness to finally share his life’s dedication. “The minute I walked into jail,” he reflects, “I saw so many bitter people and angry people. I refused at that point that that’s how I would come out because then that would be a life sentence. I’ve always been a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, whether or not at the time we know what it is. I just made the best of that situation.” Now, Johnny’s life has fully returned to his home of Huckleberry Hill. Every morning and night he is there to tend to his plants. He has no hired farm hands or helpers; it’s just him. His touch is present in each aspect of the calm and beautiful grounds. Flowers surround the house and some of the outdoor cannabis plants; he’s placed small Buddhas and mementos around, some signifying specific plants he intends to donate to different organizations, one in particular to a local veterans association. I mention the bountiful bees buzzing around and he casually mentions he has his own hive with fresh honey as well.
As for the cannabis, Johnny is one of many independent farmers growing strains for Willie’s Reserve and their partners Flow Kana. “The strains that I grow here on my property are always going to be in honor of my mother,” he explains. Johnny still grows his mother’s “Fruit Loopz” strain, and each of his own strains are crossed with it as an homage to her memory. You can find Johnny’s “Huckleberries” strain - a sativa leaning cross of Fruit Loopz and Zkittlez with an intense fruity aroma, offering a mellow high according to Willie’s Reserve - at a dispensary near you. Johnny will also be joining the Willie’s Reserve team and Willie himself at the Emerald Cup (one of the largest organic cannabis competitions worldwide) on December 15th and 16th in Santa Rosa, California. For more on the Emerald Cup and tickets to the event visit: https://theemeraldcup.com.