By some estimates, California’s “Emerald Triangle,” a region comprised of Trinity, Mendocino, and Humboldt Counties, grows up to 70% of America’s marijuana. But here, not all weed is grown equal.
One brand—aptly named Swami Select—stands out among the rest. Swami Select was founded by two cannabis farmers and long-time Emerald Cup judges, Nikki Lastreto and Swami Chaitanya, who presides over a 190-acre farm called the Ganja Ma Gardens. It’s here in these gardens that some of the purest marijuana in the world is grown.
Chaitanya gets a lot of attention for his appearance, being dubbed “the Swami of weed,” for his close resemblance to a Hindu religious teacher. But it’s Chaitanya’s product, and the way it’s grown is what is truly deserving of attention.
Lastreto and Chaitanya are on the cutting edge of a new brand of marijuana that borrows from both the alcohol industry’s bolstering of small, unique breweries and many in the food industry’s promotion of environmentally sound, ethically grown crops.
“Through our commitment to responsible, regenerative methods, we provide the conscious connoisseur with premium flowers for medicinal and inspirational use.” Reads their website. “While acceptance grows for the medicinal and inspirational uses of cannabis, and corporate interests pour in, it is increasingly important to preserve its integrity.”
You might call Swami Select marijuana “craft cannabis.”
“It’s just part of the movement,” Chaitanya tells me in a recent phone conversation. “The other part of the movement is the whole slow food movement, farm-to-table and farmers markets. So now if cannabis is going to be invaded by big business and big corporations, just like everything else in this country, we want to identify with the slow-foods, farmers markets kind of people.”
While big business increasingly looks for ways to maximize profits within the burgeoning marijuana industry, Lastreto and Chaitanya believe in catering to health and environment-conscious consumers who believe in organically grown products—whether it’s the food on their plate, or the marijuana in their joint.
One way that Swami Select delivers on this promise is that all of Lastreto and Chaitanya’s products are “sun, moon, and star grown.”
Lastreto and Chaitanya believe that cannabis grown outdoors, with all-natural methods, promotes better personal health and environmental sustainability, but also a better product. “If you want a good tomato, you’re not going to go and buy a tomato grown in a factory under artificial light. You’re probably going to want the one your neighbor grew in his backyard under full sun.” Chaitanya tells me.
This is just how Lastreto and Chaitanya grow their marijuana: under the sun, pesticide free, and with the surrounding ecosystem in mind. While many people flock to indoor-grown cannabis because they believe it’s of a higher quality, according to Chaitanya, an outdoor-grown flower is the future of cannabis. “The reason people started to grow indoors, 20-30 years ago, was because of the persecution by law enforcement.” Says Chaitanya. “And when you grow indoor, you, of course, have a gigantic carbon footprint.”
But Swami Select’s brand of marijuana isn’t just about environmental consciousness (though that is a big part). As Chaitanya. tells me, “Over time you begin to realize that to put organic materials into your cannabis, is going to make a purer product and ultimately it’s going to make a better product.”
Lastreto and Chaitanya are currently pushing for new legislation to bolster specialty cultivators in Mendocino County. As Lastreto and Chaitanya pave the way towards a more sustainable and ethical marijuana industry, some of the main beneficiaries, in their minds, are the consumers themselves.
“My feeling is that a lot of the people who have a bad experience with cannabis, is not because of the cannabis, but it’s because of the pesticides on it, or a bad growing technique.” Says Chaitanya. “It’s the ethical and moral responsibility of the growers to deliver a clean product.”