There are some activities we will never witness and worlds we will never have access to. Instead, we imagine a place, a community, a lifestyle that is under the radar, perhaps off the grid. Throw in a few pit bulls and nameless, faceless individuals making a living from cultivating a much-in-demand “medical” plant and our curiosity deepens. Photographer H. Lee has managed an inside look into a culture, production, and a community called Grassland. For understandable reasons, H. Lee prefers to remain anonymous.
Grassland: A few hours north of San Francisco, along the coast, lies a rugged landscape of towering Redwoods and Douglas Firs. Cut with rivers and fog, it is iconic American terrain, which draws countless RV-towing tourists who wind up and down logging roads all summer long.
But beneath this layer of green and golden splendor, there exists an unseen world that no maps can find, only a discriminating eye for unmarked dirt roads. To the initiated, there are signs, as clear as the highway billboards offering hydroponic paraphernalia, medical cannabis consultations, trimming solutions and turkey bags in bulk. These services are welcome flags to cannabis country, where droves of marijuana growers, both indoor and outdoor, hide in the hills and make their living.
The first time I entered this world, I was totally ignorant to the world of pot farming, and riddled with judgment. It took some time for my outsider eyes to adjust to see what was all around me — behind locked gates and camouflaged cabins, past generators and barking dogs, protective firearms and diesel trucks — but also to gain the trust of the community. It is an eclectic group, bound together by a deep knowledge of growing techniques, along with a strong distrust for outsiders; suspicion is a necessary survival trait. These farmers are lured by the single magical and medicinal plant; a plant whose cultivation or possession holds the promise of profit, coupled with possible jail time. As state and local laws, along with public acceptance, are now changing, this once-furtive farming community is coming out of its greenhouses, building bigger ones and growing giant plants in full sun, less fearful of the hum of helicopters, more exposed and confident than ever before.
I have come to understand and applaud this unique universe, so closed and cautious, protected and protective, and courageously strong in its beliefs. This series respectfully shares and bares witness to cannabis cultivation, illustrating a full season of plant production, from farm to table.