By Garrett Rudolph
The Emerald Triangle hasn’t just spawned some of the top cannabis growers in the world. The prolific Northern California cannabis industry has also kick-started the development of dozens of ancillary businesses that have been able to use Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties as a massive research and development project for better cultivation products.
Among these companies is Emerald Triangle Products, which produces the Humboldt County’s Own line of additives. While the company was officially founded in 2002, a lot of its additives were developed years earlier in Phillip Leavitt’s tractor shed off Highway 36 in central Humboldt County. Unlike many companies that sell commercial fertilizers, Emerald Triangle Products has devoted its focus to additives.
“Back in the day, growers would compare products and yields and help each other. Over time, more and more people became interested in my concoctions and I would hand out samples for testing,” Leavitt recalled. “Having dozens of beta testers in the hills each doing five to six turns per year allowed me to do R&D at an accelerated rate. I made a lot of additives that people liked but when growers showed up with serious cash to buy a particular one, I knew I had a winner.”
Although the company has grown significantly from its roots in a tractor shed, Leavitt continues to put a heavy emphasis on development.
“Unlike other companies, we only manufacture a product when we know growers want to buy it. … We don’t throw some stuff in a bottle and then try to promote it,” Leavitt said. “That’s why our product line is small and tight. … High performance growing is simple and easy when you have a well-integrated line developed by growers, for growers.”
Despite his professional calling, Leavitt has little background in chemistry or plant science. He studied math when he originally enrolled at UCLA, and later enrolled at University of California Berkeley at the age of 40 to continue his math studies.
“I’ve always had a keen interest in chemistry and worked for a while for a patent law firm in Washington,” he said. “My job was to break chemical patents — take an existing patent and find defects. It involved a lot of detective work in research libraries. When I decided to develop plant additives I started with the Patent Office and plant chemistry journals and found fertile ground. A lot of exciting research was gathering dust because the cost of ingredients was considered high in relation to the value of the crop. Developments in the hydroponic industry changed the equation, and suddenly, expensive, impractical products became very practical.”
He eulogizes the history of Northern California that is steadily being over-run by outsiders with a different set of motives.
The country culture in Northern California began with the “back to the land” movement in the 1960s, with pioneers who wanted a simpler life where they could grow their own food and live close to nature.
“Pot was part of the culture and the isolation helped it thrive,” he said. “The hill people formed an invisible close-knit fabric out in the hills that kept to itself and shared ideas and techniques. Over time an expertise developed that continues today.
“The culture was never about getting rich, it was about living a balanced life, about finding a way to raise a family in the country.”
The future doesn’t look so bright, he said.
“Outsiders, taking advantage of the isolation and toleration of the locals, have set up corporate-scale operations,” he said. “They bulldoze roads that wash into streams in the winter, poison and kill anything with four feet, divert so much water that streams dry up, and take their money elsewhere to spend it.”
Once cannabis legalization comes to California and the federal government gives its blessing, Leavitt expects commercial growing to leave the mountains and move to the Sacramento Valley, where cannabis will be row-cropped and wholesale prices will plummet.
“But no matter what, the old-time growers of Humboldt will still be here practicing their labors of love, and when the city folk get tired of mass-produced product they’ll find someone who has a friend in Humboldt,” Leavitt said.