It All Begins With the Soil
Clayton Scicluna digs his fingers into a mound of soil and comes up with a generous handful of dirt that’s positively teeming with life. The first thing you notice is the 40-50 red wiggler worms, glistening in the sunny Santa Cruz afternoon. But beyond the worms, there are millions of micro-organisms in this one handful of soil. They may not be visible to the naked eye, but they’re no less important to the regenerative soil process that forms the foundation of Goldenseed’s farming philosophy.
“It all begins with the soil,” Clayton will tell you. And he’s right. Goldenseed’s 100% natural cannabis farm in Santa Cruz County, CA produces pure California cannabis in the form of proprietary seed strains, smokable blends, and oil and terpene extractions. The farm is a model for the cannabis industry of responsible, clean growing, harvesting, and land stewardship. And where does that cannabis grow? In the soil that Clayton creates though the innovative methods he has developed based on years of training and research.
“I got into regenerative agriculture back in 2003,” Clayton recalls, “when I attended the UC Santa Cruz Farm Garden Program. It was my first gateway into a realm that has led me in a really exciting direction in life.” But it wasn’t an easy path: initially, Clayton wasn’t able to get into the program due to lack of experience. Stuck on the waitlist, he didn’t give up. “I called multiple times a week for four months and I got a phone call a week before the program started and they said that I was the most persistent applicant in 30 years to apply for this program. And I was in. I had never been good at school until that program, but I sat in front of the class with my little recorder and my notes and I asked every question. I just ate, drank and slept regenerative agriculture for a year at that university farm.” From that point on, Clayton continued to take classes and practice in the field, studying with Dr. Arden Andersen and devouring the writings of John Jeavons, known as the father of the modern biointensive gardening movement. It quickly became a calling for Clayton. “I came away with a mission to work with the soil and help people grow food and build farms. And basically it's like that saying of give a person a fish, they eat for a day. Teach a person to fish, they eat for an eternity.”
“Farming is everywhere,” Clayton continues. “When you get out of the city and you fly anywhere and look down, it's just squares and circles. We don't always realize it, I think because we're kind of disassociated from our food system. We just go to the grocery store and there's magically food.” After a lengthy trip studying farming techniques in more than a dozen countries—witnessing both good and bad practices—Clayton took a class with Dr. Elaine Ingham, a renowned soil biologist and author of the USDA’s Soil Biology Primer, and wound up working and studying further with Dr. Ingham at the Rodale Institue, where she was chief scientist at the time. After earning a certificate as a soil ecology specialist via the Rodale Institute, Clayton continued his journey as a soil consultant along the California coast.
You can sense Clayton’s passion when he talks about soil biology. “Dirt is dead—but the soil is alive. That’s our goal: living soil. With regular dirt, you put fertilizers on there and it goes into the plant and it can only take so much. If you have living soil biology within that soil, there's basically a microcosmos of activity going on there—it’s the bottom of the food pyramid. Protozoa, fungi, micro arthropods, macro arthropods, worms, the whole gamut of biology that are eating and living and procreating and creating a fertilizer that feeds the plants. When you have this living soil, and you put this kind of fertilizer on plants or in the soil, the biology and the minerals make the nutrients more readily available for the plant to uptake into their system and grow faster, healthier and more abundantly.”
When Clayton met JR Richardson, Goldenseed’s master grower and COO, he was immediately inspired by JR’s knowledge and heritage of growing cannabis according to the most natural and organic principles. JR brought Clayton in to develop a soil microbiology program specifically tailored to the cannabis plants he’d be growing at Goldenseed. “The first thing we did is we went up to JR’s house, which is up in the woods, and we went out and to the part of the forest that was the healthiest little spot and grabbed handfuls of the native soil biology. And then we brought it back to the farm here and we composted it all down. And then we went a step further and we fed it to our worms. When you feed your regionally sourced compost to your worms, it goes through their bodies, it collects all kinds of enzymes and protozoa and fungi and bacteria, then their body spits it out, and then we feed that to our plants and it makes them grow really well.”
Clayton loves these worms, no question about it. “We have red wiggler worms—16,000 pounds of them! We feed them a lot of compost, and they’re happy. It’s animal husbandry, where we take care of them every day. I’m always checking: are they fed, are they watered, are they protected? And they are. We have a really good spot for them. And we have happy, healthy worms. You have happy, healthy worms, you have happy, healthy vermicompost and you have happy, healthy plants.”
Once the worms have eaten the locally-sourced compost, Clayton and the Goldenseed farm team take it a step further, brewing a “compost tea” that’s like liquid gold for growing the strongest, most resilient plants. “We take the vermicompost to our biology brewer, and we take all that goodness that's in a handful of vermicompost—all the protozoa and microbes in that whole microcosmos of soil—and we put that into a liquid form where the microbes are able to procreate and then we feed that to the plants. That has a natural reaction of bringing the sugar levels in the plant up. So the plants have a stronger immunity against diseases and pests. For example mites—they don’t have a pancreas. They can’t process sugar. So they’ll smell the healthy plant and say ‘nope, not this plant’ and fly on to the next one.”
Composting and soil biology is much more than a job to Clayton. It’s way of life that reflects his desire to heal the earth, starting with the soil. “Vermicompost was made from waste—waste that was going to be put into a landfill. And we have a theory of ‘waste to gold’ with waste being an analogy between life and trauma and waste is the things we're discarding. It’s about taking that and nurturing it, giving it the love, the moisture, the attention, and turning it into something that's has a full spectrum of life. And that's what we do. Soil biology. It's that simple. We take waste and make something good out of it. That's the theory. Waste to gold.”