San Francisco has a new farmers market just for cannabis

There’s a new type of farmers market in San Francisco, but instead of buying fruits and vegetables, customers get to buy a famous California crop that is best enjoyed smoked.

This market is dedicated entirely to cannabis.

The new monthly event takes place at one of two downtown San Francisco dispensaries: Moe Greens on Market Street and Barbary Coast on Mission Street. The showcases allow customers to learn about dozens of different cannabis strains directly from the farmers who grow them.

Last month, I visited the farmers market at Moe Greens for the second time. I’d been once before and was so impressed by the experience that I wanted to go again to confirm it wasn’t a fluke. It’s definitely the real deal: During both of my visits, I discovered mind-blowing pot, from weed that smelled so sweet and citrusy that I thought I was smelling fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice to a strain that was as rich as strawberries and cream.

I would have never found these strains without visiting the market. Both were grown by family-owned, boutique farms that struggle to get customers to notice their pot in California’s $5 billion legal cannabis market. Looking for this type of weed in most pot shops is like trying to find locally grown radicchio at a corner store.

The farmers market is the brainchild of Susan Tibbon, who teamed up with the owners of Barbary Coast and Moe Greens to create the “meet the farmers” series. Tibbon owns a cannabis topical brand called Lovingly & Legally with her partner Paul Hasbury. Their business and their farming partners were thriving in California’s medical market, Tibbon told me, but since California legalized recreational cannabis in 2016, they’ve noticed how the ensuing regulations make it almost impossible to support small-scale pot farming.

Tibbon said she’s been organizing the farmers market events to try to connect small farms with new customers. She’s responsible for organizing which farms participate, and each month, she brings in about a half-dozen farmers to set up booths with jars filled with their weed, ready to be smelled and enjoyed.

“Everybody kept saying we need to do something for the small farmers, so we decided to do something,” Tibbon told SFGATE. “These are the real pioneers of the industry that get their hands dirty to make the genetics and the future of cannabis possible.”

At one of the recent Moe Greens markets, I felt like I’d found the future of cannabis when I smelled a strain called Forbidden Fruit, grown by Perrin Family Farm in Mendocino County. I was walking by the brand’s table when Russell Perrin, the farmer behind the one-man operation, asked me if I wanted to check out some of his pot. He opened up a mason jar, and as I leaned my nose in, I immediately knew I was going to buy some. The scent was sweet and sour like grapefruit, with some pine notes mixed in. It was that rare type of weed that’s so pungent that it smells artificial, but it’s just really good organic pot grown outdoors in one of California’s world-famous growing regions.

After I walked over to the sales counter at Moe Greens and bought some Forbidden Fruit, I rolled myself a joint of my new favorite flower. You can smoke what you purchase at these markets because the events take place in a consumption lounge. I used some of the lounge’s complimentary rolling papers, took a hit and smiled. Forbidden Fruit didn’t just smell good; the grapefruit came through clearly in the flavor of the smoke, a rare feat for even the best weed.

As I smoked my joint, I saw Perrin and the other farmers win over a bunch of new customers.

I saw a construction worker, still wearing his reflective jacket, take a whiff of Perrin’s Forbidden Fruit. His eyes immediately lit up. Three young women walked by, and after Perrin told them to smell the strain, one yelled, “That’s f-king wild!”

Across the room at Sun Roots Farm‘s table, I watched owner and farmer Forrest Gauder show off a strain of cannabis that had beautiful purple buds and the fruity aroma of ripe papaya. He called it Magu’s Fruit, and he was showing it to another customer, Amber Belasco, as I walked up. “Isn’t she pretty?” Belasco asked me, referring to the cannabis flower.

Belasco told me she loves interacting with growers at these events.

“I like coming to Moe’s just for an after-work dab, and when I’m lucky enough to interact with a grower, I’m all about it,” Belasco told me. “… It’s just a really nice way to connect with people who are creating the cannabis that I love to enjoy.”

On the other side of the room, I watched as Phil Crew showed off eight different jars of what he called his “R&D projects” from his Mendocino Family Farm, which he owns and runs with his wife and two daughters. He opened each one and passed them to me so I could smell them, handing me a jar of GMO Cookies that reeked of garlic (yes, cannabis can smell like garlic) and then a sweet jar of Grapes and Cream that left me literally cheering.

Crew told me he’s been growing cannabis for more than 40 years and that he’d even risked his life because he was so passionate about the plant. In 1985, he was arrested in Calaveras County and charged with a felony for growing what the county said was $10 million worth of weed. He was convicted and spent a year in jail. When he got out, he came right back to growing cannabis. “There’s no one that I know that has such a love for this plant,” he told me.

Crew has the type of pot, and the origin story, that you think would be wildly successful in California. He won a gold medal last year at the California State Fair. But he said it’s been a struggle to stay in business in the state’s recreational market, where small farms are not legally allowed to sell their products directly to consumers. That means these boutique farmers have to compete with other companies worth as much as $100 million just to get shelf space at legal dispensaries. Imagine if Budweiser could block your local craft brewery from being able to sell its beer to you – that’s what’s happening with legal weed in California.

“This [GMO Cookies strain] sells itself. You would be out of your mind not to buy it. But it’s hard for me to get it into the stores, because so many people are trying to get into the stores that you get overlooked really easily,” Crew told me.

I have to admit that I, too, had overlooked Crew’s weed. I had never heard of it before I attended the farmers market. But he convinced me, so I purchased some and brought it home with me. It was flavorful and potent in a fun, enjoyable way. And it felt more special than my normal weed-buying experience, like I was making a squash soup with kabocha I had purchased directly from a farmer – showing that even in California’s massive and usually anonymous weed market, there’s still room for connecting directly with the person who grew your cannabis.

Tibbon said she’s already seen customers returning to the events month after month. (The next event is scheduled for March 24 from 2 to 7 p.m. at Barbary Coast.) In particular, she said, market-goers appreciate the opportunity to support small-scale farmers who are growing environmentally friendly cannabis. “I’ve already talked to three people who said ‘we’re happy to see you guys are back [with another event],'” she told me at the Moe Greens market. “We want to buy weed from these people who are farming sustainably.”

Lester Black