A Visit to the Dream Farm
The family of four pull up in their station wagon. They look like a “typical” middle class family; clean cut and casually dressed for a warm Sunday afternoon.
The father helps the two daughters from the car and they begin to stroll up the hill through the fields of fully grown plants. The flowers of these plants are aromatic and beautiful, and the family stops many times to smell them and to comment along the way. At the top of the hill is a large tent where one can buy a variety of products made from these plants: Clothing, beer, noodles, edible seeds, oils, vinegars, salves, essential oils, etc.
The plant, of course, is cannabis.
Off to the left is another, smaller tent where hemp ice cream and hemp burgers are sold. Right behind them is a fifty-foot high observation tower, great for getting a panoramic view of the twelve acre cannabis farm.
The father buys some hemp beers for himself and his wife, gives the kids money for hemp ice cream, and sits down at the picnic table to manicure the cannabis bud they picked out from the field. It is a beautiful, sunny day, and the air is filled with sounds of children’s laughter.
Does this sound a bit like a saccharin-filled fairy tale?
Before you answer, I should tell you that the above scene is not the product of my imagination, but is in fact occurring right before my very eyes. The perfect family, the laughter, the cannabis plants. . . the whole bit. I’m just taking notes.
I’m in Litzistorf, Switzerland, about 20 kilometers outside of Bern, on a storybook farm called Cannabioland. At Cannabioland, they grow cannabis. Legal Cannabis.
Thanks to the determination of Shirin Patterson of the Swiss Hemp Trading Company, cannabis is free to be grown in Switzerland without government restriction or control. Four years ago Ms Patterson uncovered the fact that Switzerland has never outlawed the cultivation of cannabis, a fact which was somehow lost on Swiss farmers for the last few decades.
It’s a peculiar feeling to walk through such huge fields of cannabis and know that I don’t have to be paranoid. No ducking and covering at the sound of passing cars or low-flying planes. No suspicious eyeing of those who pass me on the path. In fact, those who pass me on the path are more often than not the Cannabioland farmers, in the process of harvesting the plants that will eventually be turned into, among other things, the products available under the tent.
Helping with the Harvest
I’m visiting Switzerland specifically to help with the harvest. Since this is not strictly an industrial hemp crop, the plants must all be harvested by hand, as no equipment yet exists that is gentle enough to cut down cannabis without destroying the delicate buds. The plants must be cut from the field, transported to the barn – or the straw bale drying room built just for this year’s harvest – and hung up to dry. The straw bale is ventilated, so drying takes only about three days, as opposed to the three-week drying period in the barn.
After drying, the plants are clipped of their top colas and then stripped of the rest of their flowers. The bare stalks are left in piles to dry and will eventually be mulched for paper, animal bedding and building materials. The dried flowers are sold throughout Switzerland at varying prices, all substantially lower than any “street value” I’ve ever encountered. In a pharmacy in Zurich you can buy a 10 gram container of dried flowers for five Swiss Francs ($4.50cdn). Right over the counter!
For almost a month now I’ve been living on a Swiss farm, next to a marijuana field the size of a small town. When I first arrived, I was as fascinated by the tiny buds that had fallen by the wayside as I was with the six-foot plus plants that loomed in front of me.
“There’s a hundred dollars,” I’d say each time I picked up little scraps from the side of the path. When I kicked my shoes clean each day after coming in off the field, I’d look back at the resulting pile of weed and wince. “Another hundred dollars,” I thought, as I removed my shoes to keep from “littering” the house with the leaves that refused to be kicked off.
I stopped with the hundred dollar mantra during week two, when it occurred to me that I was actually in the midst of a field of plants that had found refuge from the War on Drugs. These refugees grew organically and in the open, not hidden amongst the corn or stuck in a closet and pumped full of fertilizer. The cannabis plant has been granted asylum in Switzerland, and is absolutely free – just as it should be.
That freedom is evident in the quality of the high produced from this year’s crop. It’s an organic, uplifting high- I’d go so far as to say spiritual – far more conducive to taking a walk in the sunshine than crashing on the couch.
The Land of the Free
Tomorrow I’m leaving the farm to return to my home in the United States. I’ll have to leave my work gloves here, because they are coated with enough resin to land me in jail for the rest of my life. My field working clothes will be dutifully cleaned and inspected tonight before I pack. I’ll turn each pocket inside out to make sure I don’t miss that one small seed that could ruin my whole life. My shoe soles will need to be scraped free of stubbornly impacted buds. I’ll probably have to leave my field sweater here, too, as it is just so pungent with the scent of cannabis that regular washing would probably not satisfy the dogs and customs police that await me as I return home.
While I’m waiting in that customs line, hoping to God that I haven’t overlooked a tiny speck of hemp on my sock so that I may be allowed back into the “Land of the Free” without incident, I’ll be thinking about that Swiss family relaxing at home. . . enjoying a pot of hemp tea.
Shirin Patterson and The Swiss Hemp Trading Company can be reached at 1831 La Lecherette, Switzerland, or Cannabioland at 3178 Bosingen, Switzerland; tel 26-497-9610
Barry Smith can be reached by email at [email protected]