It’s 5 a.m. in Sonoma County, Calif., and the sun has not yet risen. But Fabian (who requested that his last name be omitted from this article) is already out on his ranch starting the long day’s work on his cannabis crops.
As owner of Trinacria Gardens, Fabian operates an outdoor grow, plus two 800-square-foot greenhouses for cannabis production and two other greenhouses of approximately the same size that he uses for his nursery stock of genetics, as well as for the vegetative stage. Also, through his partners at Chroncierge, a Los Angeles-based cannabis lifestyle brand with a mission to connect members with high-end cannabis, Fabian will be able to expand Trinacria Gardens throughout the California recreational system.
He works side-by-side with his sister, who has been Fabian’s inspiration for creating clean, safe medicine. “[My sister], who has suffered from an immune deficiency for years, has always been my inspiration and motivation. I saw the quality of 'medicine' on the market and the environments where this 'medicine' was being cultivated and something had to be done. The thought of my closest friend and sibling ingesting cannabis with hopes to give her a better quality of life, to then have that cannabis be infected with pathogens or cultivated with pesticides was sickening.”
Aside from helping his sister, Fabian’s primary mission is to serve U.S. combat veterans, whom he says he can relate to in a sense, since he developed post-traumatic stress disorder himself after serving a prison term for marijuana possession and from, as he describes it, “a very dishonorable life.”
“I set out to breed genetics that could help our U.S. combat veterans coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq, who were mentally broken and physically wounded, so I went to work creating terpene-specific cultivars to treat social anxieties, facial tics and night terrors, and to this day that is still ... the only reason why I do what I do,” he says.
Fabian officially launched Trinacria Gardens in 2013. After being a commercial grower in Humboldt County and the Bay Area, he says, “when I moved to the Bay Area, I saw how collectives were beginning to start carrying products that were branded, and I knew that I had something special, but it needed to be branded. … It just needed to become an actual business. Because I'm Sicilian, I wanted to pay homage to my heritage, and Trinacria is the ancient symbol and name for Sicily. Hence, Trinacria Gardens.”
While Trinacria has no employees, Fabian is happy to keep it a “family business,” he says, founded with help from his parents, and besides his sister, who helps him with all aspects of breeding and production, he is accompanied on the ranch by his best friend of seven years. Also, a close friend in Colorado continues to assist with breeding projects and diversifying their genetic library.
Fabian’s story is one of a devoted farmer with a focused mission from which he refuses to waiver, even with recreational cannabis now legal in The Golden State. His passion for the plant and for helping his sister and combat veterans drives him to keep toiling long after the sun sets.
In this candid interview, Guest Interviewer Alaina Austin, also a California cannabis breeder and owner of Greenfire Genetics, talks with Fabian about his business and its challenges, his cultivation practices, why he’s thrown away some 500 lbs. of cannabis over the past two years, and his views on a legal cannabis industry that is about to see massive change.
Alaina Austin: How many dispensary clients do you have?
Fabian: Zero. But as 2017 approaches, we are ready to take our farm-based products to market. The patients I do have are U.S. combat vets. I work heavily with organizations like the Weed for Warriors Project to make sure any excess finances that we may have … go to our vets. Through Chroncierge, on the other hand, we are in a growing number of Southern California collectives and ... working our way up through Northern California.
Austin: California is said to be a particularly challenging market for cultivators. Are you able to make a profit and a sustainable living?
Fabian: I've been doing this 10 years full time, I've never made a profit. I don't drive a fancy car [or] live in a fancy house. … And like I said, any profit we may make, we make sure that that profit is donated throughout the year.
Austin: Regarding selling cannabis for medical uses in California's competitive market, what is your philosophy on product quality?
Fabian: The California market, especially L.A. and the Bay Area markets, are some of the most difficult to tackle, especially when you're dealing with a “hype craze” of … what the market wants to purchase. … Because my focus is breeding specific terpene profiles that have been geared toward our U.S. combat veterans … I don't fit the genre of what everyone else would want, and it becomes difficult to tap that market.
But I can probably say that 75 percent of the things I cultivate and produce do not go to market because they do not meet my standards. I cultivate in a raw organic, hydroponic manner because it is the safest way for me to ensure there are no microbiological issues.
My sister is always at the forefront of my mind when I’m cultivating, and I need to ensure that I'm cultivating the safest medicine for immunodeficient patients to consume, and if I can't do that, then it is destroyed. I've thrown away probably 500, 600 pounds in the last two years.
Austin: What is your biggest competitive advantage in such a competitive market?
Fabian: I can't say that I have a competitive edge, … but what I can say is that I try to be as authentic as I can, I try to share my failures more than my successes, and I try to lead by example.
Austin: What would you say is your biggest challenge as a cannabis cultivator/business owner?
Fabian: … Producing something that is going to go to market successfully; and I don't mean cultivating good medicine, I mean cultivating something that someone wants to purchase, because, at the end of the day, bringing your product to market is the ultimate goal.
But if you don't have what the California market wants, that becomes difficult, and you struggle as a breeder and as a farmer [with] what your mission is as a person and as a company.
Austin: Do you intend to serve the recreational market?
Fabian: I was very publicly outspoken about being against Prop 64. One thing that should be clarified is that I … think cannabis should be legal. I don't think that somebody like myself should be sentenced to a four-year prison term for possessing under an ounce of marijuana. It's ridiculous. But I also think that there's a way it should be done.
… A lot of us have families, some of us have spent decades trying to succeed in this industry, and I understand and sympathize with people's desire to ensure they have security for their family. But I will not sell out my own story or break my moral codes of conduct to do so. I walked away from many projects this year because the ethical standards did not make me feel comfortable as a patient or as a farmer, and I will continue to do that.
I am not here for the recreational market – I am here for our U.S. combat veterans – but I am prepared to face it alongside my partnering with Chroncierge.
Austin: Do you produce any concentrates?
Fabian: I currently do not produce any solvent concentrates. Again, I am a breeder and a farmer. … I don't know how to work with carbon gases, and I think that needs to be left to people … who have the training to do so. As far as the solventless, of course, we make some of our own flower rosin or hash, but normally just for our own personal use.
Austin: How many different cultivars do you grow, and do you breed your own? Any particular strains you are most proud of?
Fabian: Between myself, my sister and our Colorado counterpart, we have created all of our genetics, but I do cultivate clone-only varieties as well. Climate willing, I try to grow as many of my own genetics as I can. The two strains that I initially came out with are known as Enzo’s Kush and Hollister. Both cultivars were specifically created for the symptoms of PTSD. Enzo’s Kush was created to support proper sleep and battle night terrors. Hollister was created to help aid with daytime symptoms of PTSD.
I bred Hollister six years ago … specifically for our U.S. combat veterans with facial tics and social anxieties. I personally needed a way that I could function day to day facing the world, and I knew the selfless men and women who serve our great nation needed the same assistance. It's been a staple in my genetics. I'm very proud of it, and I hope in 2017 it gets to hit the market in a large way that everyone could benefit from it.
Austin: That's awesome. What types of lighting do you use in various growth stages?
Fabian: I've tested all kinds of lights, both in the agriculture and cannabis worlds. I believe that if you can cultivate cannabis outside in a mixed-light greenhouse, this is where you will achieve the most superior product.
Austin: I agree with you. What is your growing medium and why did you choose it?
Fabian: I have cultivated cannabis in every media you can think of, whether that's a living soil, native soil, organic, substrate culture, NFT [nutrient film technique] hydroponics, or deep water culture. ... After the last 10 years cultivating full time and attending college for Organic Food Production, I think I've come to a safe place for me, where I feel like I'm getting the most consistency from my product, I'm getting the highest production, and I'm keeping it – again, the most important thing is safe medicine. So today I cultivate with substrate culture, or hydroponics.
… It is what you would call a soil-less media — mostly just coco coir, some peat moss, a bit of perlite and a tad of earthworm castings for organic matter in the beginning. For the last six years I have faithfully used a fertilizer product called Heavy 16 — a fertigation regiment consisting of premium, refined, organic source ingredients with complex formulation micro-batch brewed for artisan quality. It builds optimum tissue integrity to resist pest and fungus, and to accumulate vigorous mass and photosynthetic carbohydrates for ultimate plant health.
Austin: What is the biggest issue you face or that you see facing the legal cannabis producer in California?
Fabian: I think it comes down to this: This industry has been thriving underground for 40 years. Our foundation was built by outlaws, rebels and risk-takers. People have risked their lives, their families, their freedom, even fitting in with society. … This risk was taken for generations. I mean you are, what, a third-generation farmer?
Fabian: I'm a first-generation cannabis farmer. You're a third-generation cannabis farmer. … So we fight the fight, through generations we paid our dues, did the prison time. We're the ones that got to work out all the kinks over 20 years of Proposition . ... Now it's to the legal market. I'm all for that. … But here's my problem: You can’t lock us up all these years, fine us, put us on probation and parole, strip families apart for decades, and then one day come in, monopolize it for your own, and dictate “if, where and who" gets to participate in an industry we founded.
I feel there needs to be a coalition of grassroots farmers, standing together, helping write these laws hand-in-hand with the government. I'm not against the regulation and taxation of our industry. ... I'm trying to be a productive, tax-paying American citizen just like my grandfather was when he built the family business. It's no different. I want to play by the rules ..., but the rules have to be fair.
California started this movement, California paid the price for this movement, and California should help lead the movement. I think, in time … you will see grassroots cannabis take a hold of the reins in California again. … And until [then], we're going to see a lot of failure, a lot of hiccups and a lot of revolving changes for the next four to five years.