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Farm Interview: Mason Family Farms

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@higherorigins Posted on Jan 23, 2024

We are happy to announce that we are partnering with Mason Family Farms alongside Maui Ben to assist them in scaling their nursery business and getting their clones to cultivators! Mason Family is a fantastic small farm, built on Ed Mason’s decades of adventures and experience with cannabis. The origins of this small farm are a fascinating story that we’re grateful to be able to help share.

On a beautiful Sunday morning in November we sat down with Ed Mason and his wife Alicia on their farm in Redwood Valley. 

What brought you into this industry, and how long ago was that?

In 1967 I graduated from high school in Naugatuck Connecticut, and came to California looking for opportunities. I went to Fullerton Jr. college, and moved around the area, first in Anaheim, then Newport, then Laguna. The first time I sold pot, I was going back East to visit home, so I bought half a brick of Mexican weed, and brought it home. I paid $35 in California and got about 1000$ back in Connecticut, and after that I decided that was a good way to make money. At that time, the pot was all bricks from Mexico. They used to pack it in Coca Cola or sugar water because they thought the sugar would stick it together and make it easier to compress- sometimes they would even drive a car over a box of it to compress it. It was all stems and powder but that's what we had back then. 

Ed (Left) sparks up with a friend in a VW van on a trip from Connecticut to California back in the day

I started bringing weed from California and selling it throughout Connecticut, New York, Wisconsin, and Milwaukee. That went on for 3-4 years, going back and forth across the country. I had a friend from Laguna called Joe who had just got out of jail in Mexico for smuggling hash oil. In prison he had checked himself into solitary to protect himself from the other inmates, for an entire year. The Mexicans respected him for that and asked him what he wanted, and instead of drugs or girls he wanted a jar of peanut butter- he was a Hare Krishna. His Mexican prison friends let him into a deal to bring a shipment of pot up to the US, and he brought me into the deal. It went well- the details are a story for another time, and we ended up with $150,000, but he unfortunately went out and bought hard drugs with his share, and OD’d before we could even spend it. It’s terrible, he was a great guy. 

After that we got into the Texas business, and even bought some peanut farms in that area. By this time our operation was much larger and they would send the pot up hidden in propane trucks, and we were moving thousands of pounds. Around that time sensemilla came out and it really increased the yields of the plants above what we were getting from the original seeded pot, up to 80/20 flower to leaf weight. We started moving it in boxes instead of pressed bricks around that time. We got really successful, and at one point we were running 5 trucks, which could move a thousand pounds a piece, and we covered most of the country for deliveries. We moved it in trucks with campers with no windows, and we never lost a load. 

We were doing well, and making a lot of money. One of our biggest clients we had was from Canada. He had a lot of money, and always paid in brand new bills in sequence, since he got them that way when he exchanged US and Canadian dollars at the border office. One of our guys got caught at the Canadian border doing a run for this client with cash in the headlight of his truck, and he gave up a few people on both sides of the border. After that, they knew who we were and chased us for 3 years. 

I was arrested in 1987, and went to jail in 1990. They went to my house in Idaho, but I wasn't there at the time. My neighbor watched them try to enter my property, and since we had 35 horses, we had electric fences, and the agents kept trying to climb through the electric fence and getting shocked and yelling. That was pretty funny, but I also feel bad for them, those shocks hurt! Eventually I negotiated a surrender in San Diego, and they came and got me. They said I would be able to come and go while they figured out my booking and charges but they lied, and instead I was locked in San Diego prison with the drunk people from Tijuana. At the time of my arrest, 52 people total who were involved were also arrested, even 2 border patrol agents who got caught because one of them left $150,000 in cash at his moms house. 

They took my property and money, but they allowed me to broker my own property sales, so we sat down with the DEA, FBI, US marshals, and the San Diego Police.  We negotiated and I kept my house, but these agencies all wanted the rest for their own profit. They sent me to a facility in Sheridan Oregon, where I spent 20 months, and then they moved me to Spokane Washington. While I was in jail, I separated from my wife. Three years was just too long, but we are back together now. I eventually worked out a deal to cut my 10 years on different charges down to 3. This is the funny part- for one part of the deal, they took 6 months off my sentence for that charge, but because of a technicality with other charges it eliminated my time served and they saved me 2 days total on that charge. Eventually, I was released on $1 million bail.  

When I got out of prison, I had no idea what to do, and my parole officer was terrible. I still had a beautiful house, and I remember one time when he came by for my check-in meeting, he sat in front of the big window in my house smiling and saying “I love taking people’s property away!” 

Around this time my friend called me from Carlsbad California and offered me a job. It was only $15 an hour, but their sales guy was leaving, so I ended up taking it and selling wireless equipment to communications companies. My friend had worked out a deal where we got 2% commission off the gross revenue over 20%. I ended up making $250-$300k a year doing sales, and eventually as the company evolved I ended up in control because the owner loved me. The company was bought alongside several others by a Florida investor, and our company was the only one of the group making money. They reorganized it and sold it again, but the new owners ran it into the ground. I got together with 3 other guys, bought the equipment, and worked out a partnership where we would sell to my connections if they ran the offices and infrastructure. I had an office in CA, and they wanted me to move but I stayed here, and turned the company around. We went from $1 million a year under the previous owner to $50 million a year. We did all the switching facilities and cell towers across all the Western states. I sold my portion to my partner Nick in 2005. 

I came to Humboldt, and bought a home near Fortuna with my wife to be near our son. We helped him with his pot farm and had agreements to grow with other farms. It was good for a while but then greedy people got involved and it wasn’t as good anymore, so we moved South to Redwood Valley, where we bought our current property full of Chardonnay grapes. We built some greenhouses around 2018 and have been selling since then as Mason Family Farms. 

Mason Family Farms today, amid the beautiful vineyards of Redwood Valley

What do you think is more important- genetics or growing skills?

It’s a mix of the two. I’d say genetics are 60 percent, and 40 percent are the qualifications of the person watching over the plant. Mainly if they know how to just leave the plant alone. There’s a million different ways to grow pot, but the plants need to be stressed a bit to do their best. Don’t mess with it, water it the same, and the plant will usually figure it out. 

If you could bring back one element of the industry from when you started, what would it be? 

I think reverting back to the days of OG, and those basic strains is the best way to go now. Most people don’t put effort into the strains, even though the genetics provide a lot of the value. Also keeping things clean, the industry would face less resistance if people ran their operations more cleanly. And everyone should have a good dog. We have Raja Khan, he’s always right next to me or Alicia. (Author’s note: Throughout the interview, Raja was happily sleeping on my foot, or bothering everyone in the room to be pet).

Raja Khan, on duty!

Do you have a signature strain variety and if so, what’s the story behind it?

One of the ones that’s gone well for us has been Gush Mints. It grows well, produces well, and sells well. We’re going to shift more towards what’s selling. There’s one called Blueberries that we like that's very sweet, and almost hallucinogenic. We’d like to bring back a lot of the older strains from the past as well.

A fresh batch of Ed’s favorite strain, Gush Mints

The legal market was advertised as safer for growers- have you found that to be true?

No. I haven’t found it to be safer. Sure, you feel safer to be able to leave your pot with people but then you can’t get it back. In town people are still getting robbed. In the south part of Ukiah, a few guys had an inventory of 600 pounds filled from all of the local farms. Someone pulled a gun on them, and they got away with it. The cops couldn't catch them even with all their helicopters and radios, we’re not sure how they got away. We also lost $250,000 from a distro, and we’ve only just gotten $80,000 back from them after years of trying. The biggest issue is finding trustworthy distributors who keep it all legal. It’s very difficult because things can change suddenly. This one guy I was working with was doing everything right, and then suddenly something changed, and suddenly it was taking him weeks instead of days to get things done. How distributors store and handle your pot is a problem as well. They can let it get hot and cold, store it wrong, or let it dry out if their storage is bad. 

What's the number one advice you’d give to a struggling farm at the moment?

Quality. I think that's what it's all about. If you have a good quality pound, that's what's important. If you’ve got that, you’ll beat the big guys every time. 

What makes the environment of your farm special, and does that affect how you grow?

There’s perfect growing pockets all over Mendocino county, over in Covelo, Boonville, and here in Redwood Valley. What strains you grow doesnt matter as much when you’re in an appellation like Mendocino County, it will grow everywhere. Our farm is nice and flat, and we have plenty of water, since it was already set up for grapes. We sell the grapes too, this year was a good year. 

Big colas in the Mason Family hoops

What’s a collaboration you’ve had that worked out, and what can other people in the industry learn from that experience?

We had a collaboration with a PHD nutrient scientist who was knowledgeable about growing orchids and tomatoes, and he was able to advise us in the use of pots and soil nutrients. He built us a soil nutrient mix that we had brought over from Massachusetts. His services were expensive, but that was in the early days where we were all still comfortable throwing money at things. I’m not sure I would recommend working with an advisor, they can be great, but you have to be careful that it’s worth it. There’s so many people who don’t have good intentions. For example, we had someone who came in who was promising us all these high yields. We paid him thousands and he just sat around and smoked and talked about his girlfriend, so we had to end that relationship.

Despite all the obstacles to success in this industry, what keeps you moving forward?

Simply put, to support the family. Growing offers freedom, and you get to work on your own property. It’s nice working with plants and green things, it’s very rewarding. 

What is your take on the difference and current market struggle of big money growers vs small growers in the industry?

I think that we’re gonna have to live with both. You’re not gonna get rid of the multimillion dollar investors from NY and Mexico and Asia, they can take some of the industry, but we can compete on quality and genetics they can’t get. 

Do you have any other interesting stories from over the years you’d like to share? 

We had a Chrysler 300 from 1980, a huge boat of a car, that we were transporting in. On one run, everything was supposed to be fine since we had the border patrol paid off, but we got a flat in Calexico at the border. The car was so overfilled that we had the suspension jacked up so it didn't look suspiciously low, but it was so hot and the car was so heavy, it sank into the blacktop!

Another time, a partner of mine went to pick up a car on the US side for a run across the border. He forgot the keys! He had to go back to Mexico to get them, but the car had sat too long and attracted police attention, so he got caught and served a year for that.

Ed today with his grandbabies. After all the experiences, Ed’s happy now! 

We would very much like to thank the Mason family for letting us tell their story. Currently, they are ramping up production of clones, which will be available through the Higher Origins marketplace in the near future. If you are interested in ordering clones from them, or selling your own product to wholesalers or retailers, consider joining Higher Origins and giving our Marketplace a try. If you'd like to support our ability to share stories like this one and expand our network faster, consider supporting us with a one time or recurring donation.

Thanks for reading, and we wish you a good year!

-The Higher Origins team

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