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Humboldt Stories: The Family Farmhouse

July 20, 2012   ·   0 Comments

It’s not Weeds, it’s real.

By Sharon Letts

The property manager broke it to her gently. The house she grew up in, the home she hoped would one day help her through retirement was damaged by a grow operation she knew nothing about. Of course, the property management people didn’t know either. No one knew.

“That’s how it is,” she thought as she drove through her own neighborhood. “All of these homes could be grow houses. You really can’t tell.”

It had been sometime since she had seen her own neighbors in the town of Arcata. The blinds were always drawn on many of the homes, and the dog that used to bark at all hours next door seemed to be gone now.  Cars came and went, but it just wasn’t the same.

Used to be she knew all her neighbors. They’d have barbecues and watch each other’s kids. But, the kids were gone now and her friend who used to chat with her over the fence had moved away too.

The nice couple she rented to had been in the house for more than two years, but she now knew that no one had been living there the entire time.

“What do you mean, no one really lives there,” she had asked her property manager. “The house has four bedrooms.”

“Four grow rooms,” the manager corrected her, “but the living and dining rooms were used for processing.”

Doty pulled into the driveway and found the workers already hauling out cheap vinyl flooring that had been covering the floors throughout the house. This was actually a good thing, the manager had told her, as it saved the hardwood floors beneath. “Well, that’s nice,” she had said at the time. Seeing the damage up close was a different story.

The farmhouse sat on 10 acres. It had been in her family since her grandfather planted his first apple seed on the property at the turn of the century. He came from Italy via San Francisco and planted many varieties over the years – varieties not found today in the county.

There had been apples growing on the property up until a few years ago – long after her grandmother passed, long before renters let it go. But the trees hadn’t been cared for in some time now. She was hoping the new couple would bring life back into the old place, but she had to remind herself, no one was living there. It was just another grow house… but, it was also her family home.

She walked through the living room and paused. There was trash in the fireplace,  holes in the walls, and debris everywhere. A man was there walking with her, but she barely heard his explanations of the damage as she remembered happier times.

She saw herself propped up on her grandfather’s lap, as he read aloud to her by that same fireplace, its warmth filling the room. She could still remember the sound of her grandmother singing softly to herself in the kitchen, rolling out dough – the smell of pie-baking-goodness warmed the house as much as the fire.

But now the house was cold, dirty and in need of repair. Tears filled her eyes as she listened to the laundry list of damage.

“They cut the walls out to rewire the electrical,” he said moving down the hallway. Doty followed in silence, barely able to take in all the damage. “This is where they hung the lights,” he said motioning to the ceiling full of holes, old wiring, wooden planks, and empty hooks.

The room where her father was born had been a drying room. Fishing line was tied from one end of the room to the other, with the debris of the industry everywhere.

The bathroom sink and bathtub were filthy and Doty noted, “It’s as if they had never been cleaned.”

“They haven’t,” the man replied. “Why should they? No one was living here. They were just making money, ma’m. Nothing but fertilizer and insecticide went down those drains.”

“Why do they do this?” she asked, despairingly.

“Well, ever since the feds started the camps in the woods folks have been growing inside,” the man said nonchalantly. “There’s nothing like a helicopter flying overhead to get people inside and tucked away. The problem is no sun in here.”

Doty’s heart sank. “What’s it going to cost to get everything back to normal?” she asked.

“Hard to say… 10… 20,000 or more,” he offered. “The last house we worked on was worse. At least you still have your appliances and hardware, most take all that out.”

Doty looked around once more and went outside. The orchard was still standing; maybe there was hope again for this old place, but her future retirement plans looked bleak.


Editor’s note: Sharon Letts began her love of gardening in Southern California by her mother’s side, watching as she buried fish heads at the base of roses.

At 24, Sharon hung her shingle, “Secret Garden,” planting flower beds for dainty ladies. Gardening led to producing and writing for television with “Secret Garden Productions.”

Today Sharon makes her home in Humboldt County, cannabis capitol of the world, where she continues to write about gardening and all that implies, advocating for the bud, and writing for many magazines, including Toke of the Town.

Her series, “Humboldt Stories,” is a fictional account, based on fact, of the Humboldt grow scene. Tag line: “It’s not Weeds, it’s real.”

With her partner, Craig Carroll, they pen “Road Trip: In Search of Good Medicine,” touring the Golden State, following the green rush.

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