On the morning of September 5th, cannabis farmer Enosh Baker received a phone call. It was the manager of his family's farm, The Mighty Lichen, in Yuba County, California. "I have some really terrible news, Christian "Dirt" Adams told Baker, "You'd better sit down for this. Someone broke into the farm and cut down our entire crop."
Baker learned that the previous night an unknown number of saboteurs had infiltrated the property and cut down the lower branches of every one of his cannabis plants, effectively destroying the crop and jeopardizing the future of the farm.
The only recorded theft was a meager pound of marijuana from the drying barn on the property.
This was not robbery or racketeering. It was a blatant act of terror. Baker told Konbini:
"This kind of thing is very bold. In the county, it’s not just young people growing. There are Korean War veterans. My neighbors are former Seals. They were taking a massive risk and why? Just to mess with someone?"
Now, Baker and the farm are facing financial ruin. He has already had to lay off multiple workers and faces massive debt with unpaid mortgages and land taxes. Like any farmer, Baker’s foreseeable future was tied up in the successful harvest of his cannabis crop. And now it’s gone.
Baker is kicking himself for not being present during the raid. He had taken his dog, Sirius, to his parents' house in the Bay Area to escape a heat wave in the foothills. Sirius acted as a faithful sentry who may have detected the saboteurs, who took advantage of the full moon to carry out the raid.
But Baker also points to other systematic shortcomings in the politics of Yuba County that opened the farm up to an attack.
An homage to the multiple
Yuba County sits nestled in the foothills of the Northern Sierra Nevada range. The fertile land situated along the Yuba and Feather rivers was an ideal site for the indigenous people who settled in and later attracted white prospectors during the Gold Rush.
It was among the first sovereign territories that would eventually become the state of California in 1850.
Much like the ecology of the land itself, the Yuba County community is a diverse yet loose assortment of commercial farmers, evangelical Christians, doomsday preppers, combat veterans and, more recently, cannabis cultivators.
In 2012, Baker and his family purchased 80 acres after a county ordinance had legalized the cultivation of up to 99 marijuana plants. The legislation immediately caught the eye of Baker, a lifetime agriculturalist with a degree in wildlife biology.
For Baker, this represented more than a money play – it was a deeply seeded desire to build something different.
He never envisioned a drug empire. In addition to cannabis, Baker’s land was yielding an extensive range of food and medicine that the fertile valley was capable of producing.
It was also an inclusive social experiment. In the barn, he hosted a residency for artists seeking studio space in a safe, quiet environment. He also hosted interns from UC Davis who brought goats to study their application in forestry projects.
The ultimate goal of an agricultural "polyculture" entailed a system where all agricultural components were interrelated – humans included. The mission statement of the farm speaks to this diversity:
"The Mighty Lichen is an homage to the multiple. It is both a farm and a laboratory, an art residency and a forest, an idea and a chimera."
However, being involved in the weed industry requires adept knowledge and awareness of the risks associated with cannabis cultivation.
Baker proceeded with his project and – because there were no large commercial growing operations in the county – he felt pretty confident his business would not encounter the aggressive, and sometimes violent, cannabis industry that has emerged in Mendocino county, among others, in Northern California.
Cannabis wars = culture wars
Baker describes rural Yuba county as a "tight-knit community." He has a good rapport with all his neighbors despite their differing politics and perspectives. However, Baker and his cohort stood out in a significant way.
"We're a colorful crew of people out here... This farm is really proud of creating a workplace that is inclusive of people with disabilities like my farm manager Christian 'Dirt' Adams, who has epilepsy, to people of color like myself and my grounds manager, Walter Johnson. And we choose to hire women because frankly, they should be running shit, not men."
And it's possible these benevolent politics might have factored into the devastating criminal sabotage of his marijuana crop. One particularly violent incident was certainly a catalyst.
On August 1st, a dispute at the Oregon House – a Rastafarian Church and grow operation in Yuba – between the landowners and a lone intruder ended in a lethal shootout between local law enforcement and the trespasser. The suspect, Mark Anthony Sanchez, was gunned down and Sheriff deputies sustained injuries in the exchange. The incident provoked outrage in the conservative members of the Yuba County community.
In an August 23rd article, Lou Binninger, a staff writer for the Territorial Dispatch, decried the criminality of cannabis cultivation and actually printed the names and addresses of most growers in the county – including the Mighty Lichen.
Leading the charge was a local conservative activist, Clarence "Buck" Weckman, the head of FACT – Families Against Cannabis Trafficking. More outraged citizens quickly took to Facebook, posting Google Maps aerial shots and locations of various cannabis farms – including the Mighty Lichen.
Several weeks later, the farm was infiltrated and its cannabis crop destroyed.
A classic bait and switch
Baker attributes the act to a broader injustice that has deep roots in Yuba County and California alike. Cannabis cultivators like himself were essentially invited to invigorate the failing local economy with a new source of revenue, only to be abruptly cast out in a wave of fear and retaliation.
New legislation threatened Baker’s livelihood even before the raid. In the depths of the 2016 drought, the county board of supervisors released an emergency ban on cannabis cultivation leaving the onus on farmers and cultivators to figure out how to survive.
"It was a classic bait and switch. They essentially used us to sink money into the county infrastructure and now they’re forcing us out."
The county board of supervisors shut their doors to cannabis growers as quickly as they opened them. This year the Canna Law Group deemed Yuba County "not a good place for a cannabis business." But as Baker can attest to, it is more than business that suffers in an environment hostile to marijuana. After all, the goal was always community, not profit. And suddenly that community had turned against him:
"The reason they gave the public was that they had not properly vetted the situation and came to the conclusion that it was too much of nuisance. They cited completely nonexistent or vague incidences of 'loud music' and 'pitbulls.' It was totally insane. I felt like I was watching Footloose..."
Baker is unclear where to go next. He already has robust local support from the medicinal marijuana community in the Bay Area, but, as any farmer knows, the cost of losing a bumper crop is nothing short of catastrophic.
Despite all the hurdles, the Mighty Lichen remains hopeful: "The new goal is to start Yuba County's first green-friendly "bud and breakfast," grow food, and to continue to be radically inclusive."