CannaBiz Journal recently visited Farmer Tom’s farm to speak with Farmer Tom about his contributions to Washington’s BHO concentrate laws, how he came to the cannabis industry—including work and safety in the industry, and how he has contributed to setting the standards for that as well.
Farmer Tom credits his wife for bringing him into the cannabis industry. “I got into the industry through my wife. She was part of one of the first collective gardens in San Diego. I was out getting my friends and neighbors to vote for proposition 215. It passed, and during that time a lot of people came out in the early days and they were getting arrested by the different municipalities because they weren’t honoring health and safety codes,” said Tom, to set the scene.
Farmer Tom went on to explain that more cannabis growers were banding together in what came to be known as collectives, or co-ops. “So we bound together and started a collective called “the Shelter From The Storm,” like the Bob Dylan song. We figured if we all got together we had a better chance of not getting arrested. Our collective was more like a “real” collective,” said Tom.
What he meant when he identified the collective as “real” was that in order to become a member you had to contribute by buying a grow light or other equipment, and spend time helping with the grow. Farmer Tom figured that they always had enough to go around, until the collective was raided on July 6, 1999.
Tom can only guess that it must have been a complaint or something as trivial that led the police to the collective. “I think somebody must have complained and officers showed up and saw the plants, and from there they invited the Sergeant over and sniffed it out and busted us. During that time my now wife and wonderful partner saved my life. We had pagers and cordless phones, so back then the media was our only real defense. When the media was on a situation it kind of kept everybody in check, and they were there within five minutes,” said Farmer Tom.
The media ensured that everybody played by the rules for fear of scrutiny under the public eye.
Due to the exposure by the media, the case caught NORML’s attention and they provided lawyers. Tom’s collective went before the city council after that and the city gave the equipment back to the collective.
After some bouncing around between jobs in Oregon, Farmer Tom ended up at his farm in Vancouver, Washington. At this farm that Tom hosted forums on extraction, as well as health and safety in the cannabis industry.
“We worked with KOMO News and did, probably, the only pro-BHO extract demonstration forum; they asked me to do it when the state was getting together to write their laws. The media at the time were really thinking that BHO was the only kind of extract. So we gave them a four- or five-hour symposium of all the different types of [concentrates],” said Tom. The laws were originally only going to allow concentrates in medibles, but the forum that Tom held convinced those writing the laws that they needed to tax and regulate other concentrates as well.
Another forum that Farmer Tom held involved federal agents from the Center of Disease Control (CDC) as well as agents from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA), who visited his farm in order to test the strains of the cannabis industry in health and safety. The agents and Tom were originally slated to tour different cannabis businesses and monitor health and safety at those locations, but that didn’t check out with the federal government, so they designated Farmer Tom’s farm a “secure location” where the agents felt comfortable handling, touching, and learning about cannabis. Tom had to be vetted by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in order for this to work.
The agents came with monitoring equipment in October, during harvesting and processing.
“So over three days we had 10 plants in here. The first day, they hooked us up to different monitors for things like black mold ... endotoxins and things like that, as well as dust,” said Farmer Tom. “The first day we harvested and then the second day we did all the bucking, taking the nugs off of large stems. So we kept it compartmentalized. The third day was trimming—machine and hand trimming.”
The agents hooked Tom and his crew up to a “Cyber Glove,” with which they collected repetitive motion—to see how much wear and tear goes into trimming—so that they can advise on how to make this workplace safer. Because it was a federal evaluation, other states’ agencies, such as California OSHA, used the standards that were found at Tom’s Farm.
Overall, Farmer Tom has helped complete the first ever “Health and Hazard Evaluation” report for the cannabis industry; you can find the evaluation published on the CDC website.
Farmer Tom now works on his farm, developing his brand and putting together new concepts for the cannabis industry that will help ensure quality and standards, much like his project with CDC and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Currently, Farmer Tom is creating a scoring system that can measure quality. He calls it “Farmer Tom’s Honest Cannabis 0-100 Point System.” The system is aimed at making the recreational cannabis market more transparent, and will allow the customer to be able to easily identify the products that they want.