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A Family That Grows Together

With her son’s hand on her arm, Leah, owner of a Trinity County farm, presents her family’s crop.

A Rockwellian portrait of the new American farm.

Photography and story by David Henry

Editor’s Note: To protect the identities of the sources interviewed for this story, last names have been omitted and pseudonyms have been used.

Before sunrise, the house stirred. Two young boys sat at the dining room table as farm fresh eggs and sausage patties cooked on a cast iron skillet. Mason-jarred, raw milk from a neighboring farm was poured into glasses for the boys and coffee for the parents. By the time a rooster called out in the distance, the five-year-old and Jerry, his father, were off on their daily school and work-week commute down the mountain.

Leah, the mother, made her morning rounds, feeding the pigs, dogs, kittens, turkeys and chickens. As Leah headed back inside, she stopped to greet the international crew of trimmers as they rounded the orchard toward the driveway.

Onboard the trucks were two Australians, three Brazilians, one Spaniard and a Parisian. It was early autumn, harvest time was just a few weeks away and the crew of young men and women was set to spend the daylight hours pruning the story-high, story-wide marijuana plants rooted in the garden just up the road.

In the emerald triangle, which consists of Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties, family-style marijuana farms are not uncommon. This is a contradiction to what most may envision, vagabond-hippie-based operations, for example. However, life on these family farms mirrors that of small, traditional farms in the U.S. The cash crop is unorthodox. But factor out the crop and the lifestyles adequately resemble one another.

  • Jerry crouches in his medical marijuana garden in Trinity County, California.
    Jerry crouches in his medical marijuana garden in Trinity County, California.
  • Jerry walks with Leah's dog through his medical marijuana garden in Trinity County, California.
    Jerry walks with Leah's dog through his medical marijuana garden in Trinity County, California.
  • Young marijuana plants fill a room at Emerald Family Farms in Humboldt County, California.
    Young marijuana plants fill a room at Emerald Family Farms in Humboldt County.
  • Bryan, a grower with Emerald Family Farms, checks his indoor garden with a green LED headlamp as the plants "sleep" in Humboldt County.
    Bryan, a grower with Emerald Family Farms, checks his indoor garden with a green LED headlamp as the plants "sleep" in Humboldt County.
  • Elliot assembles a machine used to extract Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in Humboldt County, California. Elliot: “I am motivated by the healing potential of the plant. Personally, I am following through on a passion that was sparked by my mothers battle with cancer and my desire to find a way to heal oneself outside of western medicine.”
    Elliot assembles a machine used to extract Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in Humboldt County, California. Elliot: “I am motivated by the healing potential of the plant. Personally, I am following through on a passion that was sparked by my mothers battle with cancer and my desire to find a way to heal oneself outside of western medicine.”
  • Leah smokes a joint in her dining room in Trinity County, California. Leah is a medical marijuana patient. She has rods in her back and suffers chronic pain, the result of a life-changing injury.  She uses marijuana to alleviate her discomfort and finds that there are less side effects than prescription drugs.
    Leah smokes a joint in her dining room in Trinity County, California. Leah is a medical marijuana patient. She has rods in her back and suffers chronic pain, the result of a life-changing injury. She uses marijuana to alleviate her discomfort and finds that there are less side effects than prescription drugs.
  • Bryan and Jerry talk inside of an Emerald Family Farms greenhouse in Humboldt County, California.
    Bryan and Jerry talk inside of an Emerald Family Farms greenhouse in Humboldt County, California.
  • Bryan shows Jerry one of his signature strains in his greenhouse at Emerald Family Farms in Humboldt County, California.
    Bryan shows Jerry one of his signature strains in his greenhouse at Emerald Family Farms in Humboldt County, California.
  • Mike plucks leaves from a mature medical marijuana plant in Trinity County, California.
    Mike plucks leaves from a mature medical marijuana plant in Trinity County, California.
  • A beer and an American flag rest on a stool in the middle of a medical marijuana garden in Trinity County, California.
    A beer and an American flag rest on a stool in the middle of a medical marijuana garden in Trinity County, California.
  • The top colas of a large marijuana plant soak in the late afternoon sun in Trinity County, California.
    The top colas of a large marijuana plant soak in the late afternoon sun in Trinity County, California.

Many newcomers in the trade start as trimmers. During harvest season, trimmers looking for work line many of the public squares and main streets in the emerald triangle. According to Leah, they come from all over. The Midwest, the South, Europe, Australia and Vietnam are common locations of origin.

“We call them trimmigrants,” Leah said. “Many come here to work, fall in love and never leave.”

Other trimmers, like Mike, a Bay Area-based musician, traveled north for the harvest in order to make extra money and catch up with old friends. During Mike’s visit, he, Jerry and Leah spent evenings socializing, smoking, drinking local rum and eating meals comprised of fresh-picked ingredients from the garden.

One evening, Mike took it upon himself to subject Leah to the popular tastes of the outside world. He screened a number of popular music videos for her. Trap music, such as Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” and Sophia Grace’s “Best Friends” blared out of Mike’s smart phone. At the conclusion of Mike’s presentation, all Leah had to say was, “I am so happy I’m not raising a daughter.”

Will, a native of Australia, heads operations in Leah and Jerry’s medical marijuana garden. After starting out as a trimmer, he worked his way up through the ranks. He now handpicks the strains, fertilizers and workers for the farm.

Two of the trimmers working under Will, an Australian man and a Parisian woman, spoke of their dream of starting a farm in the south of France. The couple met in Barcelona and immigrated to Humboldt in search of work. While working, the trimmers occasionally passed the time by poking fun at their host country and imitating American accents.

“Why Bessie, it’s as American as apple pie,” the Parisian women drawled in a Southern-belle accent, while the men held up their Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and called out, “‘Murica! Fuck yeah!”

Their sarcastic patriotism could have easily sounded anti-American to an untrained ear, but there was no denying that they appreciated the opportunity that America provided.

“There’s no other place I’d rather be right now,” Will said.

The future for these farms is unclear. Growers in the emerald triangle have been preparing for the day that recreational use is legalized. The prospect of increased competition, supply, lower prices and demand makes legalization a serious economic matter for growers. Marijuana legalization initiatives are gaining momentum in California. In fact, Governor Brown recently signed three bills into California state law, that have been seen as stage setters for legalization. The reality that one of the initiatives will be on the November 2016 ballot has growers considering at least partial overhauls of their operations.

Jerry and Leah are taking steps to create a bed and breakfast, as well as a recording studio and mountain biking trails throughout their square mile of land. According to Jerry, hospitality would take priority in the family business but weed would still have a presence.

Will said growing high-quality, pure strains is key to the industry’s future. He welcomes legalization and believes it will wipe out the amateur operations as well as the Mexican cartel grows. Will believes the triangle’s climate, reputation and quality of product is unparalleled, making way for what he calls the “Napa Valley” of weed.

Multi-faceted Mom

Kang "Kay" Young Kye holds her daughter, Khole, as they observe animals at the San Francisco Zoo for Family Day with other families of VET members. (ALL PHOTOS By Amanda Peterson/ Xpress Magazine)
Kang “Kay” Young Kye holds her daughter, Khole, as they observe animals at the San Francisco Zoo for Family Day with other families of VET members. (ALL PHOTOS By Amanda Peterson/ Xpress Magazine)

Upper division business courses probably do not sound like too much fun to some. They are probably also not classes where you expect to see someone so comfortable and poised as Kang Young “Kay” Kye. As she calmly takes her seat in the front row of the small auditorium, you would probably never guess this senior lived such a busy life outside of her full course load. Not only is Kye an international business major, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, and the president of the Veterans’ Club on campus, but also a full-time mother to her two year old daughter, Khloe.

At SF State, over one hundred parents entrust the campus daycare, the Early Childhood Education Center, to guide their child’s first years, and roughly 25 percent are single parents like Kye. The daycare enrolls children from six months old to three years in the infant to toddler program and three years to five years old in the preschool program. The daycare has been at SF State for forty-two years, since approved by  Associated Student, Incorporated (ASI) and the California State University (CSU) board of trustees in 1971 and opened its doors on October, 10th 1972.

“It’s actually an exceptional program,” says the twenty-eight year old. “It’s just all around a very very amazing daycare center and also they give priority to students and low-income students and of course, just like any student, we’re all pretty broke right? They also prioritize veteran families as well, which has been a huge plus as well.”

Students without children of their own may not be very informed when it comes to what it takes to be a parent while going to school. Kye mentions that as a parent, not only are you responsible for yourself, for your homework, and for attending class, but also for the well-being of your child.

“After I had her, I didn’t go to school [campus], but I enrolled and took online classes,” says Kye. “So I took three online classes my spring semester so I was able to stay home with her still but still continue my education.”

Not only does Kye prove that being both a parent and a student is possible, but that if you manage your time and prioritize, there is no limit to how far you can go in life — and Kye embodies that.

“I think balance is a really important thing,” advises Kye to other parents who are also students. “What I learned is that even though you might want to do 100 percent at everything, sometimes it’s just not possible. So it’s just being comfortable with whatever you’re capable of doing. So as long as you’re trying your best, you should be proud of the challenges that you are already overcoming.”

Kye will graduate from SF State in the Spring of 2015 with a Bachelors degree in international business. She hopes from there to pursue, as she refers to it, a “civilian career” as an international relations representative for a corporation that operates globally.

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  • Kyle, a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, bears a heavy burden as a heavy load as a single-mother, a student, and president of the VETS (Veterans Education Transition & Support) student organization at SF State, and still finds ways to balance all of her responsibilities with grace, putting motherhood first.
  • Kyle explains to a newcomer what the organization does and how to get involved. The VETS Corner, located on the first level of Burk Hall in Room 153, was officially opened on November 9th, 2012, and is a place for student veterans to socialize or make use of a quiet room for study or computer use.
  • The twenty-eight-year-old International Business major, sits the front row of Room 218 in the Business Building at SF State for her first class, Seminar on Business in Society. Kye has back-to-back classes twice a week as a full-time student and is interested in international work opportunities after graduating in Spring 2015 with a B.A. from SF State. Kye began the undergraduate program in 2012 as a single-parent when daughter, Khloe, was 3-months-old. Kye takes education seriously, but does not strain for the perfection to get straight As as she used to. Balance is now what Kye strives for, juggling the responsibilities of being a student, a parent, and president of the VETS student organization at SF State.
  • After a long day at school, Kang “Kay” Young Kye carries her two-year-old daughter, Khloe, to the reception for the opening of the group exhibition “Coming Home, A Veteran’s Experience” at The Art Gallery at SF State.
  • Kye (left), leans in for a kiss with boyfriend, Christopher Michael Lee, after giving a toast with veteran families at the Veteran Family Thanksgiving Dinner at Kay’s home in Daly City. The house was filled to the brim with veterans and their families and friends, who were gathered together as a family for good times and traditional Thanksgiving fare.

 

Good vibes and music take over Haight Street

DJ Apollo spinning records at the First Annual Haight Street Music and Merchants Street Festival on Sunday September 7, 2014 (Henry Perez/Xpress Magazine)
DJ Apollo spinning records at the First Annual Haight Street Music and Merchants Street Festival on Sunday September 7, 2014 (Henry Perez/Xpress Magazine)

Throngs of people flocked to Haight Street on Sunday for the 1st Annual Haight Street Music and Merchants Festival.

For the adults, there were drink specials at the many bars along Haight Street, an impromptu car show, and three musical stages featuring local artists and DJs. Bigger names like Talib Kweli and Erykah Badu also made appearances to DJ for the massive crowds.

“We have closed down the streets, we’re not allowing any outside vendors because we want people to really come and shop and spend their money on the merchants on Haight Street instead of having outside vendors,” said Katrina Belda, who was providing event information to guests in addition to passing out free balloons to younger festival attendees.

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  • Overall shot of the First Annual Haight St. Music and Merchants Street Festival on Sunday September 7, 2014 (Henry Perez/Xpress Magazine)
  • 49er fan poses with a street performer at the First Annual Haight Street Music and Merchants Street Festival on Sunday September 7, 2014 (Henry Perez/Xpress Magazine)
  • Nicky Diamonds (center) at the First Annual Haight Street Music and Merchants Street Festival on Sunday September 7, 2014 (Henry Perez/Xpress Magazine)
  • Orly Locquiao (bottom left) setting up a booth at the First Annual Haight St. Music and Merchants Street Festival on Sunday September 7, 2014 (Henry Perez/Xpress Magazine)

Sponsors FTC, Pink + Dolphin, Diamond Supply Co., and Derby SF orchestrated the inaugural event, and saw that Haight Street from Stanyan to Masonic blocked from traffic. There were activities for all ages, including bounce houses, the aforementioned free balloons, and face painting stations.

The mix of activities brought families, street-wear enthusiasts, and curious neighborhood residents out to the event, which felt more like a huge block party than a festival.

After one DJ opted to play a song with a few curse words in it, he apologized. “They want me to keep it clean and family friendly – which I will, after this song.”

“We do plan to do this annually, and hopefully if this year is good we can keep doing it every year,” said Belda.
Clothing retailers Diamond Supply Co. and Pink + Dolphin, who are both relatively new to Haight – Diamond Supply Co., opened for business in August and Pink + Dolphin will be celebrating their one year anniversary in October – coordinated exclusive merchandise releases in honor of the festival.

The first hundred people in the blocks-long line in front of Pink + Dolphin were rewarded with tickets that granted them access to the exclusive gear the shop was selling.

FTC, which has been in its space at 1632 Haight Street for over 20 years, hosted both skate and BMX demos for curious onlookers.

The festival  – not to be confused with the Haight Ashbury Street Fair that has happened every summer for the last 37 years  – was a collaborative effort between older Haight Street businesses and the newcomers to the street.

And unlike the Haight Ashbury Street Fair, which brings in outside food and merchandise vendors, organizers of the Music and Merchants Festival wanted the event to benefit, well, Haight Street merchants.

My Turtle Buddy

Right: Nathan Phillips poses for a portrait as a toddler. He was always smiling mischievously and getting into trouble. Left: Phillips celebrating Christmas in 2012, almost a year before his suicide. Photos provided by Bek Phillips.
Right: Nathan Phillips poses for a portrait as a toddler. He was always smiling mischievously and getting into trouble. Left: Phillips celebrating Christmas in 2012, almost a year before his suicide. Photos provided by Bek Phillips.

Written by Bek Phillips

We were the Phillips Entourage. We were the lucky number seven, and all we had was each other.

During the days most siblings would go to their respective schools and say goodbye for the day, we were all crowded around a table learning and teaching each other in our garage — our mom overseeing the “Phillips Academy.” When most kids went to sleepovers and parties, we made forts out of pillows and had year-long wars with haphazardly made stick and paper flags. Sleepovers meant all of us huddled together in one big bed quietly telling stories and laughing ourselves to sleep. There was Shasta, Stephen, Zoey, Nathan, Joseph, Victor, and myself.

We were the Phillips Entourage, but now we are six.

Nathan was quiet, but only when he was not getting into trouble. Nathan was sensitive, but only when he was not punking his two younger brothers out of their toys and candy. Nathan was mischievous, funny, and had an assertive cockyness that made it seem as if he knew everything. He had a half-smile that you both loved and hated. He had that boyish charm that always promised to lead to heartbreak. He was so full of promise and life. Then, on December 3, 2013, Nathan went missing.

I got the call from my mom on December 4 while I was on my way to class. I was worried about final papers, word counts, and half a dozen other problems I cannot quite remember. But I remember the fear in my mom’s voice when she said, “Your dad called, he said Nathan has been missing since yesterday. They don’t know where he could be…”

My life changed that day. The seven siblings had been split up as the result of our parens’ divorce. With some in the Bay Area, and Stephen, Zoey and Nathan in Santa Cruz within minutes of mom’s first phone call, all of us were on the phone switching calls back and forth.

As the day went on, I thought of the baby I held in my clumsy five-year-old arms as we watched Winnie the Pooh. I remembered the turtle pins that were used on his cloth diapers, and how he was dubbed our turtle buddy. I thought of the way he sucked his two middle fingers all through his toddler days. Now, I remember the panic and the sinking feeling I had.

I told Mom not to worry, that I would call her back but that I had a few things to do first. I needed to find a picture of my brother. Almost desperately I combed through my photos on Facebook searching for the most recent one. The one I found was almost a year old, but it would do, and soon I was flooding people’s Facebook walls and Twitter feeds with my missing brother’s face.

Trembling, I stood in front of the class and made my plea.

“My brother has been missing since yesterday,” I said. “He is considered high risk. He is the last sibling to remain living with our father, and was last heard contemplating suicide. Please share his picture and if anyone has seen him, my number is on the post.”

My campaign had been started.

By day two, the Sherrif’s department said that the best thing to do to raise awareness would be to create a Facebook page, a way to post updates, pictures and information out quickly to the masses. I volunteered, and unbeknownst to me I began creating the community that would carry and support my family for months to come.

Within two days, the page —called Finding Nathan—had over one-thousand likes and double the amount of shares. By the time the search ended a week-and-a-half later, it had three-thousand likes and over twenty-thousand shares. I spent the next two days going to class and opening with a statement, asking classmates to like his page, and share it with all their friends. In the end, people from SF State made up about one-third of the support on the page.

People posted everyday, offering prayers, support, and asking for updated information. Running the page became my madness. I read posts and watched numbers until my eyes blurred. I fielded calls, responded to messages and dug through digital pictures till I would fall asleep.

On December 6th, I packed my bags to leave. Having done all I could from afar, I was desperate to join in the search. With well wishes from my growing community on Facebook, I packed my bags and waited anxiously for my brother to pick me up. My throat was dry, a headache set in between my eyes. Even so, when we got to Santa Cruz we started combing through areas. But where people were looking for a boy on the run looking for adventure, we were looking for a body.

Just in case, we had about fifty haphazard fliers made up, and as we combed the woods, cliffs, and overpasses we handed them out where we could. The last place we visited was the house where our family was last all together. Maybe he had gone back to where nostalgia ruled before ugly words and hurt dominated the different sides of the family.

Unbeknownst to me, standing on the cliffs by the house reminiscing  was the last calm moment I would have before the real madness hit. The next day led to press requests and the days after became a blur of arranging video interviews with the press and family members, managing the Facebook page, and passing out fliers. Coffee ruled every waking moment. Every phone call took my breath away. People flooded the Facebook wall with pictures, personal appeals to Nathan, and messages of hope and love for the family. It was going viral. Awareness expanding across multiple states, such as Arizona  and Texas, offers to spread the word and to post in various fire departments flooded the wall.

I was tired. I missed my fiance, I missed my step-daughter Lily. So I packed my bags back up to go home. It had been a week and a day since my brother had gone missing. I was tired, but the sleep was not restful. I was going to pick up Lily from school when I received the call. My hands were shaking as my mom told me that they found a body in the ocean. Unable to stop myself, I broke. My nose even started bleeding. Confirmation that it was Nathan would have to wait until the police and coroners office established his identity through comparing fingerprints to the ones inputted when he got his divers permit.

It was the most excrutiating three days of my life as we waited. But even before the confirmation came through, friends of Finding Nathan posted encouragement and heartfelt sympathies. My mom and I spent hours reading every comment and message. People shared memories. Nathan’s life, which I had not been much a part of for almost two years, was becoming more transparent.

It did not stop there. After final confirmation came, after we learned that it was our turtle buddy, the created Facebook community continued to show ever-growing support. Especially after the cause of death was determined as suicide.

The ultimate culmination of what happens when so many people come together occured when we were unable to finance Nathan’s cremation. Mom set up a Pay Pal account for donations, and after Christmas had passed I hesitantly reached out and asked for help. Within three hours we had all the money we needed, some people donating a thousand dollars. With that we were able to pay for the cremation as well as purchase an urn, small urn necklaces for everyone and partial financing split for tattoos or other desired memorabilia.

Some days are just as hard as the first week. Other days are better. But no matter what comes, the healing process continues with a group of over three thousand supporters. Nathan, our turtle buddy, is now the inspiration for everything I do. Nathan, the boy of contradictions, the boy so full of love, will always be my inspiration. And to the community that was created, they have all my love and gratitude. Thank you.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call San Francisco’s 24-hour
suicide hotline at (415) 781-0500