Humboldt cannabis cultivator embodies Emerald Triangle tradition

For Sunboldt Grown founder Sunshine Cereceda, who plants her crops beside ancient Humboldt County redwoods, environment is everything.

Sunshine Cereceda, founder of licensed cannabis cultivator Sunboldt Grown. Courtesy of Sunboldt Grown


This story is brought to you by Sunboldt Grown.

For Sunshine Cereceda, founder of licensed cannabis cultivator Sunboldt Grown, the environment and her product are inseparable. “The landscape creates us, and we create it too,” she says. “I value the expression of terroir.”

Sunboldt Grown is known for its cannabis strains Wanderlust, GMO and Rebel Moon, all of which are available at Hi-Fidelity in Berkeley.

We talked to Cereceda to hear more about her upbringing in what’s known as the Emerald Triangle, her growing understanding of the healing power of cannabis and her commitment to environmental sustainability.

Deep roots in Humboldt County, the world’s capital of cannabis

Sitting down in Sunshine Cereceda’s kitchen, it’s easy to see her day is busy: her notebook filled with scribbles and her wooden dining table covered with cannabis trimmings, jars and a pile of gardening supplies. But looking at Sunshine, you get the impression little phases her. As she waits for a delivery of cannabis plants she moves about the room with a contagious sense of calm. Her eyes gleam with laughter and a sense of resilient wisdom. She’s comfortable with silence, and often cautions “waiting is not a bad thing.”

But Sunshine wasn’t always able to be so relaxed about her business. The Sunboldt Grown founder — known for her top-shelf sungrown cannabis strains Loopy Fruit and Wanderlust, packaged in fully recycled, recyclable jars — has watched Humboldt County brave decades of evolution as it finds an identity as both the world’s capital of cannabis and one of the most heavily policed farmlands in the country. Along the way, she and her brand have become emblematic of Emerald Triangle culture, infusing love, care, sustainability and authentic Humboldt County craft into every hand-trimmed bud.

Sunshine had an idyllic childhood in early 1980s Southern Humboldt, raised by followers of the back-to-the-land movement. Her childhood was filled with neighborhood potlucks, playing in the woods, helping neighbors, and sleeping outside — her family lived off the land, there was no electricity and no hot water.

“In Southern Humboldt and Northern Mendocino, we created a culture,” she says. “We started the radio station KMUD, we built schools and a community center and our own credit union.” In school, the parents became the teachers. Children became students who were nurtured by nature, questioned authority and learned to be self-reliant.

An early appreciation for the healing power of cannabis

Sunboldt Grown cannabis plants are cultivated outdoors under the Humbold County sunshine. Courtesy of Sunboldt Grown

Sunshine came to appreciate the healing power of cannabis early in life, watching her mother smoke joints to ease shoulder pain following an accident. Back then, most people in the area grew their own plants, and it was not uncommon to spot a cannabis plant in front of someone’s home for everyone to see. In fact, Sunshine grew her first cannabis plant for the reason a child in Berkeley might start a lemonade stand: raising money for tuition so she could go to her first-choice boarding school (a small high school of 13 students in Petrolia).

Sunshine grew her first cannabis plant for the reason a child in Berkeley might start a lemonade stand: raising money for tuition so she could go to her first-choice school.

In 1983, the War on Drugs changed the cannabis culture in Humboldt. Just as enforcement was waging war on crack cocaine in the streets in the cities, so CAMP (Campaign Against Marijuana Planting) pursued harsh eradication with helicopters against cultivators in the hills of the Emerald Triangle.

“Our way of life was villainized by the government,” says Sunshine. Under pressure of prohibition, growers started to hide their operations indoors. Prices went up. There were profits to be made in cannabis, often maximized by unsustainable practices. Tensions grew, sometimes to the point of violence, while increased state surveillance left everyone on edge.

“It was difficult for me to really love the herb and love what I did because, at any moment, it could be taken away in such a violent way,” says Sunshine. She moved cultivation sites every few years, and also found herself hiding her plants in nature — a tactic now known as “guerilla growing.” Day after day, Sunshine hiked out into the forest and tended patches in carefully selected locations.

In 1990 Sunshine attended Humboldt State University in Arcata, where she was introduced to indoor growing using specially designed potting soils, fertilizer and artificial light. Though the techniques were interesting, she found that they conflicted with the holistic approach she was raised in. Unlike the heritage tradition of growing cannabis under the sun, indoor growing seemed unnatural and devoid of the same magic. Unimpressed, Sunshine left Arcata just as talks were resuming in state legalization, and committed her life to sustainable farming.

Prop 215 transformative for Humboldt and cannabis culture

Sunshine Cereceda outside her house by the Eel River in Humboldt County. Her cannabis is dry-farmed in Eel River floodplain deposits.Courtesy of Sunboldt Grown

Medical marijuana possession was legalized in California in 1996 after the passage of Proposition 215. According to Sunshine, the bill was transformative for Humboldt and cannabis culture as a whole.

“We realized more openly that it was a medicine,” she says. “Women started to do a lot of medicine making, and were able to leave bad marriages, grow and support their families.”

Today, as a licensed cultivator, Sunshine puts all of her love and effort into her brand, Sunboldt Grown. She developed a genetics program with strains like her “Loopy Fruit” and “Wanderlust” that were bred for unique flavors. Her flower is vacuum-sealed in mason jars. For the past few years, she has worked with the hashmaker from Nasha to create bubble hash, a cannabis concentrate made by washing cannabis with ice water.

Most importantly, her growing process is the most sustainable around: Unlike with the indoor growing techniques she learned at college, nowadays Sunshine simply puts the plants into the ground with a little water, then lets the minerals within the soil, the sun, and the groundwater do the rest.

Story adapted with permission from the Oral Histories Project, UC Berkeley.

This story was paid for by SunboldGrown whose cannabis is cultivated beside ancient redwoods belonging to Humboldt Redwoods State Park. The plants grow under the sun and without added water in Eel River flood plain deposits. Visit sunboldt.com for more details.