Wine makers and weed farmers are getting together in an effort to float everyone’s boats when it comes to Santa Barbara North County’s tourism industry.
Good Farmers Great Neighbors, a collective of North County cultivators and advocates, and North County Farmers Guild hosted a panel to discuss the potential for industry partnerships at a packed event in Buellton on Sept. 11. The panel was moderated by Sara Rotman, co-chair of the Farmers Guild and CEO of Busy Bee’s Organics.
Topics included forming a group to facilitate and finance joint tourism efforts, such as weed and wine tours and events, as well as branding Santa Barbara and California-grown cannabis in national and international markets.
“The amount of overlap between the consumer base in cannabis and wine is immense,” said panelist John De Friel, a regional cannabis grower and president of the Lompoc Valley Cannabis Association.
He talked about partnering with tasting rooms to create a tourism experience that includes wineries, cannabis farms, retail outlets and manufacturing facilities.
“I have a feeling thousands of people would be interested if we could work on a project like that,” De Friel added.
Stephen Pepe, a panelist and owner of Clos Pepe Vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley, identified hurdles that cannabis farmers must overcome to be “good neighbors” to the region’s established vintners. Top concerns often involve smell and spraying, but both of these issues “ought to be” worked through with neighbors, he said.
Solutions might include leaving buffer space along a cannabis farm’s property line and employing some of the measures other crops with strong odors, such as broccoli and cabbage, have discovered.
From a policymaker standpoint, Lompoc Mayor and panelist Jenelle Osborne said industry groups should approach elected officials with a formal plan for marketing, funding and running wine and cannabis tourism ventures.
“If you are informational, you’re more likely to be heard,” she said. “Providing information that helps us is a way to see solutions come forward.”
Osborne pointed to the formation of Business Improvement Districts by hoteliers as a way to self-tax and fund initiatives that support their industry. She said cannabis growers and vintners could consider doing the same.
“Having a unified message will get elected attention faster than comments that don’t have an action plan,” she said.
• Contact Annabelle Blair at [email protected]