In a black market birthed by hippies and outlaws that matured into an industry run by businessmen and investors, one man who’s stood the test of time is Ted Dobson of Equinox Farm. Dobson has been cultivating natural, sun grown Cannabis in Western Massachusetts since the ‘80s, and today he’s the first legal outdoor farmer on the East Coast.
“I always had a fetish for greens,” Dobson tells me after a sip of his kombucha. At the moment, he is not talking about a fresh bowl pack, but mesclun and arugula. He is reflecting on his time as a young farmer in Berkshire County – it was 1980 and Ted had just returned home from studying Agroecology at U.C. Santa Cruz, where he learned the organic, “French intensive/biodiversity” farming method under Master Gardener Alan Chadwick.
Dobson bought some land and got to work, finding early success in the farm-to-table movement, selling less common salads and greens to restaurateurs in Boston and New York. He established himself as an influential figure in the Northeast culinary scene by applying what he learned out west to his new plot in the Berkshires.
Of course, Ted’s West Coast education extended beyond the classrooms and gardens at UCSC, and he left the Golden State with more than a degree. “I had met a number of Cannabis growers from Santa Cruz up through Mendocino and Humboldt,” Dobson says. “And I moved back home with a really interesting selection of seeds.”
Ted planted those seeds in the rugged woods between the Berkshires in Massachusetts and the Taconics in New York, employing the same techniques for his marijuana that he did for his greens. And while the quality of the first harvest exceeded what was readily available at the time, it was difficult to grow in the region.
“The weed was used to such a dry climate,” says Dobson. “I had mold and mildew issues with the California indica strains. I was fortunate to meet a guy in Connecticut who had been growing sativas that had incredible mold and mildew resistance … it just wasn’t very strong.”
Dobson bred the strains and found the results to be hearty, potent flowers. At the time, high-quality marijuana was in greater demand than lettuce or baby greens. It was also the target of tough law enforcement measures under then-President Ronald Reagan. Ted even averted prison in the late ‘80s with the help of kind-hearted thieves that ransacked the grow days before a police raid. The evidence still threatened legal repercussions, but the charges were eventually dropped. Still, he chose to downsize the operation to avoid attention.
Over the next 30 years, Dobson continued to farm his greens for the restaurants, and buds on a smaller scale. He maintained his favored strains, bred others, and traded harvests with like-minded folks in the area. In the early 2000s, he relocated from Great Barrington to Sheffield with the help of the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture and the Sheffield Land Trust. Science and technology continued to advance, but Ted stuck to the old-world organic methods he learned in Santa Cruz.
When Massachusetts voted to legalize in 2016, Dobson began researching the possibilities of attaining a license to grow at Equinox.
“It was a dream of mine, but I didn’t think it was possible,” he says of his initial reluctance. But following a lot of research, legal advice (money), meetings with the Joint Committee on Marijuana in Boston, a complicated caveat and cooperation from local officials, Dobson received approval to grow on the farm.
Ted met with local start-up Theory Wellness, as the two parties had something the other was looking for. The young company had the capital Dobson needed to prep Equinox for a compliant marijuana grow. On the other hand, the Theory team knew working with Ted could significantly reduce their carbon footprint as legalization increased demand.
“Ted’s approach to farming really aligned with our goal of creating a more sustainable industry,” says Thomas Winstanley, V.P. of Marketing at Theory.
And he’s right. Dobson’s farm doesn’t waste energy on grow lights or climate control, and it doesn’t pollute the ecosystem with synthetic nutrients or pesticides – organic farming enriches the soil and surrounding environment.
Winstanley, a Berkshire County native, grew up familiar with Dobson’s work. He says the team jumped at the opportunity to work together. “Ted is prolific,” he says.
The first fully licensed grow at Equinox presented difficulties you don’t see at indoor facilities. Mother Nature tested Dobson’s experience with heavy storms and pests, but experience prevailed. October’s harvest surpassed expectations and introduced natural, sustainably-grown Cannabis to the region for the first time. It is important to note that while the soil and methods Ted uses are organic, the FDA will not recognize Cannabis as organic due to federal prohibition.
The natural weed from Equinox is balanced and uplifting. The wide spectrum of cannabinoids hits in a way sometimes lost with high-test indoor strains, and rarely resorts in couch-lock. It’s the stuff you can smoke any time, any place, but some people say it’s best enjoyed under the sun – just like it was grown.