It’s almost dinnertime and Matthew Gavin Frank, author of Pot Farm, his alternatively manic and moving account of working on a medicinal marijuana farm for three months at the tail-end of 2006—is busy preparing the venison one of his writing student’s at Northern Michigan University has agreed to share.
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“I’m not a big hunter myself…I can’t really pull the trigger,” he laughs. “But I love the meat.” Frank’s days on the marijuana farm, located somewhere in the wilds of northern California, may be over, but his experiences working with the eccentric and infirmed remains vivid.
Here, he tells us about getting high, the necessity of harvesting weed for the sick under armed guard and his peculiar style of writing.
So…are you high right now?
(Laughing again) I’m high on venison marinade! That’s about as illicit as I’ve gotten so far today. I’ve cut back on my intake of the smoke these days. Right now, I’m really enjoying this mescal that my wife and I just brought back from Oaxaca, Mexico. And we brought back about 11 different kinds. I’ve been going after that in place of smoke in the last few weeks.
How has your experience on the farm impacted your marijuana consumption?
I have to say that in the long run it hasn’t really impacted it too much. While on the farm, of course, I indulged more than I ever did before and really have ever done since.
But I have to say that in the immediate aftermath of working on the farm, I probably actually cut back quite a bit. I was kind of sick to death of it to be honest. I was immersed in the world of medical marijuana for such a long time that I just didn’t want to talk about it any more. I didn’t want to think about it anymore. I didn’t really much want to smoke it anymore. I got back onto it on an infrequent basis after that purge.
What was the most surprising thing you learned on the farm?
First, learning that this medical marijuana farm was employing snipers who essentially had little tree forts stationed in the redwoods. That immediately blew my mind and initially cast a pall over the experience and certainly blew up my expectations a bit. I went out there, I suppose for better or worse, expecting some pseudo-hippie sort of love-in. And it certainly wasn’t that at all [poachers and other threats necessitated the guards].
There was certainly an intellectual faction and an artistic faction. There were also medical doctors working there along with the treetop snipers. There were wonderful gourmet chefs, as well. There were folks from all walks of life. Certainly, the threat of violence was surprising to me. I never knew it would necessarily be so profound and all encompassing.
I also guess I never knew how philanthropic the medical marijuana industry is as well. Not just, of course within the world of medical marijuana, but the fact that a lot of these farm owners went scouting around in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to various refugee camps around the country, recruiting these folks, giving them a job with a very nice seasonal pay check. Most of the folks running these farms are incredible shrewd, intelligent, keen business people. It’s certainly not shoestring this sort of operation. It’s run like a tight business.
Where do you think the effort to legalize medical marijuana is headed?
I think legalization is gaining a lot of ground politically and socially. Take Michigan, which is a politically conservative state I suppose. Michigan legalized marijuana on a medical basis to the point where if you’re awake at 2:30 in the morning, as I tend to be, and you’re flipping around channels, you see commercials on network stations for medical marijuana dispensaries.
That is something you would not have seen in this state—and probably many others—just a few years back. I think it’s moving in a positive direction as far as medical purposes. And once it’s legalized for medical purposes and infiltrated the mainstream and subsequent generations get used to its presence…legalizing it for recreational purposes. Who knows? The sky’s the limit.
Can you talk about your approach to writing?
I certainly incorporate poetic elements into prose writing. One of the schools of literature that I’m in love right now is the lyric essay, which is essentially like the poem in its lyricism, in its attention to music, and its attention to language. It also has a thirst for knowledge and is informative as well. This bumping and grinding between lyricism and informative writing is something that I’m finding fascinating. Writers out there now like John D’Agata who recently published a wonderful book called About a Mountain, he’s at the forefront of the lyric essay movement. I have to say that sort of style is informing me, too.
I also spent much of my work life as a chef in restaurant kitchens. And just working in industries that deal with the senses and also writing, I’m always wondering about how to best incorporate sensory detail into prose without necessarily overdoing it. I also feel like my writing is endlessly curious as far as nonfiction goes. I have various interests, and in order to write about a particular culture that is not necessarily my own, be it small-town Italian wine culture in rural Italy, or be it the medical marijuana culture, I do feel as if I have to immerse myself in that world for a particular amount of time before I can write about it. Otherwise, I think, the writing might stand back and point and look.
Have you kept in contact with the people on the farm?
I must say I haven’t. I had all good intentions to do so. It just so happens that most of the people I was closest to there lead somewhat of a nomadic lifestyle as I did in the immediate aftermath. Frankly, I have no idea where most of these folks are right now. Were I to venture an educated guess, I would say that the people I was closest to are probably still out there working on the farms. Others like me, probably have migrated on to God knows what—universities, restaurants, ice-cream truck repair? Who knows what else? They are wonderful folks, but the industry is still very much cloaked in secrecy.
And many of the folks who work within it really, militantly, often times, fetishize their privacy. In writing about them, I changed names and I changed the name of the farm. I was purposely nebulous about talking about the precise location of this particular farm. I still feel as if a lot of these folks about whom I wrote, are people who would not want something to be written about them and read by the public. That said, I didn’t necessarily violate any sort of privacy, but a lot of these people would not be ridiculously pleased that there is a book out there in which they are featured as characters.
Joe Maniscalco is an award-winning freelance writer based in New York City with over 15 years of jounalistic experience.