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With the Gold of Sunshine: A Judge’s Look Inside the Golden Tarp Awards

Jars hold submissions of sun grown cannabis at the Golden Tarp.

Industry Events

With the Gold of Sunshine: A Judge’s Look Inside the Golden Tarp Awards

Sungrown cannabis is experiencing a renaissance due, in large part, to the massive increase of greenhouse, light-deprivation cannabis growing.

Light deprivation technology and growing methods have advanced exponentially over the last five years, particularly in the last two years. Many indoor growers have started growing “dep” crops as the price of electricity skyrockets and consumers realize the environmental impact of lamp-grown cannabis. Dep is winning the hearts and minds of people who traditionally have preferred indoor-grown cannabis with its appearance, taste and high.

Since many growers grow small plants during the shorter greenhouse seasons, the buds are more compact with less of the massive stems needed to support 10-foot (or larger) plants. These mid-summer crops also have the advantage of the sun being directly over them at the peak of flowering. The resulting buds are often covered with sticky THC-rich trichomes. Many of these flowers can pass for indoor, and frequently do, in markets from Los Angeles to Georgia.

There are many benefits to dep including having multiple crops per season and being able to harvest before the helicopters come in the fall. With all of the changes in the sungrown scene, it was high time to celebrate light-dep cannabis with a competition all its own. Thus, the Golden Tarp competition was born.

Judging at the Golden Tarp

The intrepid Harborside Health Center (HHC) crew and I packed our bags and hit the open highway for a weekend of sun, big trees and copious amounts of the finest cannabis on the planet.

The trip to the Mateel community center in Redway is one of the most beautiful drives on the planet. Leaving the wine country of Sonoma behind, the 101 climbs through increasingly rugged terrain where jagged rock outcroppings and more trees replace the long, golden valleys filled with grapes. As Mendo has become more populated, grape growers fleeing high prices have filled almost any flat and many not-so-flat parts of the landscape. I’ve driven this route for over 25 years and the explosion of vineyards has been amazing although they take a tremendous amount of water.

Being experienced vets of this trip we also have some rest stops that we make each time. First stop is always Hopland, the first town you hit after crossing the Mendocino county line. Hopland is a great little town. There’s a cute little restaurant/bar that was formerly home to Mendocino Brewing tasting room. Two doors down is the Collective Consciousness Apothecary (CCA), a dispensary that carries almost exclusively sungrown cannabis as well as several unique strains including my current favorite, Black Jack. The spicy, sweet sativa is a cross between Jack Herer (rhymes with terror as my old friend Jack used to say) and Blackberry Kush. The taste is berries and spice with the effects being quite cerebral. It’s a great choice for daytime use and creative inspiration. Other ones to look for include KC 36, a KC brains cross of White Widow, and another one of theirs, KC 606. CCA’s Royal Kush is also delicious with cherry fruit notes.

The last stop before we crossed through the Redwood Curtain was Laytonville. Home to the original hippy commune, the Hog Farm, this tiny little town is almost completely dependent on the cannabis economy. Stores advertise trimming equipment and the motels are filled with shiny rental cars and cars with out-of-state plates. In years gone by, it was common to see scruffy kids with signs bearing a drawing of scissors looking for trim work. These days very few people hire random strangers off the street. Nightmare tails of trim scenes gone wrong are legion in Northern California. Trusted friends and families or referrals do most trimming.

The Mateel center is a testament to the power of community, as well as that of the cannabis industry. Built by and for the community, many might be familiar with the Mateel as the long-time organizers of Reggae on the River. The building itself is beautiful with high ceilings, a massive fireplace straight out of medieval times and a stage. There is a wraparound balcony where one can watch all the action on the floor as well.

When we reached our destination in 95 degree heat, we were ready to start sampling. The way they judged this event was a little different. A small group of judges picked 16 from the pool of 50 entries. When they arrived, people then had the opportunity to draw colored balls. If they got one with glitter, they got to judge the top 16 entries. This method of crowd sourcing the winner has roots in Amsterdam cups but the drawing was unique.

After securing our judges packs we sat down and got to work. The organizers did a great job. All day long there were folks walking around giving out water and checking on people in the heat. We had 16 samples of Cali’s finest greenhouse and an hour and a half to judge them. The ballot had four criterion for judging: appearance, aroma, taste and effect. Each characteristic could score up to 10 points except for effect, which had twenty. Ballots were due at 4:20. With this particular judging format, placing so much weight on effect can be risky since it’s impossible to distinguish effects when you are smoking so much in a short time.

Another major difference in the judging for this event was the categories themselves. Instead of being divided along the usual indica/sativa hybrid lines, they were split into four categories based on smell and/or taste. There was earthy, fuely, floral and fruity. Since the lineage of many strains is hard to prove, the organizers felt that these descriptors were more accurate.

We analyzed the first two categories, appearance and aroma for all 16 entries before moving onto smoking. There’s so much to consider before even lighting up. Is the sample dried and cured sufficiently? Is it well-trimmed?  Since this cup was so early, we didn’t see much cannabis that was truly cured. Nonetheless there were several strains that stood out immediately, especially in the fuely and earthy categories. As we began to smoke, anything that didn’t stand out was extinguished and a new sample brought forth.

As judging progressed, the pile of half-burned joints grew. As 4:20 approached we began to get a little frantic. Judges kept asking, “Did we smoke EA2 yet?” and, “What about FL1?” We soldiered through, tallied up our score and turned in our ballots.

We didn’t find out the winner until the next day. First place was the only award given out and the top dog was OG Deez. The great strain won a statue of a hoop house made out of bronze, which was a super cool twist on the traditional cup or glassware. Overall the event was amazing. There were seed vendors and dab stations, music and cold beer and just general good vibes. There was around 300 people, which made for a full but not crowded feeling. The organizers did a fantastic job and were especially kind to the Harborside crew.

Do you grow sungrown cannabis? Do you smoke sungrown cannabis? Let us know in the comments.

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