The following is an excerpt from “Too High to Fail” about one of the commercial Mendocino growers that Fine met who was more than willing to provide his real name:
For a little while, I grumbled to myself about missing my haircut. But until now I didn’t rat Courtenay out.
And I’m glad I didn’t. Because an hour after trapping my vehicle and badly over revving its engine in an effort to extract it, while waiting patiently for the board members’ feeding frenzy to break up and for Matt Cohen to throw his tow chain around some hopefully sturdy part of my left axle, I was able to have that crucial conversation with one of the meeting’s attendees. He was thirty-three-year-old Tomas “Don’t try to pronounce it: it’s Hungarian” Balogh. He pronounced the Tomas like Thomas, though.
In my preliminary research for the project, we had spoken a couple of times, but one encouraging stance in particular he took this day convinced me that this was going to work: that I’d found the principal farmer whose crop I would cover for this book. He was a first-year Mendocino farmer, bringing his craft, and indeed his career, into the sunlight after a decade of urban indoor growing in the Bay Area.
Filling my own plate with a board member’s home-smoked salmon in the Cohen kitchen, I was still early enough in my exposure to Mendocino cannabis culture’s shocking openness to start Tomas off with my habitual “How do you feel about using your real name?” introduction.
Turned out Balogh, like nearly every 9.31 grower I met, was completely, almost compulsively, revealing about his work. A literal open book, when it came to his finances. His immediate reply was “I’ve thought a lot about it, and I keep coming back to the day I decided to be open about my career. It was a big decision. Have I told you?”
“Well, after I’d been growing quietly for eight years, I spoke in front of the Berkeley City Council in 2009—they were setting up dispensary regulations. And I instantly understood what people feel like when they come out of any closet. My knees were trembling at the podium, my palms were sweating. But I felt so much better afterwards.”
Now the guy made “transparency” his business mantra. In addition to freely giving out both his MendoGrown and his nascent personal business cards—he had just decided to form an online medical cannabis delivery business he was calling the Kama
Collective—to anyone who asked and some (like his 2011 farm neighbors) who didn’t, Tomas didn’t ask me for any privacy protections at all. No off-the-record guarantees, no name changes. No restrictions whatsoever.