Meet the new, pot-growing neighbors in Laurel (Column)

The newest addition to Laurel, a tiny farming community about eight miles south of Hillsboro, looks like a fortress, just a few feet from the 92-year-old community hall that houses children’s dance classes.

It came with barbed-wire fencing, high security and – something the 200 or so folks of Laurel aren’t used to – secrecy.

The new neighbors are growing marijuana.

This poses a dilemma for Laurel’s more conservative residents, who are now coming face-to-face with liberal Portland arriving on their doorstep.

The company is Yerba Buena, and its owners began leasing a former dried-flower facility last year. They’ve done a lot of work on the 29-acre property but have installed no signs.

For now, they’re producing medical marijuana, but once state and county applications are approved, the company plans to move into the recreational market.

“It’s no different from an agricultural standpoint from anything else getting grown – the filberts, the apple orchards, the alfalfa plants,” said Casey Rivero, cultivation manager.

Rivero and his wife, Laura, moved to Portland from Arizona to take jobs with Yerba Buena. As soon as I called, they invited me to tour their indoor-grow facility. They’re passionate about the medicinal benefits of cannabis and excited to be pioneers of a movement.

They look … well, they look kind of like you’d expect cannabis crusaders to look – with gauges in their ears and the longest dreadlocks I’ve ever seen. Four of the five employees I met had dreadlocks, making this possibly the highest concentration of dreadlocks in Laurel’s history.

“I don’t necessarily look like a farmer,” Rivero said, “but I have been involved in that community for a long time.”

Contrast that image with Chuck Felton, who’s been involved in the Laurel community for a long time.

Felton is a retired social studies teacher who wears a flat cap and a warm smile. For 70 of his 74 years, he’s lived in Laurel – on farm property purchased by his grandfather in 1929. Both he and his brother built homes on the family land. He’s an elder at Laurel Community Church, and a regular at the 122-year-old Laurel Valley Store. He leases the field adjacent to his home to grow grass (the lawn kind).

He sees the marijuana facility from his kitchen window, and he’s not happy about it. He and other residents have complained to the state and the county about the grow, to no avail.

“My kids have grown up here, and our grandkids visit us, and I just feel that a facility that produces marijuana is not a positive influence on our community,” Felton said.

Felton and the Riveros strike me as friendly, intelligent people, just with very different world views.

Felton sees marijuana as a drug that harms people. The Riveros see it as a cure.

I wonder how these two views will mesh over time.

Though state regulations prevent it today, the Riveros see cannabis as the next wine industry. They’d like to offer tours and a tasting room to capitalize on the farm-to-fork movement.

Maybe this would be the “barn to bong” movement.

But if Yerba Buena wants to be an industry pioneer, it’s also got to be an industry ambassador and a good neighbor.

It might start with a “meet the growers” town hall to answer neighbors’ questions: How much pot will they grow? Will it smell? Will they make hash oil?

And wouldn’t you know, there’s a perfect, 92-year-old community hall next door.

— Samantha Swindler

@editorswindler / 503-294-4031

sswindler@oregonian.com

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