DANBURY – The short version of how two Harlem and Queens union activists grow hemp in the semi-rural hills of West Danbury is that they’re sick of New York City.
But the longer story is that some degree of fate played a role in the couple’s longstanding farm business, as well as their decision to stand up for People of Color while city guides discuss the future of legal marijuana in Danbury.
“I just want to grow my weed,” says Hector Gerardo with a laugh that belies how serious he is about giving people convicted of marijuana crimes a special advantage in obtaining cannabis business licenses. “You can’t talk about justice if you don’t give the people in Danbury who were jailed for growing and selling the cannabis plant a chance.”
Justice was the hot topic in Hartford late last week when Governor Ned Lamont’s Social Justice Council approved a list of neighborhoods in Danbury and across the state disproportionately affected by the drug war. These neighborhoods are given priority in Connecticut’s burgeoning recreational marijuana industry.
How last week’s action affects newcomers like Gerardo and partner Elizabeth Guerra remains to be seen, but the couple agree that now is the time to speak up as Danbury begins his own discussions about which species of cannabis facilities the city will allow.
“We want equity seekers to be given priority – people who have gone through the system, been negatively affected by the system and, by the grace of the universe, have been able to find money to apply together,” said Guerra.
Although Guerra and Gerardo met through connections in New York union circles, it turns out that both families are farmed. As a boy, Gerardo visited his great-grandfather’s farm in the Dominican Republic every summer. And Guerra’s agricultural knowledge was passed on from her grandfather, who owned a farm in Ecuador.
It wasn’t until Guerra got a job with the American Federation of Teachers Connecticut that the couple’s agricultural fate blossomed. Gerardo was still in town, not convinced that a move to Fairfield County was the right thing to do for a Harlem kid who’d been involved in work organization and community service with youth at risk.
After Guerra and her daughter lived at Bethel for a year, Gerardo decided to join them and become a Connecticut resident.
In 2020, the couple founded Seamarron HomeStead Farms on 3 acres of lush land east of Wooster Mountain State Park.
In addition to a hemp plant – a legal plant with such a low dose of THC that it doesn’t change a person’s mood – the couple have a 5 bed vegetable garden, an apple tree stand, and a small aviary behind a bear. Proof electric fence, buzzing with bees.
“This is our first year,” said Gerardo, who still helps run a nonprofit in the Bronx that battles food insecurity and the school-to-prison pipeline. “It may look ugly right now, but it will look nice when it’s done.”
The goal, said Gerardo, is not so much to get a stock producer’s license for his farm as to advocate the rights of other colored people in Danbury.
“Maybe we just want to stick with the hemp,” said Gerardo, who cut rough terraces into a hillside on his property to get more acreage. “The question is, are they going to prioritize the people who look like me or the multinational guy with the money?”
At the moment, Danbury does not give priority to anyone who wants to start a cannabis business. The city put a year-long ban on new marijuana applications in July to give planners time to digest Connecticut’s 300-page marijuana decriminalization bill, which went into effect in part on July 1.
The moratorium won’t stop adult personal marijuana use or prevent a new medical marijuana dispenser from opening Monday in a former bank on Mill Plain Road.
Mayor Joe Cavo has also set up a cannabis brain trust to advise him and the next mayor on the city’s options and requirements. The Brain Trust of city guides and department heads had its first meeting last week.
For Guerra, who is raising two daughters in Danbury and keeping her job as chief negotiator for the AFTCT, the couple plans to make noise until justice becomes a priority.
“The elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about is race,” said Guerra. “This is a great opportunity for small business owners – but right now the people who make money in the state from medicinal cannabis are not small business owners – they are multinational corporations.”