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Greenfield banks its future on cannabis

Erika Mahoney/KAZU
Just behind the trucks, you can see Greenfield's first marijuana facility. Ten more are going up in Greenfield over the next two years.

Located in the heart of the Salinas Valley, Greenfield used to be known as the Broccoli Capital of the World. Now the small town is banking its future on cannabis. Greenfield has 11 marijuana grow facilities going up over the next two years. 

Greenfield’s City Manager Jaime Fontes sits at a round coffee table in his office at city hall. Through his office window he can see the city’s first marijuana facility. It’s a modern building with a steel exterior and a large greenhouse.

“It’s the perfect place for it. The weather is mild, never gets too cold or too hot. Greenfield has abundant water from the Arroyo Seco and we have three aquifers. So you’ve got weather, you’ve got available land, you’ve got a city that wants to be a good partner in this,” Fontes says.

When Fontes looks at the facility, he sees the future: jobs, more revenue and more community services.

“The excitement comes from the developmental possibilities that it opens for the citizens,” he says.

Between sips of coffee, Fontes lays out a few blueprints of the up and coming factories. For each, the city will collect a new cannabis business tax. When all 11 are up and running, the city estimates that will be about $8.5 million a year. That’s on top of what they’ll collect in increased property taxes.

City leaders plan to use that money for the community. They hope to build a swimming pool and set up a youth center.

“We want to enhance the facilities that would give the youth in a largely Hispanic, lower-income community, developmental opportunities that will incentive them to go on to college or trade school,” says Fontes.

City leaders want the cannabis industry to thrive. So the city is helping the new facilities recruit employees. It created an online cannabis job bank. Prospective employees can email their resumes to be considered for dozens of jobs in the industry: accountants, lab techs, growers and trimmers to name a few. Fontes says the people who live in Greenfield are a good fit. Many already work in agriculture.

“But the attraction for the employee is, it’s a good wage, they can be out of the wind, out of the sun, clean break rooms, bathrooms. And it’s steady employment year round,” says Fontes.

A lot of ag jobs are seasonal. So many residents struggle, especially when it’s not harvest season. Hundreds get help at a monthly food bank distribution near City Hall. Forklifts help arrange big cardboard boxes full of fresh produce just a block away from the new marijuana facility.

“Personally, my opinion, it’s too close to the city. We can smell the cannabis at nighttime, even during the day,” says Esteban Rojas.

Rojas volunteers at the food distribution. The father of three says Greenfield needs more community services, especially youth sports.

“It’s funny because we have to go out of our own city limits to look for a better athlete program for our kids,” Rojas says.

But he’s concerned about cannabis being the economic driver for more services. He’s in the process of moving his family to Texas.

“Give my kids a better future, a better opportunity, and not deal with all this cannabis stuff,” Rojas says.

Further downtown, the staff at La Plaza Bakery cleans up after the lunchtime rush. Raul Rodriguez is the manager. He’s okay with the growing cannabis industry.

“I don’t see it very different than a, a gaming casino, e a brewery to come into town. Because those will have their negative effects as well,” says Rodriguez.

Rodriguez and I grab a table. He knows most of the customers that trickle in for afternoon coffee. He and his wife have lived in Greenfield for 26 years. “

We’ve raised a couple of sons who are in college now. And you know, they grew up, played little league, did all the sports and clubs, so we’ve gotten to know the town and the residents pretty well. And I’ve been active in city government,” he says.

Rodriguez says it’s time for his city to grow.

“I think you can only stay a quaint, nice, quiet town up to a certain point. I think if we don’t grow and if we stay too small, all our students will leave and probably not come back,” Rodriguez says.

He hopes the new cannabis industry will attract young people to come back and work as managers or lab techs. And he hopes the industry will attract commercial development.

Greenfield City Manager Jaime Fontes says it already has.

“For example, we’ve already got a new development going up on Walnut, Carl’s Jr., Fastrip, and a new hotel going up and a lot of that comes from the ripple effect of this industry,” says Fontes.

The city anticipates that seven marijuana facilities will be up by the end of the year and the rest to come in 2019.

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