Santa Monica Library's Homegrown Teaching

Walking through the front door of the Santa Monica Public Library, up the patio stairs to the second floor, around the building to the community rooms, and through the second door, there is a room with 30 or so people actively listening to speaker Alyssa Sullivan – a young cheerful woman, who is tending to a four-foot tall marijuana plant. Off to the side, standing in front of a massive indoor growing tent seeping out a purple hue from the grow lights, stands event organizer Keenan Chao. This is “How to Grow Your Own Cannabis at Home,” a series of events hosted by Chao’s company, “Plant Buddies,” a personalized beginner growing experience that provides sessions like this one educating on the basics of growing one’s own cannabis.

Chao decided to start hosting these events and create his company after his own personal struggles with figuring out the intricacies of growing. Realizing that there was no solid platform to efficiently educate people with reliable advice, he decided to create “Plant Buddies.”

“When I started growing I went through every single way there was to grow a plant, so some of the questions I had were just really silly ‘How do I water it? Do I pour it all down or pour it around?’ Even though those questions might seem mundane, to me they were huge issues and I just felt embarrassed or intimidated by the whole thing. The other part of this is the cannabis industry is growing, but in a very different sense from a consumer market, there’s nothing really there to empower our rights to grow," explains Chao.

The classes are framed like any other gardening classes with discussions about soil composition, pH levels, and the best feeding techniques, the only difference between this and a flower garden club is the product. The people in attendance come from a range of backgrounds, and are here for a variety of reasons with some present for better techniques for growing, others out of curiosity, and some to learn how to save money. Yet, Chao has seen some real positive impacts from starting these classes, aside from helping people keep a few more bucks in their pocket.

“We had a family come in who’s son had epilepsy, they actually moved here when weed was illegal. They wanted to know about growing and we were happy to help them out, and we’ve had people who’ve had cancer come to us, and people looking for an alternative to opioids. The people we’ve helped, we stay in touch with.”

Sullivan, who helps to instruct the class, is an experienced grower that has been producing cannabis in California for the past seven years. She runs a large scale growing operation that provides organically grown cannabis for customers and vendors throughout Los Angeles.

“I like growing cannabis because I think it gives me the best platform to make a difference in my community," states Sullivan. "I think that especially with cloning, if I can help cultivators get a solid start, that means there's gonna be more better flowers in the world and when there’s more better medicine in the world it just benefits everyone.”

She met Chao a few years ago and helped him to start one of his first grows, after that, they became close friends and she helps him out on occasion at these events. She feels that anyone who uses cannabis should grow their own, however, she is realistic about the convenience of dispensaries in the cannabis community.

“I’m really good at cloning and I am really good at cultivation but I am not good at baking. So I still have to go to a dispensary to get edibles but as far as flower is concerned, I think it’s important that people be growing their own flower just to verify what’s in it,” remarked Sullivan.

Sullivan expressed, “Being able to come here and the fact that all these people showed up and not just one person who was interested in cannabis is huge. There are people in the world that want to be informed, that want to grow their own cannabis, that is what motivates me, what keeps me going, what makes me happy.”

Chao hopes to keep hosting classes like this one and educating people on how to produce home-grown cannabis. Aside from running these classes and owning his own company, he is also active in lobbying for the cannabis community of Los Angeles. He began after the passage of Prop 64 which allows for recreational growing.

The session closed with a raffle, the prizes included seeds, clones, and fully grown plants. The winners of these left with their new knowledge and a grin on their face as they were ready to go home and start their gardens.