The other side of Eden: Commercial marijuana takes root in Steinbeck country


John Steinbeck’s quintessential California novel “East of Eden,” about pain and poverty in an agricultural paradise, cast this setting in near biblical tones, depicting it as a place of mystical breeze and light, “full of sun and loveliness” and warm like “the lap of a beloved mother.”

He wrote “the top soil lay deep and fertile” and “the whole valley floor, and the foothills too, would be carpeted with lupins and poppies.” Here, Steinbeck called the fields of lettuce “green gold,” and to this day, the productive valley – between the Gabilan Mountains to the east and the Santa Lucias to the west – is known as “the Salad Bowl of the World.”

But it has seen challenging times. In the 1980s, producers of cut flowers erected cavernous greenhouses south of Salinas. Heated and cooled by abundant sunshine and ocean breezes, these buildings created the perfect micro-climate for growing lilies, tulips, delphiniums and orchids. Then global competition, particularly from Latin America, decimated the market. The downturn, occurring over the past two decades, left tracts of vacant, collapsing structures and helped to push the recent unemployment rate to more than 11 percent, well above the state’s 5.1 percent average.

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