Go back

Philadelphia Magazine
November 1969

SOCIAL NOTES FROM NEAR AND FAR: Random Jottings From A Hash Harvest Festival By Joan Kron

I had to get permission from my lawyer to go to a party on the Main Line last week. He told me that attending was risky, but reporting what I witnessed was OK, since Pennsylvania has a law that reporters can't be forced to disclose their sources.
I figured if Ruth Seltzer has managed to stay out of jail all these years, covering an anti-social social event shouldn't make me cop-out on my first assignment. So I am here to report that the Respectable People are going underground-farming for their own consumption, going clandestinely agrarian in all the best zip codes. But don't expect to buy the pick of the crop at the Rittenhouse Square Flower Market benefit for Bryn Mawr Hospital. And don't be disappointed at missing a glimpse of their designer overalls in Ruby e's column or not hearing it discussed at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Convention.

Because it's illegal.

They're planting grass, and I don't mean zoysia. Right between the rhododendron and the laurel. Marijuana, as high as an elephant's eye. Given weather like we've had this past summer, Lancaster Pike could be renamed Tobacco Road.

For instance, Mr. and Mrs. X (you don't expect me to name names, do you?), long-established residents of Montgomery County, hosted a harvest on a Sunday early last month. The bucolic coming-out party for their first crop of "the stuff" took place in their two-acre pleasure garden, adjacent to the heated swimming pool, a short walk from their custom-built residence. Guests were wined on Dr. Pepper and Gatorade while waiting for the full complement of "migrant farm workers" 10 arrive. Absent was the family gardener, a sharecropper who doesn't work on Sunday.

Standing in front of her field of giant marijuana bushes protected by a KEEP OFF THE GRASS sign, Mrs. X discussed her reasons for cultivating this crop. Like the families I interviewed in Chestnut Hill and Bucks County, her family smokes. She agrees with the college professor who told me that he prefers his children to light up at home rather than out someplace where they might be arrested.

The X family grow their own grass for the same reason, but they volunteered a few subsidiary motivations: it's expensive to buy, lately in short supply, often inferior or contaminated (the FDA hasn't set standards yet) and they do not want to support the local pushers. No one I interviewed was growing it for resale. Just enough for their own consumption, plus some extra for Christmas presents. After all, everyone's really had it with those homemade fruit cakes. Mrs. X summed it up nicely while tying on her Appalachian patchwork apron. "Let's face it," she said, "it beats raising vegetables."

While hosing the roots in preparation for digging up her 20 forbidden bushes, she divulged some of her botanical secrets. An experienced victory gardener, she studied with a friend who studied at the Barnes Foundation school of horticulture. She expects her plants to be the best in the county because she [arms organically: no crop dusting with DDT, no chemical fertilizers. To be extra safe, she talks to the trees.

The seeds, of course, don't come from Burpee's. You find them free in any bag of "grass." Discriminating growers wait for some really dynamite stud before sifting for seeds with junior's sand strainer.

This past March, Mrs. X started her seeds in bean sprouters purchased at the Main Line Health Food Shop and kept them inside the potting shed until Memorial Day when she planted them ill her well-limed, arable land. Naturally, crop rotation was de rigueur. This year's grass land (alkaline) was last year's tomato plot (acid). During the 100-day growth period she treated. the soil with natural organic fertilizer processed, according to the label, by the Milwaukee Sewage Commission. The sun and the rain and strategic pinching did the rest. She must have been doing something right because her bushes were eight feet tall. They even miraculously survived the worst threat of all—poaching. Bushels of the local crop are filched each year, but you can't exactly call your township police and say someone stole your marijuana bushes.

Harvesting with a little help from your friends is an old American custom. Accomplished reapers, Mr. and Mrs. Y do their own farm thing in Germantown so no one had to brief them. For starters, Mrs. Y kicked 00 her Swedish clogs, waded ankle-deep into the irrigated thicket and didn't hesitate to muddy her manicure while digging out each plant by its roots. Long fingernails are the preferred garden tool for this delicate Job. Mr. Y, wearing a hippie wig, was waterproof-watch deep in the swamp helping his wife clean the roots of excess mud. She said it felt just like giving a friend a shampoo.

As soon as a plant was dug up and laid out, Mrs. X bound each one in a cheesecloth bag. The Xs' recently debuted niece Miss Q helped, despite her obvious allergy to the weed. She was wearing, for the occasion, a green T-shirt silk-screened with a Cannabis leaf design. Her escort pitched right in and hung the bound bushes upside down from the roof beams in the drying shed. During the 3-to-10-day air curing process, the sap from the roots will flow down into the leaves. Mr. X predicts a yield of 250 joints from each plant, plus tea from the roots and hashish from the tender top leaves. That should get them through the winter nicely.

During the scene, reminiscent of a Millet painting, Mr. X, in Bill Blass bermudas, was recording the event for his memory book with a Leicaflex.

An hour and a half after they started, the shed was full and the field looked like Uncle Ben's rice paddy. Someone quick-dried a broken branch of the stuff under a sun-lamp, tried it in a water pipe and pronounced it as good as Acapulco Gold. While the assembled guests mused on the proper name for this strain—Radnor Rose? Paoli Perfection? Villanova Velvet?—Mr. X spotted the local fuzz cruising slowly beyond the picket fence ... unsuspecting ... but then it does seem hard to believe ... such respectable, upstanding people.

It did put a slight damper on the affair, though, and the harvest festival broke up shortly afterward. Mrs. Y's mother, a venerable if jolly dowager, observed that farming was more interesting than Prohibition. "It gets you out in the air," she said.

Go back