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Running One of The World’s Premier Cannabis Competitions

Founders of the NorCal-based Emerald Cup get ready for their 19th annual award show and discuss aiding small farmers in a competitive market
Tim and Taylor Blake

Tim and Taylor Blake

If you want to know if you’re smoking the best flower out there, don’t stop at just the strain name. Go further into the rabbit hole and explore where it’s grown, how it’s made, where it comes from. Better yet, choose a product featured at The Emerald Cup—the ground zero for cannabis competitions built to judge the best weed on the market.

On this week’s episode of The Plant Lady, Jackie chats with founder Tim Blake and his daughter Taylor about the upcoming award show, which will take place in Northern California in May. The 19th annual competition brings together the top cannabis producers from all over California to show off their product in over 50 judgeable categories. The categories range from flower, cartridges, pre-rolls, solventless and BHO concentrates, and edibles to alternative cannabinoids, innovative products, photo, and dispensaries.

The Emerald Cup started out as a small competition between friends when Tim and his grower pals would try each other’s weed and pick which one really hit the spot. Before legalization, that’s really all they could do as both producers and consumers feared prosecution. But since those more low-key, informal days, the loud and proud community expands each year alongside the cup, always priding themselves on authenticity and keeping genuine cannabis culture thriving.

As of 2021, the cup began hosting a festival-style celebration since their one off competition wasn’t enough time for producers to share space and talk shop. With the legal industry growing as each year passes, the latest developments in plant genetics and infusions needed a place for exposure. And so, the Emerald Cup Harvest Ball was born, running each December before the May awards show.

Live music, vendor collaborations, and a farmer’s market appeal to connect consumers directly to the product made this event a hit. The Cup has always been the state’s premier cannabis event, but Tim and Taylor wanted to make a much deeper impact in the community when it came to growing practices and the livelihoods of those who dedicate their careers to the plant.

Last year, the Cup launched the Small Farms initiative to help growers in NorCal stay afloat and competitive in the face of big business. During the Harvest Ball, farmers who practice sun-grown cultivation with under 10,000 square feet of land were given complimentary or discounted vendor spaces at the event alongside other sponsors and brands.

“It’s been my favorite part of the show,” Taylor says on the episode of the Small Farms initiative. “It has so much life in it and you can just truly see that it means a lot to the community and to all of us because these farmers are the ones who deserve to have their place in the market and they deserve to have every single spotlight on them.”

Bringing small farming techniques to the forefront of their mission has been an important part in the Emerald Cup’s growth, she also says.. Tim chimes in, bringing into relief the plight that California’s small cannabis farmer face during the age of adult-use legalization.

“Most of the farmers throughout the Emerald Triangle in this state … weren’t all the way up to speed,” Tim says of when Prop 64 rolled out, giving big businesses and small farmers alike the same time horizon for going legal and fully permitted. “All of a sudden, they were faced with most of them having to put up $2-$300,000 just to get their ranches permitted.”

They knew these farmers could never compete with the large grows down south. Watching their region try to survive this inspired them to use the competition as a direct hub for the small business model of cannabis farming.

To find out more about the Small Farm initiative, as well as more details on the Emerald Cup Awards Show held on May 13, 2023, listen to the full episode of this week’s The Plant Lady and follow @theemeraldcup on Instagram for updates.

By Melody Bathaee

Melody Bathaee is an editorial intern and production assistant at San Diego Magazine. She is currently studying journalism at SDSU where she acts as the social media editor for The Daily Aztec and hosts her radio show, "Beyond The Melody." If she's not climbing a rock somewhere or fueling her coffee addiction at a local cafe, you'll find her brainstorming ideas for future creative projects in media.

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