February Fire Festival Blazed the Best Homegrown Cannabis in Richmond


As a bartender by trade, I have spent numerous hours creating and critiquing drinks with some of the best boozy minds in the nation. I had a regular at The Locker Room, my current post, tell me there was a local home-grown cannabis cup, named February Fire Festival, that needed judges to taste and evaluate the local offerings of Richmond’s sacred herb. I had a keen, honed, and passionate interest in this festivity and followed the necessary steps to become a judge of Richmond’s cannabis capabilities.

One of those steps was attending the class to become a judge, then an examination of your impressions of two test samples within the parameters of the judging criteria. As I listened to the presentation during the class, I was reminded of the parallels between fine cannabis and fine wine. A great wine or a great bud of cannabis can be turned into a mediocre product without time, craft, or care. Not to mention a vast amount of knowledge and skill.

Both wine and cannabis have base flavors that are dictated by their genetic families, with the finest of the variants being carefully selected over millennia for their palatability and proclivities for calming the mind and soothing the soul. Unlike grapes for wine, it is only within the last few years in Virginia that you can legally grow cannabis. As I received my two test samples to judge, my mind had trouble computing the fact that I used to buy dime bags in the booths at the New York Fried Chicken, Pizza, and Biscuits on Broad.

Unlike the dime bags, my samples were totally free, and very good. The criteria I had been given to evaluate sample A and B with were appearance, aroma, and flavor, each to a high level of detail. The process to knowing you have great bud is simplified as follows:

February Fire Festival 2023
The author with a sample.

Trichome Density: This one’s a dense subject, and those who know, already know. Feel free to educate yourself if you do not.

Feel: Finely cured cannabis has a dry and waxy feel to it, not moist or wet. As a rule, if it’s waxy and sticks to your fingers, it’s as Snoop would call it, ‘The Sticky Icky’. This is a good sign that it was cured properly.

Smell: This one is done in stages, first as you open the jar. This was where my time critiquing wines came into play. You can get all kinds of smells from a freshly opened jar of correctly cured cannabis, often many at once. But they are deeply complex, ranging from actual skunk, pine, and barnyard smells to tropical fruit, stone fruit, cheese, cake, or berries.

Smoke: On your way to smoking the bud, you are asked to grind it, noticing the smells within the bud itself, which can vary from the smell of the open jar. From there, you evaluate the taste of the smoke. If it is not cured properly, it will taste like chlorophyl or hay and dirt. Both of my samples were cured properly. One notably began with a taste of leather that gave way to guava, vanilla, and yellow cake.

Effects: Are you high? How high? Do you feel eased or pulled into the initial onset? Do you feel a pleasant pressure against your temples or your muscles relaxing? Does a straw really only have one hole? These are the questions you ask yourself while smoking finely farmed cannabis.

February Fire Festival 2023
‘Purple Marmalade’ cannabis strain

With the necessary questions answered, I was accepted to be a judge of the February Fire Festival by the powers that be, most notably Josh Rickey of 13 Plants, founder of February Fire. I received 12 samples, all labeled in sequential numbers from growers all over the city. I sampled all of them when I initially got them, but I was planning a trip out of the country for the first time, I kept buying other herbs until I found the perfect opportunity to review all twelve samples. Much to my chagrin, I never found the time and didn’t submit the answers by January 31 before leaving for vacation. In all fairness, my clear winner was 798. It was sticky, smelled like purple stuff, and had a long-lasting, strong, and easy high that eased the tension in my back and lower legs.

Once I returned from vacation, I contacted Josh to apologize, and he assured me all was well, as he had enough judges to determine a clear winner. I resumed the comfortable rhythm of work and home life, smoking the gracious gifts I had been given, all of which paled in comparison to 798. Before I knew it, the day of February Fire had arrived.

On February 25, the February Fire Festival took place on an afternoon beset by icy rain. At Homegrown VA, a crowd of about 100 people mingled peacefully, celebrating the beauty of legal recreational homegrown cannabis. The event had a homey and comfortable sense of community, reminiscent of a large neighborhood gathering.

Josh from 13 Plants and Parker Walton of Walton Select addressed the crowd about the importance of uniting as a community. They emphasized preserving our rights to grow our seeds and plants, in opposition to what they referred to as ‘corporate cannabis.’ This term seemed to encompass legislation restricting local communities from participating in the cannabis industry, forcing it into the hands of corporations with the necessary capital.

Winners were announced in various categories, including best new grower, best auto-flower, best woman grower, and others. The first announced was 798, which turned out to be a Purple Marmalade strain of cannabis. The best new grower, 798, was a no-show at the event. Having smoked his plant, I nodded in quiet understanding.

Both the best auto-flower and best woman grower were present to accept their prizes. I realized I was essentially at an adult 4-H competition. The best auto-flower grower displayed a giddy and bashful “Who, me?” expression that endeared him to the crowd. The best woman grower, a warm and bubbly woman, shared that she started growing when her daughter suggested it as a way to create peace at home.

She had grown a White Afghani strain from local seed purveyor Jolly Pond Farm, which had a citrusy, nostalgic flavor for me. My only reliable high school connection to fine herb was an Afghani strain, and this tasted quite similar to what I remembered.

February Fire Festival 2023
Overall winner ‘Mcpeyton’ of the February Fire Festival 2023

The best overall award went to 724, a strain called Mcpeyton. I’ll be honest; I don’t remember the person. Many people shared their herb, and things became fuzzy fast. After the announcements and awards, I caught up with Josh and asked him about the inspiration for organizing February Fire. I made the mistake of smoking a blunt with a cannabis cup organizer and then attempting to think and speak clearly. Fortunately, Josh had everything under control.

February Fire Festival 2023
Josh Rickey of 13 Plants

Alright, Josh, you founded the February Fire event. What was your inspiration for doing so?

Well, I noticed lots of cannabis cups happening, and they were all in October. As an outdoor grower, my harvest isn’t ready until around the end of the year. So, I decided that February, a time of year that’s dark and depressing for many, would be perfect to brighten up our winter.

You definitely chose the right day. There was ice hitting my windshield on the way here.

It snowed last year, but that’s February in Richmond. It was 80 degrees last week.

Yeah, so you never really know how to feel. In your speech, you mentioned the fight against big cannabis. What is the issue with corporate cannabis, and can I hit that? (Referring to a blunt he had rolled)

Absolutely. The problem with corporate cannabis is that it’s focused on profiting from medicine we desperately need. For many of us, this is medicine. For others, it helps quell demons and makes life more bearable. Corporate cannabis aims to squash home-growers’ rights, forcing us to buy their low-grade products at high prices, preventing us from supplying our own needs.

In which states has this already become apparent?

Illinois is a prime example of a state where corporate cannabis has crushed home-growers’ rights. They’re selling low-grade stuff at inflated prices, and it’s unfortunate because people have to spend their entire paycheck on the medicine they need. In New Jersey, you can’t even grow at home. It’s absurd they’re telling us we can’t grow a plant. The reason we can only have four plants here is because they lobby against us growing more. They don’t want us as competition, knowing they can profit from the cannabis boom by keeping us down and preventing us from supplying our own needs.

And there’s so much money to be made. Even at the beginning of cannabis prohibition in America, when it was tied to racism and used to label and exclude people, there was a push to ban hemp as well. Once plastics emerged, textile and paper companies favored making hemp illegal to capitalize on their technologies. There’s an entire history behind what you’re saying.

There’s too much money at stake, and many companies can’t afford to have us as competition. To cash in on the cannabis boom, they’ll keep us down and prevent us from meeting our own needs.

And would you say that… hold on… (This is where the blunt kicked in).

What’s interesting about this community is we’re not here to make a buck. Yes, there are business owners, but they’re honest, hardworking people who elevate us all. They host workshops, educate, donate, and participate in events like this, which raises and educates the entire community. When was the last time you saw that much good weed lined up? Nobody has seen this kind of thing locally. Most of the time, we only know what we’ve been getting from the guy up the street or what our friend might be growing. Now, we’re finally able to showcase our capabilities as a community and learn from each other. Growers are happy to share their genetics. If there’s a winner or strain you enjoyed, they’re willing to share their clones. It’s a culture of sharing and giving, which is a beautiful thing.

I’ve noticed that this event has a genuine community feel, which is inspiring. In the past, with the illegality of cannabis, one way to know someone was cool was if they wanted to smoke weed with you at the river. It was always something you had to sneak, but now it’s becoming more mainstream. If people interact with it, they’ll benefit from it.

It’s very much a safe place. I feel like anyone in this room who grows and shares something with you is sharing something they’ve consumed themselves and stand by. You don’t know what you’re getting in the commercial market or with imports from California. The stuff that doesn’t pass the test there is what we end up getting here. We can do better. We have to keep growing and advocating for our rights to continue having the right to grow.

What’s the best way to do that?

Participate in events like this, get to know other growers, make friends, and share with them. Vote—make sure you know who you’re voting for. Do your homework before voting and support those advocating for equity provisions, small cannabis businesses, and licenses for those hurt by the failed war on drugs. That’s crucial because there are many talented and skilled people who could bring something amazing to this world but can’t due to charges against them and the damage to their lives.

This event is a positive step, and I’m glad you set it up.

I appreciate you coming out.

No problem. Oh, and thanks for the hit!

Thank you!

February Fire Festival 2023

After speaking with Josh, I was excited about the potential benefits of cannabis for the state, as it has been for me in my life. I wouldn’t call it a miracle medicine, but we keep band-aids at home for treating minor wounds.

Imagine being able to manage our stress without relying on alcohol or prescription pills. I believe that time has come, with the uncertainty of sensible drug legislation in the hands of a Republican governor. But the signs are on the wall. Emerging communities of passionate plant growers are happy to share their wisdom, weed, and seeds with you.

Take advantage of the time we’re in and plant your peace of mind. Let relaxation and comfort take root in your home. Exercise your freedom to grow.

George Wethington

George Wethington

George Wethington is a master of the interviewing process and a connoisseur of collegiate admissions. He likes to spend time in nature. It is his nature.

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