In 1999 Upper Darby native/actress Heather Donahue and her “Blair Witch Project” co-stars made moviegoers nauseous with their shaky camera-work.
But by 2007 Donahue was controlling nausea for medical marijuana patients in California, where she was growing weed.
Donahue, who’ll be 37 next week, documents her year spent cultivating marijuana in “GrowGirl,” out Jan. 5 from Gotham Penguin Publishing.
She received her own prescription for medical marijuana in 2007 to treat PMS. We asked whether that meant she smoked only one week a month, and she replied, “It’s a very flexible medicine.”
And you might be happy to know that her PMS is now under control.
She got involved in medical marijuana after getting frustrated with her acting career.
“I took all my stuff into the desert related to my acting career and burned it all,” she said.
Even the blue ski cap from the “Blair Witch Project” poster?
“That’s the only thing I kept. I figured if things got really bad, I could always sell it on eBay,” said Donahue, who recently attended her Upper Darby High School 20-year reunion.
Her new career started after Donahue met a man who had lived in “Nuggettown,” a Northern California community where growing weed was common. Donahue “was always an avid gardener,” so she took right to it.
“I became a solitary country girl,” said Donahue, who lived in Los Angeles for years after graduating from the University of the Arts in 2005. She gave up cultivating pot once she decided to write about her experiences, which included her doubts about continuing after her friend got busted by the feds on the day of her first pruning.
She said her indoor-grown product was high-grade, a necessity in the competitive world of medical marijuana.
“I think you’re going to see [medical marijuana] on a lot of ballots over the next few years,” she predicted. Sixteen states, including New Jersey – where no dispensaries have yet opened – have laws allowing medical pot.
“There has been enough support for medical use if not outright legalization that I don’t think it will go away,” she said.
You grow, girl?
SF Bay Guardian Hot Reads issue: From Blair Witch to blazing weed — Heather Donahue’s book takes on the weed community
HERBWISE: The average celebrity autobiography follows an arc of learning and growing. The earnestly-made mistake — whether in the form of childhood shenanigan or adult infidelity — and then the ensuing redemption. But rarely do book-sized treatises emerge from the decision to leave the celebrity fold for the greener fields of bud agriculture. Leave it to the girl from the Blair Witch Project to produce that one.
You know Heather Donahue’s snotface. Apparently too well, because as she writes in her new memoir Grow Girl: Once Upon a Time She Made The Blair Witch Project, Then She Went to Pot. Literally (Gotham Books, 286pp., paper, $26) — score nothing for succinct subtitles — too many people took the movie’s faux-reality premise seriously. Casting agents, it seems, couldn’t shake the feeling that this professional actress was merely a kid caught with a Camcorder when a malignant forest spirit got a bee in its bonnet.
But then she met a guy from Nuggettown (an actual place, renamed for anonymity). What ensued was a romance that left Donahue the proud renter of a secluded house in the wood and enough pot-growing equipment that she had to grow to stay afloat financially.
Such a pat story! Throughout Donahue’s at times overly flowery, but on the whole eminently readable narrative, the growth of her fellow (capital G) “Girls” mirrors her struggle against the confines of society — the larger, non-weed growing one but also more interestingly, the grower (capital C) Community of Nuggettown.
For not all is hunky-dory in the land of impressive tri-cone crystal formation. Women in Nuggettown are relegated to supporting roles — the kept “pot wife,” the “grow girl” that is often bossed about by her XY-chromosomed peers. On the cover of the book Donahue is clutching the top of a healthy bud plant to her naked breasts, a stereotypical male fantasy if there ever was one — but it’s ultimately all about empowerment. She blooms from a shattered ex-actress to a fuller human being, all under the Mondo Reflector she installs herself on the grow room ceiling.
One approach the medical marijuana movement might benefit from is humanizing its growers. Imagine a commercial like those for Florida oranges or California cheeses. A proud farmer fluffs up Mary Jane’s leafy bustle while a down-home voiceover plays in the background (“High CBD levels, if you want ‘em. Donchaknow.”) Yes, your friendly medicine agriculturist is a person too, says Grow Girl. Possibly a person that reinforces gender stereotypes through a strict hippie code of conduct slash double standard, but a person with debts and passions and doubts nonetheless.
Donahue humanizes the cannabis industry. Some farmers, she writes, are making enough money to keep Nuggettown’s kayak store in business, but any conspicuous consumption masks the fact that it’s not really advisable for smalltown weed people to be saving their ducats in your run-of-the-mill local credit union. These are moms-and-pops, guys!
The book is slightly dated. The storyline ends in Nuggettown’s hope for a persecution-free Barack Obama presidency (Obama’s very promises rendered all the more poignant for today’s reader, informed of the President’s about-face on the issue of raiding state-legal growing facilities). For a brief moment, it seemed like cannabis would slough off the shackles of social stigma and claim to an honored position in our medical establishment.
That didn’t happen, of course — the feds raided Mendocino County’s Northstone Organics in October of this year, for chrissakes. But Mary Jane, still she rises, as does Donahue by book’s end, after agricultural disasters, horrendous break-ups, and shattered expectations.
So, Grow Girl is great if you like your marijuana stories imbued with a general sense of struggle. (And what other kind, really, exists these days?)
How My Life After The Blair Witch Project Went to Pot
Author: Donahue, Heather
Review Issue Date: December 1, 2011
Online Publish Date: November 13, 2011
Price ( Hardcover ): $26.00
Publication Date: January 5, 2012
ISBN ( Hardcover ): 978-1-592-40692-0
The life of a medical marijuana grower.
From actress to pot grower, Donahue chronicles her search for meaning in her life. Her acting career on hold after starring inThe Blair Witch Project, the author purged herself of that former lifestyle and became a member of “The Community” in Nuggettown, Calif. A close-knit group due to the nature of their work, The Community swirled in and out of Donahue’s life, offering advice, a helping hand and love. Detailed tips on raising marijuana place readers in the grow room that the author built and maintained, and where she learned the subtle care that “The Girls” (marijuana plants) required to produce fine buds. Interspersed with accounts of her sex life are reflections on the Divine Feminine, love and the meaning of life. Written in a semi–stream-of-consciousness style, at times funny (“Jesus, doc, I just lost my house, I lost my job, I have no fucking health insurance—is there something I can take for that? Yes, sir, here’s an eighth of Chocolope, a Family Guy DVD, some saltines, and a tub of caramel. Call me when you need a refill”), sensitive or filled with obscenities, Donahue’s narrative also includes descriptions of her real vegetable garden (to ward off suspicious neighbors), chickens and an adopted puppy. Evident throughout is the author’s increasing paranoia and dilemma surrounding the growing of a controversial, semi-illegal plant versus her need for self-sufficiency, money and pride in her product.
An intimate look at a woman’s yearlong search for her place in the world while maintaining a marijuana grow room.
Love—and a stalled Hollywood acting career that wasn’t going to see another Blair Witch Project—prompted Donahue to make the career leap to trying to grow medicinal marijuana for a year in a remote California community at the base of the Sierra Nevadas. In her quirky, kooky year-in-the-life account, she writes hilariously of meeting “Judah” (“a sleepy, blond Barney Rubble–skateboy hybrid”) at a silent meditation retreat and resolving, after a smoky visit to his elaborate grow room in Nuggettown, to rent her own house in the neo-hippie growers’ community and try her hand at cultivating “the Girls,” as the luxuriantly sticky female pot plants are called. Despite Judah’s claim of making “sixty thousand every eight weeks,” in the first year she sank a fortune into equipment for the “bloom room,” procured with the (paid) advice of other veteran growers’ in the town, like Judah’s friends Ed and Zeus; they explained the perimeters of California’s Compassionate Care Act and SB 420, such as that you grow only for the patients you have prescriptions for, and no one can grow more than 99 plants. Donahue chose to grow in soil rather than hydroponically, from cuttings and ganga plantlings given by the menfolk’s aggressively blithesome “pot wives”; she also managed to grow vegetables and raised chicks and a puppy, Vito, with some success, even after the pressures of production got to her. Wry, with a nuanced distance from the events, Donahue offers an unorthodox gardener’s take on the growing season. (Jan.)