By Caitlin Switzer

RIDGWAY—After 16 years in business, Sheila and Tim Manzagol had hit something of a “plateau.” Their 40-acre farm in Ridgway, Shining Mountain Herbs, is known throughout the region as a leader in the production of handcrafted, organic herbal products in keeping with Shining Mountain’s mission: “Everyone deserves optimal health.” Despite the challenges of growing at an elevation of 7,000 feet, Shining Mountain Herbs makes impressive use of biodynamic farming techniques and grows 80 percent of the herbs used in its sought-after products on site.

And yet, one of nature’s most potent remedies remained unavailable to them.

“We had been waiting to be able to use medical marijuana,” Tim Manzagol said. “So when the Ouray County Board of Commissioners voted to allow some cultivation, we saw it as an opportunity.”

The Ouray County Board of Commissioners adopted Ordinance 2014-003 on Dec. 22, 2014. The Ordinance notes that no more than five licensees are to be permitted in 2015, and no more than 10 in 2016.

With only five cultivation licenses to be issued in the County this year, however, the process was competitive, even for one of the community’s most established commercial farms. So the Manzagols joined other applicants in camping out overnight outside the Ouray County Land Use Office, where applications were to be delivered at 8 a.m on Jan. 20.

“We knew that one of those permits was being grandfathered in,” Tim Manzagol said. “So we knew that left just four open slots, and that those would be filled on a first-come, first served basis.

“So we camped out through the day and overnight with the other applicants,” he said, calling the experience “weird but fun.”

“It was the craziest thing; there was so much camaraderie,” he said. “And in the morning, (County Planner) Mark Castrodale came to let us in and made a pot of coffee.”

And though they had held second place in the application line, the Manzagols’ permit ended up being the first approved by the BOCC on March 17.

“The County staff and three Commissioners were very cooperative,” Tim said. “And though concerns were discussed, nobody raised any objections through the entire process.”

Shining Mountain Herbs will become two companies now, he noted. Shining Mountain Herbs will continue to sell “non-infused” organic herbal products as it always has, while a new entity, Shining Mountain, will create and sell organic herbal products that are infused with organic, medical marijuana grown on site.

“Our botanical ‘basket’ has been greatly enriched by cannabis,” said Sheila Manzagol, a certified clinical herbalist of more than 18 years.  “This gives us more opportunities to help people with wellness in a big way,” she said. “Cannabis can produce dramatic, helpful effects for diseases like epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, insomnia…the list goes on and on. This is a botanic that has been evolving along with us, and we are so excited to be able to incorporate it into our work.”

Because Shining Mountain Herbs is an organic farm, product grown there will be organic. Because it cannot be certified as such through a Federal program, however, it will be certified through an organization called “Clean Green,” she said, adding, “Only one other marijuana grower in the state is certified as organic.”

If it seems unlikely that the Manzagols–known locally as family-oriented, school-volunteer types–have become the County’s first licensed marijuana cultivators, the community’s respect and trust in them has been evident throughout the process.

“The unanimous BOCC decision made us feel good,” said Sheila, who began her career as an AIDS researcher, and worked in an immune biology lab at Stanford Medical School before she and Tim purchased their Ridgway farm in 1995.

“It’s remarkable that there were no objections to our application,” she said.

“We are all about wellness, family and community.”

The Manzagols have been working closely with the state throughout the process as well, Tim said.

“This in an industry in its infancy,” he said. “That is not a bad thing. I cannot believe how many people have expressed their support to us; I believe it’s because we are a known commodity—we have even provided organic foods to the schools here for many years.

“They know we’ll do this right.”

Learn more about Ridgway’s Shining Mountain Herbs at http://www.shiningmountainherbs.com/.