Etsy Closes Pot-Farming Nuns’ Online Store As Photo Series Goes Viral

By Paul Gaita 03/31/16

Etsy initially permitted the sisters to sell their products but later removed the shop due to policy violations.

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Etsy Closes Pot-Farming Nuns’ Online Store As Photo Series Goes Viral
Photo via Shaughn and John

There’s been another setback for the Sisters of the Valley. The Merced, California-based nuns who grow cannabis for their line of healthcare remedies, lost their source of online sales when Etsy shuttered their shop last week.

The store closure is the latest setback for the two nuns—Sister Kate and Sister Darcy, who are unaffiliated with any traditional religious order—who also face trouble on their home front after the Merced City Council unanimously voted to ban the sale and cultivation of medical marijuana within the city in January.

"Sisters of the Valley" photo series by Shaughn and John 

recent viral photo series by Shaughn Crawford and John DuBois takes a look at their marijuana grow operation in Merced. In the photo above, Sister Darcy, aka 24-year-old Darcy Johnson, partakes of the sisters’ harvest.

When asked about the business, Sister Darcy said to KFSN, “It’s more for me about the sisterhood and the feminist movement, to live and work with other women and to do a positive thing for the community—and obviously for the world since we ship it everywhere.”

The Sisters of the Valley’s products include a variety of organic salves, tinctures and oils that they claim are effective for pain-related issues like migraines, toothaches, diaper rash and even hangovers. The products are manufactured with the non-psychoactive cannabis compound, cannabidiol (CBD), which Sister Kate claims can take away seizures and is “very high in demand from cancer patients.” CBD contains less than 1% THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.

Etsy initially permitted the sisters to sell their products on the website—which is sort of like an eBay for handcrafted goods—but later removed the shop due to what has been described as policy violations regarding health claims attributed to the products. The nuns were reportedly earning more than $40,000 a month from sales before the store's closure, which they used to pay their utility and Internet bills, a support team, and various repairs to their abbey.

"Sisters of the Valley" photo series by Shaughn and John 

In this photo, Sister Kate, whose real name is Christine Meeusen, burns a sage bundle at the Sisters of the Valley’s residence. The sisters are not linked to any religious order, but consider their products an expression of spirituality. “We didn’t want to found a religion, we didn’t want to hide under cover of a non-profit, we just wanted a sustainable business that was also a way of life,” said Sister Kate in January.

The sisters have now launched a GoFundMe campaign to cover their various expenses after the Etsy closure, and have already raised a little over $2,000 since it launched on March 25. “We had a dream of living a simple life, making our medicines on a quiet farm, in a spiritual environment, and being self-sustaining,” they write on the funding site.

Their products remain on sale through a new commerce site, where business appears to be slow but steady, with a few hiccups along the way. In the meanwhile, the sisters are fielding ideas to attract donors with deeper pockets: “We should probably put up something that says, ‘If you donate $5K, we will come make salves at your house!’ Anyone know a one percenter that would like the anarchist sisters at their home making salves?” they posted on Facebook. 

"Sisters of the Valley" photo series by Shaughn and John 

The Sisters of the Valley have managed to relaunch their commerce site, but still face opposition from the Merced City Council, which has banned all marijuana cultivation within city limits. “It’s frustrating to me, because there are all of these people will negative attitudes about something that is truly God’s gift,” Sister Darcy told ABC News in January.

You can check out other photo series from Shaughn and John on Instagram and on their website

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.