Why Industrialized Farming Isn’t Craft Cannabis

Growers across Oregon operate under an unusually high craft standard.Our industry cousins in beer and wine are the ones to thank for that. While prohibition kept us at bay from their scene, word was still getting out about our flower. But flower quality is only as good as the grower’s methodology. The spectrum ranges between the highly sterile and industrial to outdoor farmers packing chamomile flowers into sausage casings, for the purposes of pacifying soil digestion.

Is this outdoor or indoor?

This question is a provocative one. Framing this in the wrong manner can be akin to throwing a lightsaber at a Star Trek fan. That’s because “indoor” encompasses anything not grown outdoor. Greenhouse growers hate being lumped with indoor growers because of the bad connotation warehouse grows have, even though the OLCC considers greenhouses outdoor, but only if there’s no artificial lighting being used on mature plants.   

Growing comes in two main structural forms; warehouse or greenhouse. Both have their weaknesses depending on the soil and light techniques they use. You shouldn’t be asking which way is the best way. Instead, ask yourself, which one is the most ecologically cohesive?

Growing in a retrofitted shipping container sounds like a dystopian nightmare, considering nothing else in Oregon is grown in this manner. An industrial grow can still use sustainable living soil, a practice rooted under the holistic tenets of permaculture. But sadly, this isn’t usually the case with this form. These grows are typically built for high production volume rather than quality. Anheuser Busch or Monsanto would shed an apathetic tear of joy over this sort of departure from nature. A greenhouse offers the same level of control a warehouse grow does. Plus, it comes with a companion: our beloved sun.

Greenhouses and conservatories have been around for awhile. Your standard commercial greenhouse is made of transparent polycarbonate paneling. The sun works with these panels in tandem to create naturally humidified environments. Computers monitoring outside air flow adjust humidity, preventing any vapor pressure deficits that, in turn, help maintain acclimatized consistency.

Methods like vertical farming will become commonplace as urban populations increase. The fact you can put them anywhere is another plus for distribution, probably the most distinct advantage industrial farming has. Custom LED lights replace the need for sunlight as yellow light isn’t really a necessary spectrum for plants. Whether they are the more energy efficient option is debatable. Greenhouses use artificial light too, but at a much lower consumption rates—especially when you integrate them with some photovoltaic solar panels.

Progress can be a loose term muddled by an overgeneralized sense of pragmaticism. In this case, technology and innovation should be an adaptable force around the elements nature already provides, not a departure away from it entirely. These two forms coexist during a time when agriculture as a whole can still make reforms against the idea of growing for growth’s sake. Craft cannabis isn’t about excess; it’s about low intervention and having respect for the plant.  

All This Good Soil, And You Choose To be Salty?

Liquid nutrients are easy, faster alternatives to soil building or composting. Many prohibition growers adopted this into their repertoire because of its low-key integration. After dialing in the ratios, it’s possible to pull sizable yields; colas big enough to eclipse a child’s face.

The practice might produce quick results but lacks substance or nuance. Small traces of sodium in these liquid fertilizers accumulate over time, requiring constant maintenance in a redundant practice known as “flushing.” Failing to regulate chelated buildup results in a decrease of biomass in the soil, in a rather violent biochemical process called “osmotic shock.” This is when water displacement within the cell membrane of a microbe bursts open.

Having a sizable microbial population naturally buffers the PH level in soil, making this dysfunctional balancing act of preserving biomass, without inundating your living soil with impurities, completely unnecessary. Working with microbiology, instead of against it, is the essence of what you might call “craft cannabis.” Living soil is the term that describes a complex organic food network, powered by the relationship between root exudates (carbohydrates and sugars) and the microbes that depend on them. Nematodes, protozoa, fungi, and bacteria all operate as stewards, gobbling up these exudates, then converting them into nutrients for the plant.

As far as the end product goes, smoking a salty bud can result in terrible headaches and nausea. Pro tip: if you ever smoke a bowl, and your flower doesn’t turn white afterwards, then you are smoking straight garbage. Surely, you didn’t vote for legalization just to end up smoking stuff grown from some dude’s bathtub.

An expansion of more ecologically based practices will become common ideology associated with what makes craft cannabis a craft. Many farms are already adopting a wine industry philosophy known as terroir, with its main axiom being low intervention through respect. Biodynamically certified vineyards blur the lines between science and holistic voodoo. That isn’t to say there is no merit to harvesting during an equinox, or filling a cow’s horn with dung and burying it. At least these oddball attempts come from an honest place of respect and sustainability instead of profit and indifference. 

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