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14 May 2018

Cannabis in the CV: It's Time to Take Farmers' Market Values and Apply Them to Marijuana

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I have long proclaimed the greatness of using local produce grown and picked at the height of ripeness—something I learned after working in the restaurant industry.

I visit the farmers’ market in Palm Springs every week. The example I use to justify the extra expense and time it takes to shop at a farmers’ market is a tomato: Imagine those little red bags of water on the shelf of every grocery store. They have almost no smell, very little flavor, and often a mealy texture; they seem barely worth the effort. Now … think about the tomato you can get at the farmers’ market, or better yet, fresh out of a garden: They smell slightly acidic and rich with accumulated sunshine. All you need is that fresh tomato and a little salt, and you have a perfect lunch.

So … why shouldn’t I apply these same values to cannabis? If it makes sense to buy a fresh tomato from a local farmer, why wouldn’t I buy marijuana from a local grower?

Although the Coachella Valley is becoming a hot bed of the cannabis industry, our … shall I say, harsh summers mean most local growing is being done indoors. However, marijuana can be grown outdoors here; after all, plenty of farmers in northern climes have farms that are dormant at least three months of the year, so why can’t we? Cannabis is a hearty plant and has been cultivated by humans for eons, and to grow it commercially with success, one needs hot days, warm nights, lots of sun exposure and low humidity. That sounds like a perfect description of the Coachella Valley to me.

When I was growing up, indoor-grown cannabis was considered vastly superior, in large part due to prohibition: Outdoor growers couldn’t grow in optimal conditions, as they needed to keep their plants shaded to protect them from both the feds and organized crime. (If this sounds familiar, yes, it is the plot to every Cheech and Chong movie.) However, shade-grown cannabis produces lower yields, with lower THC content, than plants grown in the full sun.

With the huge amount of money to be had on the black market, indoor growers developed technologies to grow their crops quickly, with high THC percentages. However, the amount of energy it takes to control indoor-grow operations is phenomenal: Between heating, air conditioning, lighting and fans for airflow, published estimates have said cannabis is responsible for 1 percent of the total U.S. energy consumption—and 3 percent of California’s energy consumption! This means sun-grown cannabis has a much smaller carbon footprint. Even with the marijuana industry taking advantage of solar power and other sustainable technologies, sun-grown plants will always win by comparison.

Pest are another concern for both indoor and outdoor growers, although sun-grown cannabis has a natural resilience to many insects, meaning outdoor grows can be kept healthy with minimal cost or hassle. Indoor grows are also much more susceptible to mites, as well as mildew, which the grower must then control with a variety of chemicals—chemicals I personally do not want to consume. They also must utilize a larger variety of commercial fertilizers to optimize their investment.

Terrior is important, too. Sun-grown cannabis, much like a sun-grown tomato, has a much more complex flavor—and, I think, more interesting effects. After comparing the tastes and smell of indoor versus sun-grown product, I am finding sun-grown to be a much more enjoyable experience.

For these reasons, I am making a conscious choice to seek out sun-grown cannabis for my own consumption. Of course, I will never turn down cannabis when it is offered to me, but I want to use my purchasing power to support a sustainable industry. Unfortunately, since most sun-grown cannabis is coming out of Northern California as of now, there is the associated environmental cost of transportation to think about.

The best solution for me would be to grow my own plants, outdoors in my yard. Proposition 64 allows households to grow up to six plants at any given time. With an approximate three-month growing period, I could probably harvest three times a year. If each plant yields a half-pound of smokable product, that is about 9 pounds per year—plus all the extra bits that can be used to make oils.

There is only problem with this: I have the exact opposite of a green thumb. I have killed every “easy to keep alive” plant I have ever gotten. Luckily for me, I have several friends with green thumbs who have offered to give me hand.

As soon as summer ends here in the Coachella Valley, I plan on trying to cultivate a few plants. I’ll let you know how that goes.

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