Cannabis isn’t naturally grown indoors. Like nearly all agricultural produce, it needs a healthy dose of organic soil, fresh water, and of course, sunlight to flourish. But when reefer madness hit the United States — and helicopter raids on outdoor pot farms became a legitimate threat — many farmers were forced to move inside, lest they risk imprisonment.
While many farmers, especially in northern California, nonetheless took a chance on their freedom to continue growing their crop under the sun, cannabis legalization now offers a greater sense of security for license-holders — including, and especially, those looking to cultivate, as God intended, out in the open.
Flow Kana, a collective of craft growers that distributes California's number-one selling flower, supplies more sungrown cannabis than anyone else in the state. Flow Kana, itself, is not a cultivation company, but more like a central hub that packages and distributes cannabis on behalf of small farmers from the Emerald Triangle (which is comprised of Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity Counties). They're the anti-big cannabis of big cannabis, supporting California's independent farmers, many of whom hail from families that have been growing weed for generations.
In 2018, Flow Kana worked with a total of 200 unique farmers. These farmers grow all their crop under sun, whether directly outdoors or in greenhouses.
Flow Kana's push to produce more sungrown cannabis than any other company reflects a commitment to environmental sustainability and regenerative agriculture (the point of which is to remediate the environment as a primary purpose of growing a crop). As The Guardian reported in a 2016 article aptly titled “Pot is Power Hungry," the then $3.5 billion industry was among the nation's most "energy intensive."
In 2018, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimated that growing cannabis indoors makes up as much as one percent of electricity use nationwide. That comes to $6 billion a year and amounts to 15 million tons of greenhouse gases. With the passage of the Farm Bill to legalize hemp production, this number will only increase, unless, of course, measures are taken to decrease the cannabis industry's carbon footprint.
To The Guardian's point, in 2014 (two years after Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana), Denver’s 362 marijuana growing facilities grew to consume more than two percent of the city’s electrical usage.
In a 2016 study conducted for San Diego Gas & Electric, Evergreen Economics broke down the energy consumption rates for indoor cannabis production and found that lighting, ventilation, and air conditioning account for roughly 90 percent of all energy consumed.
Sungrown cannabis, however, provides a solution for many of these issues. “You’re using natural sunlight which has the full range of light spectrum," Tina Gordon - a farmer at Moon Made Farms, which supplies cannabis to Flow Kana - explained to Civilized. "You’re catching rainwater. The people are living on the land where they cultivate cannabis and give back to the land."
Moreover, the cannabis plant is "perfectly timed" for California summer weather, echoes Michael Steinmetz - CEO of Flow Kana. “It’s planted in March and it’s harvested before the first rain in October or November," he said. "It's almost an eight to nine month-cycle over the sun. This allows the plant to have full terpene and cannabinoid development compared to an indoor plant that’s forced to be harvested every six weeks.”
Techniques that mimic the course of nature, but which also manipulate and speed up the plant's natural cycle, are tough on the environment and the plant, itself. Indoor cannabis often requires a more intensive pest management scheme than outdoor cannabis, since the artificial environment lacks the natural balance to combat pests, mildew, mold, and other plant predators.
Polyculture, the act of growing multiple crops beside cannabis, is one of the most effective ways to naturally ward off pests.
"Integrated pest management strategies that involve diversified crops and beneficial plant species can help mitigate pests and confuse pathogens,” said Casey O'Neill of Happy Day Farms. Growing diverse crops foster a habitat that’s beneficial for “certain insects and pollinators that prevent an excessive build up of pests,” he continued.
In addition to polyculture, there are numerous techniques used to promote sustainability and regenerative agriculture. One method that is particularly helpful is called cover cropping.
“During the winter season, a farmer will plant a nitrogen-fixing crop like legumes or beans,” explained Jesse Dodd, the creator of Biovortex and the co-creator of the Emerald Cup's Regenerative Farm Award. “These crops have a microbiology in their root nodules that allows for the growth of a bacteria called rhizobium, among others. By housing these bacteria, they’re able to create nitrogen, which is then released into the soil and used for nutrition in the next batch of crops.”
The cover crops also pull carbon from the atmosphere using photosynthesis, helping to fight climate change. While you may think that all crops do that, he added, “monocrops actually have a negative effect on climate change, and end up releasing more carbon into the atmosphere.”
Gordon suggests that cannabis consumers should ask where their cannabis comes from, how its grown, what the cultivator's standards are, and consider the positive or negative impact of the cultivation site.
With roughly 68,000 cannabis farmers in California according to the California’s Growers Association, that's not always simple information to find out, but that’s why Gordon calls Flow Kana “instrumental.”
“Flow Kana provides access to small farmer culture where people are cultivating with intention —thinking about the impact this has on the Earth, as well as on the people consuming the plant,” she said.
By the end of 2019, Flow Kana plans on having tours of the farms, where one can see exactly how the plant is cultivated, offering even further transparency. Think of it like touring a vineyard in Napa Valley, where you get to see firsthand the terroir of wine-making and the day-to-day work that goes into turning grapes into a consumer product.
Cannabis users are beginning to care more about the environmental impact of their usage as well as the quality of what they’re putting into their bodies. At this point, the sungrown movement feels similar to the organic movement in the early 2000s, when the worldwide market for organic products, (including food, beauty, health, bodycare, and household products, and fabrics), grew exponentially, prompting a number of countries to establish a government-regulated organic certification.
“Being the number-one selling flower in the state, I get validation from the market,” Steinmetz said. “Consumers really care about quality and sustainability, and are proving it through their wallets."