The laundry list of cannabis cultivation slights against the environment is long and growing. With many stories in the media criticizing cannabis growers for needing too much water to irrigate their plants or too much energy to light and cool their grow ops, one could be forgiven for starting to believe that maybe the marijuana industry is nothing more than a big blight on the environment.
It’s true, growing marijuana can involve a huge carbon footprint, but there are many ways to conserve water when growing as well as being mindful of your energy expenditure, and more and more farms are becoming more and more sustainable. But what if your goal goes beyond sustainability? What if your end goal is to symbiotically benefit the environment and give back to your ecosystem as you grow your high-value plants?
If helping your ecosystem while you grow is important to the way in which you cultivate cannabis, then you may want to think about regenerative agriculture.
According to nonprofit Regeneration International, regenerative agriculture is a form of farming whereby your practices “reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle.” What that means is, by composting, using products like biochar (a charcoal-based soil amendment), rotating crops and more, you can help the environment around you flourish as you grow.
“The best way to get started [with] regenerative farming is to focus developing your awareness of the earth’s ecosystems and ecosystem processes as a means to understanding why we must become regenerative,” Nick Mahmood, owner of the regenerative farm Green Source Gardens, tells Big Buds, adding that studying the water cycle, the carbon cycle and the mineral cycle are all important elements to ensure a regenerative farm.
Mahmood also recommends an easy way of getting started: Cover your soil with a mulch layer of carbonaceous material gathered from your farm.
“Mulching the land has an incredible healing effect, from habitat creation to buffering and slowing rain, to preventing wind and water erosion. Mulch is the superstar for earth care,” he explains.
Mahmood claims the cannabis industry, like any agricultural industry, is mostly focused on creating as much quality product as possible, without necessarily thinking about the environmental impact. He says cannabis farmers need to “prioritize ecological health over economic gain in order to begin to design agricultural systems that function to sequester carbon and care for the long-term health of the environment.”
Jacob Johnson, a regenerative farmer at Flowerdaze Farm, agrees with Mahmood. “The cannabis industry needs to question the true meaning of sustainability, take a good look at itself, and reassess how it presents its values.” Johnson believes the more people who engage in regenerative farming, the more people will see how beneficial it is, and then the method will spread from there.
So, we know that mulching helps, along with composting, rotating crops and biochar. But what else does it take to make your garden regenerative?
Johnson recommends using hugelkultur, a process whereby plants are grown on no-dig beds that are raised above ground level. This method helps the soil better hold moisture, which makes it more fertile. The aboveground mound can include soil, tree clippings, rotten wood and compost.
How To Turn Your Cannabis Grow Into A Regenerative Farm?
There are many ways to make your farm regenerative, and the best approach is to start by studying the ecosystem where you’re growing your plants, and also by practicing a process of elimination. That is, by examining the ways in which your farm might be harming the environment. Pesticides? Too much water consumption? Lack of companion planting? Herbicides? Once you’ve cut out the basic harmful practices that would make your farm harmful to the environment and to the climate, then you can start practicing some of these more complex forms of regenerative farming.
One might assume that this farming tactic is expensive, but Johnson insists, “Regenerative farming is very affordable. The tradeoff is time spent producing your own inputs. You might spend less money, but you will spend more time.”
While time is money, you can’t put a dollar sign on every second of your life. If you want to take care of the environment, you’re going to have to put in the time. That said, it’s not such a huge investment of your time so as to be prohibitive.
“Regenerative [farming] isn’t expensive. It’s more about wisdom through relation to the environment and available resources,” Mahmood explains. “A regenerative farmer knows how to gather and create fertility without catalogues and spending money. Regenerative farming is about harmony with the climate and seasons and focusing on what thrives there with the least amount of energy.”
Once you better understand your ecosystem and start working with it rather than against it, you’ll likely find that your operation runs more smoothly, which could see you save on time and money as you continue to reap the rewards of a thriving ecosystem. “Farms shouldn’t be fragmented parcels that fence out nature, but rather, biologically diverse sanctuaries that benefit from the environment surrounding,” Mahmood adds.
The regenerative farmers spoken to for the purpose of this story claim they’ve enjoyed massive improvement in the environment around their farm and within it once they started practicing regenerative farming. Johnson says the diversity of wildlife on his farm has become “incredible,” that his gardens use a little less water every year, and that they have very few problems with pests.
“The amazing thing about increasing diversity and banking energy in the ground as carbon is the effect on the surrounding environment, not just where the gardens are but also in the periphery lands,” Mahmood says.
“The farm becomes a sanctuary for environmental recovery and all life is attracted to it. That may seem counterintuitive from the conventional farming perspective that seeks to keep all life away so as not to lose the crop, but it turns out that is the main problem with agriculture in general, [that] it tends to battle more than partner with nature.”