Homegrown: Plant That Bell And Let It Ring

By Dr. Rick Freeman

Homegrown is alright with me

Homegrown is the way it should be

Home grown is a good thing

Plant that bell and let it ring.

 

            Neil Young, “Homegrown,” American Stars and Bars, 1977


Neil Young has written some classic songs about marijuana, and he’s been “rocking in the free world” for decades.   As a businessman, Mr. Young has built and sustained a long-standing “brand” that still sells after 50 years – a brand based on a large, diverse body of music with themes ranging from personal anguish to love, pink cars and social causes.  What’s more, Neil has gone further by directly engaging in these struggles for justice and environment.  Clearly, Neil Young’s business acumen, musical talent and a dedication to doing the right thing have made for a potent mix – one that appeals to the hearts of everyday people all over the world.

Neil’s successful mix of quality and social message is well-suited as an example for us in the fledgling marijuana industry, which recently arose from an ongoing social struggle.  Whether creating a brand for an individual company or creating an image for the industry, a focus on community benefit can boost any business model, and of course, a community focus is a natural fit for the marijuana industry.  From my perspective, an obvious starting point for community action is embracing the legal homegrown movement.  Homegrown marijuana production  directly supports the causes of community health, sustainability, self-reliance and the personal liberty to grow pot, and it represents significant business opportunities.

Marijuana consumers would benefit greatly from a robust community of homegrown enthusiasts while expanding and diversifying the marijuana industry’s customer base.   The benefits to consumers and community are promising, starting with obvious cost-savings and health and quality guarantees – clean, green and not-mean!  At a home scale, the economics of growing extremely clean pot are much more flexible than growing clean at industrial scale.  So, homegrown offers the consumer peace of mind and reliability.  Plus, growing marijuana is FUN. It makes an excellent hobby and one can enjoy tangible benefits at beginner level, learning and improving along the way.  (I make my own biochar, composts, bulk media, whatnot, but one can buy all that.)  What’s more, the satisfaction of burning some properly grown and cured herb is beyond words.  Finally,  but significantly, growing herb represents two of our most revered, traditional values – the sanctity of individual liberty and its companion, self-reliance.  Given the significant material and cultural benefits of growing at home, a LOT of people will come out from hiding and grow sustainable, clean herb when empowered to grow their own.

These industrious home-growers will expand the marijuana market and help support a plethora of goods and services providers.  As with any market sector devoted to a hobby, the home grown market sector will be hungry for  a wide range goods and services.  From cultivation and curing gear to paraphernalia for packaging and consuming, home growers will buy products from a variety of businesses.  These market opportunities will only expand as Cannabis integrates into the mainstream, attracting long-time food gardeners – at a time when food gardening is rapidly expanding.

Empowering marijuana home production is appealing on so many levels, and the timing is perfect. Let’s “plant that bell and let it ring.”

Dr. Rick Freeman: Getting it Together

By Dr. Rick Freeman

For family farmers, 1988 was a tough year.  Stuck between cut-throat competition from Big Ag and the devastation of a Big Drought, many small-scale farmers dropped out.  But, not all of them.  That was the year that seven bedraggled, small-scale organic farmers in southwest Wisconsin formed the Coulee Region Organic Produce Pool. Their hope for survival was to pool resources and investments while focusing on sustainability and food quality.  That co-op blossomed into Organic Valley, which today includes 1,800 farmers spread across the U.S., Canada and Australia, offering over 500 products sold in 50 states and 25 countries.  Just last year, OV’s revenue exceeded a billion dollars.   That’s pretty good for a bunch of family farmers.

Today, small-scale marijuana farmers face a wall of adversity similar to those seven families who started OV.  Fortunately, they have a good example to follow.  By embracing a cooperative structure, a rigorous sustainability standard, and a focus on product quality, marijuana producers enjoy an opportunity to create a robust, enduring brand that will benefit a broad range of people. The time is right to get started.

With a cooperative model, marijuana farmers can pool resources for vital functions like equipment purchasing and sharing, marketing, accounting, legal services, peer-lending, and more, spreading and absorbing risk that could easily doom a lone farmer.  Benefits can include pricing leverage, shared risk and optimized investments (as in sharing a pricey piece of equipment used only once a year), among others.

With a rigorous, transparent sustainability standard, co-op members can assure consumers that farming practices are creating long-term benefits for the community and environment  – and will continue to do so for future generations.  A rigorous standard can be based on a point system that reflects the strengths of diverse approaches to farming – with some common benchmarks that everyone must meet.  For example, consider a farmer whose energy efficiency is well above the energy benchmark but whose water-use efficiency is barely above the water benchmark. This farmer might score equally with a farmer whose water-use efficiency rating is high but whose energy-efficiency standard barely makes the grade.  This “indexing” system would reflect the values of co-op members and would be transparent and easy to formulate and implement.

Quality standards would set cooperative product quality well above common industry standards, capitalizing on the benefits from sustainable agriculture while assuring the consumer that products are reliably healthy, safe and beneficial.  For example, a high-quality co-op product is free of pesticides and pathogens while demonstrating a terroir of excellence – reflecting the best genetics, a robust ecology and healthy, living soil.  A quality standard would also use verifiable cannabinoid and terpene profiles for various strains, guaranteeing consumers that product quality is reliable and excellent.

With strict quality standards, rigorous sustainability standards and an economically-sustainable business model, a marijuana ag co-op would benefit the entire community – consumers, producers and neighbors.  Community economies based on diverse producers and consumers are much more stable than those based on a single industry or company, because they can absorb the effects of a failure, while the failure of a business in a limited-player economy guarantees disaster.   When a multitude of diverse producers join for quality production, the result is sustainable communities.  Now, THAT is called getting it together!

Growing Sustainable Profits With Cannabis

Dr. Richard Freeman, Ph.D.

We’re hearing the word “sustainable” a lot these days. It’s coming from activists and journalists, from politicians and the marketing agents, writers, anyone in public life. I hear it talking with friends. Sustainable agriculture, sustainable development, and sustainable living – I certainly use the word, myself.

So, when I use the term “sustainable,” I try to maintain a clear understanding of what I mean. And, really, it’s pretty straightforward. If we can keep doing it the way we’re doing it year after year, generation after generation, without running out of resources and trashing our living environment, then it’s sustainable. The details can add a world of nuance, but that’s the basic idea.

Growing cannabis sustainably means growing plants in ways that will keep working in the short term and long term while returning a profit. Sustainable business models work in the natural environment AND perform on the bottom-line. If we’re growing Cannabis and we’re doing it sustainably, then we’re going to stay in business, by definition.

Sustainable growing can reduce costs in the long-term and short-term, grow the kindest quality product, and sustain and preserve health in our own living environment. It benefits the growers, the consumers, and pretty much everyone else. Sustainability offers us a win-win-win situation. Assessing an operation for sustainability begins with analyzing energy-use and materials-consumption in the working environment, equipment and materials, and horticultural methods. And, it requires analyzing associated production costs. In assessing equipment and materials, direct impact on ecosystems is part of the picture, but so is “embodied energy” – the energy required to create these items.

Assessing methods means understanding how our growing techniques affect our environment. Are they life sustaining? Are they a source of throw-away costs? Do they degrade the quality of our goods? Sustainable responses include increasing efficiencies and “closing loops,” which both cut costs. If we can produce an equal or superior product for less money, then profits increase. If we save money by using super-efficient lighting without sacrificing quality and pay for the investment with the savings within a reasonable time frame, then why not? Closing loops means local-sourcing and re-using materials whenever we can – for instance recycling our bio-abundant soil mixes and composting vegetative residues (fan leaves and root balls) into valuable soil amendments. Or, closing loops could include developing nature’s “environmental services,” such as encouraging insects that kill pests. With some imaginative thinking and a little number crunching, we can pick the low-hanging fruit and benefit immediately.

When it comes to benefiting, who can argue with cutting costs, especially when the outcome includes better quality and value in the product? As the market becomes savvy to the benefits of healthy-grown plants – including the taste benefits – the value of sustainably grown Cannabis can only rise. People can taste fertilizer salts, and they can taste pesticides. Anyone who has tasted high-quality organic flowers will never go back to “chem pot” and they’ll pay premium for the good stuff. The same holds true for folks who eat herbal products or rub creams on their skin. As lab testing becomes the standard (and it will), the ability to detect chemical residues will improve. People will be able to tell the difference. And smell the difference. And customers will start asking for the good stuff. Sustainable, indeed.

In future posts, we’ll offer some more detail on ways to close the loops and increase efficiencies – and ways to grow Cannabis that maximize the benefits of good plant genetics while producing outstanding flowers.