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!

Dr. Rick Freeman: The Big Eco Squeeze

By Dr. Rick Freeman, Exclusive to MJNewsNetwork.com 

COLORADO: The advent of the legal marijuana industry has spawned some scale-up effects. One obvious outcome is that inefficiencies have surfaced as significant liabilities.  Another is that farmers are getting squeezed and are, therefore, compelled to push their agro-ecosystems to maximum short-term productivity.   In this environment, risky and sometimes questionable practices emerge and often result in catastrophe.  The bad press around pesticide abuse is a case in point: in Colorado, this year, agencies have mandated large-scale recalls of edibles, while in Washington, private researchers have identified forbidden pesticides in a variety of products.

This pattern is likely to continue, given the current industry environment, with farmers facing the squeeze from all sides.  The current combination of regulatory structures, low energy prices and low profit margins for farmers almost guarantees a certain level of pesticide abuse, pushing farmers towards over-crowded growing conditions in environments devoid of natural checks on pests and pathogens.

In agricultural ecosystems, most of our pesticide problems follow from management practices that attract pests to vulnerable crops in the first place.  Farmers well know that a dense canopy of luscious, nitrogen-rich cannabis is a giant pest target.  Critters can move happily through the canopy, swinging on webbing, piercing and sucking and having a grand time.  To make matters worse, because these indoor agro-ecosystems are isolated from natural ecosystems, they have no contact with native natural defense systems.   Instead, farmers have to buy, preserve and apply pest-thwarting critters and microbes, which can rack up materials and labor costs.  In many cases – as in an infestation crisis – farmers will deem pesticides to be a more economic choice.

In Washington, the state’s tier system forces over-crowding by mandating area limitations based on canopy area, pushing growers to accommodate as many plants as they can possibly fit.   Under this system, farmers can grow up to 30,000 square feet in a Tier III operation, 10,000 for a T-II and 2,000 for a T-I.  That means that every square foot has premium value and must produce a maximum value.  To add to the fun, spatial limitations encourage  growers to use hydroponic systems – as containers and media are bulky – and hydro spawns pests.  With few other affordable options, pesticide use is an obvious outcome.  In contrast, Colorado marijuana growers are now able to stretch their limbs, since the state has lifted vertical integration provisions that forced most cultivators to grow on-site.  And, having learned from others’s mistakes, Oregon has avoided this pitfall from the beginning.

But, other forces continue to push farmers to crowd too many plants into confined spaces.  In Colorado, where real estate is expensive and square footage is dear, many producers still grow on-site because they are locked into investments from the days of mandated vertical integration.   What’s more, in all states, growers face a tough economic climate, wherein marijuana behaves like a fungible commodity and the price paid to farmers trends ever downward.  Enter cheap fuel, which means cheap electricity, and the compulsion to grow indoors is irresistible.  Equally important, growing indoors is a familiar mode for a large sector of the industry, and farmers do what has proven to work for them.  And, finally, to exasperate the situation, because of federal prohibition, farmers can’t borrow money and buy insurance to buffer their risks.  So, they contain losses with pesticides.

But.  We’re learning.  As consumers continue to step up and demand clean marijuana – and as ecologically-minded farmers emerge and voice their opinions – the political climate will change and regulatory change will follow.  Consumer health and healthy ecosystems are important issues these days, and in the case of marijuana, they are tightly linked.  We’ll live to enjoy clean legal pot.