This article was written & published by East Fork Cultivars.
There are compelling and urgent reasons for informed consumers to choose sungrown cannabis. These include:
experiencing the full natural expression of the plant
a 99% lighter carbon footprint (or even carbon-negative impact) toward climate change
the enrichment of soil and ecosystems through regenerative farming
Read on for exactly why and how these factors matter so much.
Nature’s Full Expression
At East Fork, our cannabis is grown outdoors, under the sun, in living soil.
“Growing with the sun is incredibly efficient, and the most sustainable way to cultivate – and it produces superior cannabis!” declared East Fork CEO Mason Walker.
Cannabis connoisseurs – as well as scientists – have long noted that cannabis grown outdoors in an organic environment offers a more robust expression of the plant’s character than if it were grown indoors under controlled conditions.
“The sun has a magnificent spectrum of light that technology hasn’t quite been able to mimic yet,” Mason explained. “That full-spectrum energy contributes immensely to the development of the many compounds, including terpenes, that make cannabis such a dynamic plant.”
The concept of terroir – from the wine world – extends to the nuances of sungrown cannabis. Terroir is the unique flavor and character imparted to a consumable farmed good by the specific characteristics of the environment in which it is produced, including local climate, soil, and topography.
Cannabis terroir means that savoring a plant product grown in a certain place during a certain year is a special and distinct experience.
“The stress of growing outside can also be beneficial,” Mason notes, “as stressed plants produce interesting compounds as defense mechanisms against pests and adverse environmental conditions.”
The bottom line: “We’re looking for stressed yet healthy plants, which we can accomplish in our native soil, under the sun, in the elements.”
The Climate Change and Environmental Impact of Indoor Growing
To produce high-quality cannabis, indoor cultivation is unnecessary – and it creates an astounding carbon footprint.
Indoor production is “a luxury we can no longer afford,” declared the September 2021 issue of The Cannabis Scientist, calling the industry “The Cannabis Carbon Bomb”.
Growing in a warehouse consumes a huge amount of electricity, requiring high-powered intensive lights to mimic the sun, industrial HVAC and climate control systems, fans, water pumps, and other heavy equipment.
Indoor growing practices are a historical byproduct of prohibition laws and the current state-restricted markets that have followed, as Rolling Stone detailed in an extensive 2021 feature “How Federal Prohibition Is Turning Cannabis Into a Climate Villain.” However, even with illogical laws, there are much better ways of growing available.
As Rolling Stone summarizes, “This indoor cultivation comes at an alarming climate cost, turning what could be a green enterprise into yet another dirty business — with a carbon output that rivals major extractive industries.”
Keep in mind, too, that many states’ energy grids still rely heavily on coal-burning power plants or oil combustion to create electricity. Climate change scientist Evan Mills calculated that average annual cannabis production in the US emitted around 15 million metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.
For perspective, that means that a single joint made from indoor-grown cannabis equates to 3 pounds of CO2 emissions – equal to driving a hybrid car 22 miles or running a 100-watt light bulb for 25 hours.
In Hawai’i, to produce a single ounce of indoor cannabis emits as much carbon as burning a full 16-gallon tank of gasoline.
A 2021 study in the journal Nature Sustainability found that indoor cannabis cultivators in Colorado now account for a greater percentage of the state’s total CO2 emissions than the state’s active coal mining industry.
Some indoor growers also pump large amounts of extra carbon dioxide (CO2) into the spaces to boost plant growth, eventually releasing it into the atmosphere. This is not insignificant – it can account for 11% to 25% of facilities’ greenhouse gas emissions.
Indoor grows are generally wasteful of soil as well, trucking in new growing media every few months and discarding the used soil to landfills. This soil is often contaminated from the intensive use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, adding heavy levels of pollutants to our water and soil systems.
Environmental Impacts and The Regenerative Future
Outdoor-grown cannabis has a vastly lower carbon footprint than that grown in warehouses: the energy use of cannabis greenhouses is only about 1% of indoor cannabis production, a study estimated.
But carbon emissions and energy use are only one important piece of the equation in considering environmental impact. The deliberate use of regenerative agricultural practices benefits local ecosystems, improving soil health and even sequestering carbon. However, this depends substantially upon the specific cultivation methods used.
Cannabis is a “feeder” plant that can strip the soil of nutrients if not carefully managed. Many outdoor growers add harmful synthetic fertilizers (aka “salts” or “nutes”) and toxic synthetic pesticides to their plants. Whether used in indoor or outdoor grows, the use of these chemical inputs harms our human and natural ecosystems, with lasting downstream effects in our water and soil systems.
Outdated practices like trucking in new soil also create additional emissions, and careless watering systems waste copious amounts of this precious resource. These destructive practices are unneeded.
At East Fork, we’ve demonstrated that farmers can produce vibrant, potent cannabis by growing in native soil using organic fertilizers and inputs such as compost teas and Korean Natural Farming (KNF) techniques.
We use organic integrated pest management (IPM) programs to manage our plant health through natural pest deterrents, including beneficial insects and bacteria. And we preserve water by using an efficient drip irrigation system and biochar that we make on site.
We grow top-quality CBD-rich cannabis in a way that is sustainable to not only the 34-acres that are part of the farm, but also the larger environment and community.
Vote with Your Dollar
Climate activism is urgently needed for regulatory reforms to minimize the carbon impact of creating cannabis products. But we as consumers can also push the industry to do better through demand for cannabis products from farms that care for planetary health.
It’s imperative for consumers and retailers to support sungrown farmers who use regenerative agricultural practices. Your dollar “vote” matters crucially to the survival of farms like ours, and has very real impacts upon the environment and climate.
A shortcut to finding environmentally responsible farms is to look for certifications issued by a nonprofit independent organization (not an industry trade group or a “pay to play” model).
Sun + Earth Certified offers the current absolute highest standard for cannabis products, verifying not just sungrown regenerative cultivation practices, but also ethical treatment of employees and community involvement. Hemp farms are also eligible for USDA Organic certification, which is a basic must for consumers sourcing hemp-based products.
East Fork is proud to be Sun + Earth Certified for our cannabis and hemp farms, and USDA Organic on the hemp side.