Jesse Dodd knows that growing cannabis with organic techniques can still leave a large environmental footprint. He works with regenerative cannabis farming techniques, which heal the earth and reduce his expenses by using resources found on the farm. Jesse hopes that these techniques become popular throughout the cannabis industry, and eventually the rest of agriculture. He spoke with us about his permanent art project and cannabis farm, named BioVortex.
I’ve been cultivating for about 20 years. I was born peeing on a compost pile. My parents raised me with back-to-the-lander values, and I try to spread these concepts with my farm and living art project, BioVortex.
Conventional cannabis growing methods can be harmful, and even all-organic methods get expensive. You can actually improve and build the quality of your soil, year after year, using inputs that you find on your land. Regenerative farming uses closed-loop systems, so you don’t have to buy new ingredients every season.
You can build your own soils with a process called Hugelkultur. It’s an old concept, but farmers are relearning it right now. You gather wood from your land and work it into the soil. It’s a great way to start the garden. It builds living soil, creates biodiversity, and you won’t need to buy things from the store to cultivate a plant.
You lay out the wood and cover it with animal manure and straw. Eventually, you take the native soil from behind, flip it over, and cover it. This becomes a dynamic natural soil system to feed your plants. It works best for seeds in the ground, and larger full-season plants.
These techniques are only new because we lost our way during the Green Revolution. It’s not new or cutting-edge, permaculture is an old way to farm. New techniques can be very damaging.
Soil dumping is a big issue. Farmers buy $30,000 worth of soil, fill it with salt fertilizers, plant growth regulators, fungicides and pesticides, and then push it down a hillside at the end of the season. Then they start the process all over again. That began with indoor growers going outdoors, and it’s insane. Once you get that soil, you should be doing things to nourish it. You should be cover-cropping, mulching that back in, and only using nutrients that will help build soil health.
Nitrate fertilizers are often made using a process which converts nitrogen from the air into ammonia. This process was invented around the time of WWI, and it immediately found military applications as an ingredient for mustard gas and explosives.
Then we started making nitrogen into fertilizer, and the chemical warfare continued on our land, our farmers, and our people. That’s what created the Dust Bowl: tilling, over-fertilization, and killing of soil microbiology.
I think the biggest mistake people make is not experimenting. Do side plots. Put some attention into it. If it works, do more next time. I’d like to see more experiments just using nature. Starting seeds this year, I used gutter mulch that I just cleaned out of the gutters. It felt like really good medium, I stuck a bunch of seeds in it, and it worked really nice.
Biovortex is a conceptual art piece whose mission is to influence and infect the cannabis industry. I want to get these ideas into people’s minds and conversations. I want to viralize ideas, to make them pervasive throughout the cannabis network.
We need to get everyone on board, from the farmer to the consumer and the dispensary. The mission for the last couple of years has been getting these ideas out there by creating awards, and by doing talks and panels. We have different approaches at each event, but we always try to incentivize and highlight the best farming techniques.
For Cannifest, we built a regenerative demo zone that showcased rainwater catchment, Hugelkultur design, worm castings, composting, and native plants.
The Cultivation Classic in Oregon involved a lot of cannabis science this year. The Resource Innovation Institute, Phylos Bioscience, and Cascade Labs worked together to tell the story of environmental impact, genes, and chemotype.
Chemotype is the chemical makeup of a flower. It is influenced by genes, as well as growing techniques and weather. At the Cultivation Classic, there was a full cannabinoid and terpene profile for each of 100 different flowers that were accepted.
One goal is to bring knowledge and plant science into the public domain, to block companies from creating broad plant patents. One combination that has been looked at is a high-CBD cultivar with a lower myrcene level. That’s a rare combination of traits, but the Open Cannabis Project was able to show that it does occur naturally.
At the Emerald Cup, we gave a Regenerative Cannabis Award to three farms who are each growing high quality product in a way that has a positive effect on the environment. These farms are going beyond sustainability. They are literally building soil, sequestering carbon, and building biodiversity.
I think regenerative cannabis can help farms produce material that looks really good on the counter. It will be easy for customers to see the difference, and that will get the dispensaries wanting to share that information. We want customers asking us questions like, who grew this, what kind of practices did they use? There’s more to know than just strain names and THC content. Let’s go a little bit deeper. Is there quality?
It attracts the right kind of people when you’re moving in that direction. It attracts smart people who are doing good things. The universe is on your side.
To learn more about Jesse, visit the Biovortex website.
Jesse generously allowed us to use photos from the Biovortex Instagram.
What do you think about regenerative cannabis growing techniques?
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