Imagine this: You’re taking a trip to California wine country. You pull off the 5 Freeway and up to a giant warehouse. As its doors swing open, you’re greeted by rows upon rows upon rows of grape vines and the low hum of florescent lights. Forget things like terroir and sense of place; winemakers here have discovered they can grow extremely high yields of grapes by moving the operation indoors, where Mother Nature cannot interfere.
Enough with the dystopian nightmare: Wine without influence of the earth, weather and sunlight in the place it is grown sounds dreadful, doesn’t it? So why should we accept this from our cannabis? And why is the vast majority of cannabis available in the marketplace grown indoors?
In all fairness, the longstanding criminalization of cannabis in this country has forced cultivation indoors, into closets and warehouses, away from the prying eyes of judgmental neighbors and out of the line of sight of law enforcement. As legal systems began to be put in place around the cultivation of cannabis, much of the regulatory frameworks required cannabis to be cultivated indoor or in greenhouses. Fast-forward to 2017, and an industry that has been built indoors largely remains indoors, even with legalization rolling across the country. And with huge amounts of money flooding into this industry, cannabis has become one of the nation’s top-five cash crops, and as with corn and soybeans before it, big money-seeking cultivators rely on consistent, high-yield returns on harvests.
“Indoor growers can harvest four or five times a year,” explains Kristin Nevedal, chairperson of the recently founded International Cannabis Farmers Association, which aims to advocate for sun-grown cannabis; “sun-grown farmers can harvest one to two times per year.”
But the simple economics of being able to churn out as much bud as possible doesn’t cut it any more. Today’s consumers demand more from their produce suppliers and their cannabis suppliers alike, and a little bit of sun-grown terroir can go a long way in developing a brand identity that can be hard to come by at the dispensary level. Brands like Prema Flora, a collective of several small farms in Mendocino, CA, thrive by celebrating sustainable, outdoor and greenhouse producers, and tell the farms’ stories on each jar. Mendocino is also home to
a burgeoning cannabis terroir movement, complete with an appellation map that divides the region into ten different sub-zones, each with unique and identifiable soil types, terrain and weather patterns.
From an environmental standpoint, it goes without saying that the thousands of kilowatts spent lighting and temperature-regulating indoor grows rather than harvesting the power and life-giving energy of the sun is less than sustainable, and while there’s no data available on the topic, it’s a fair generalization to say that sun-grown cannabis is cultivated using fewer pesticides and chemical fertilizers than indoor cannabis. It’s all thanks to Mother Nature, says Nevedal. “Outdoor cultivators get the benefit of a cold winter dormant season. Everything clears out, and we can take advantage of the opportunity to shut the cycle down. It creates a better environment for the plant in the long run.”
If you live in Colorado, Illinois, New York or any other place that’s cold, you probably want to shake your fist from your indoor grow and say to me, “Listen, lady, your sun-grown California cannabis is fine and dandy, but I’ve got real weather to deal with here.” To you I say this: You’re right. Until we see federal legalization allowing shipment across state lines, like we see with California wines, or heck, tomatoes, available for sale nation-wide, sun grown cannabis would be a seasonally available luxury in many parts of the country.
But in the meantime, start asking your budtenders if they carry any sun-grown cannabis, and for goodness’ sake, grow your garden outside. Make more room for sweaters in your closet, and if the neighbors remark that they love your new landscaping, invite them over—they may have some cultivation tips of their own to share.