When you go to the grocery store and walk into the produce aisle, you see different fruits and vegetables neatly arranged in their sections. Most stores will have a special area for organic produce, and those seem to be getting bigger lately due to the growing interest in healthy living. More and more, people are becoming aware that non-organic fruits and vegetables are grown in depleted soils, fed synthetic nutrients, and sprayed with an array of toxic chemicals before they arrive on our plates. Even worse, many crops are genetically modified at the expense of our health and the environment, so that Big Agriculture can lower its bottom line.
All of this, the GMO’s, the pesticides, the unsustainability, is driving consumers to choose safe, healthy, organic produce. But what does “organic” even mean? And how does this apply to our favorite crop, cannabis?
In this article, I’ll explain what organic cannabis actually is, why you absolutely must try it if you love flavor, potency, and true medical benefits, and how to find it at your dispensary. Let’s go!
Organic Is As Organic Does
Just like in the produce world, where the USDA and agricultural lobby twist the meaning of words like “organic” and “natural” to sell products that they shouldn’t be selling, the cannabis world is sadly corrupted. We have an industry largely made up of corporate interests putting profits over patients, and it’s only getting worse.
When I worked at a hydroponics store, I got to see the nasty underbelly of the cannabis cultivation scene. I learned that nearly all Arizona MMJ producers routinely spray banned pesticides like Floramite and Avid, fungicides like Eagle 20, and PGR’s like “Paclo” and others. Sometimes, (sorry) I actually personally delivered chemicals to the facilities. I know, I know, I screwed up. But I got wise and did my research once I realized what I was contributing to.
One day in the shop, I was talking to one of our big accounts about an idea. “Go organic,” I said, “it’ll half your overhead if you start recycling your soil, and your terpene levels will go through the r—…” Right then, my boss took me aside and said “What are you doing?! If they find out that they can recycle their soil and just feed compost teas then they won’t need us anymore.” And that’s when it clicked… the majority of the hydroponics industry is based on what sells, and not what’s best for the environment and consumers.
So, I continued researching organic cultivation and here’s what I learned:
Organic cannabis is:
Grown without toxic pesticides.
Grown in living organic soil.
For the sake of this article, I’ll be referring to indoor growing instead of greenhouse or outdoor, because results may vary between them. However, most of the same information applies.
Sometimes, growers call their flower “organic” to mean it was grown without toxic pesticides. While this is important, and I’ll take it if it’s all I can get, it’s really only half of the equation. Truly organic flower is both pesticide-free and grown in living organic soil. Trust me, the difference is like night-and-day.
See, most bud on the market is grown hydroponically with synthetic nutrients. This results in a product that may look great, and may even smell great, but will rarely taste amazing, smoke smooth, and burn into a pure white ash, even when “flushed” properly. Yeah, it’ll do the job, but it’s harsh, man!
Organic hydroponic flower, grown in soilless media with liquid organic nutrients, can be really good, too. The finished product I have seen from this method has really impressed me before, but in my opinion, liquid organics is not a very sustainable way to grow. At the end of the day, you’re still buying plastic bottles full of liquid that have to be trucked across the country, those bottles go into a landfill, and you’re still dependent on grow stores for your livelihood.
By far, the best organic bud, for economic reasons, sustainability, quality, potency, and flavor, will always be from living organic soil.
How Nature Intended
As a cannabis consumer, it’s important to know what you’re putting in your body. I mean, most of us are doing this for health reasons, right? So what’s the point of pretty-looking medicine if it’s absolutely loaded with toxic chemicals?
Truly organic flower checks all the boxes: looks, smell, flavor, smooth smoke, and amazing high. This is because the whole growing process is different. Instead of force-feeding the plants synthetic nutrients in a lifeless medium like rockwool or coconut coir, organic soil is brimming with living organisms that deliver nutrients to the plant according to its exact needs.
Organic growing puts the plant in control of its own destiny. By loading a soil mix with natural nutrient sources like guano, fish and crab meals, rock dust, worms and compost, the soil becomes a complete ecosystem that interacts with the plant’s root system, called the rhizosphere. The roots emit chemical messengers called exudates which signal to the microorganisms in the soil exactly which nutrients the plant needs, exactly when it needs them.
This takes the guesswork out of growing; no more fretting over feeding schedules and burning your plants with ungodly amounts of NPK. It’s pretty hilarious how modern humans look at nature and think “how can I mess with that?” as if it wasn’t already exquisite and totally perfect the way it was.
So, the question is, why doesn’t everyone grow organically? The answer is complicated, but it’s basically because this is what people know. And growers are convinced that growing in a sterile, synthetic way is the only way to get consistent results. A lot of people have the misconception that living soil systems are messy and contaminated, and that they don’t yield enough to be profitable… and that may be somewhat true.
In fact, the only area that I see synthetics winning over organics is (possibly) yield. Synthetic, hydroponically grown cannabis does seem to be bulkier and heavier, but it looks to me like much of the weight is actually just more plant material in the bud which is not necessarily a good thing. The flesh of the plant just seems harder and this may be the reason synthetics yield more. Although, the yield question is hotly debated as there are organic growers who are absolutely crushing it and pulling three pounds a light.
You also have to consider overhead; that is, how much it costs the grower to produce each pound of finished product. Why spend $1000 on nutrients every run when you could spend next to nothing for a few organic additives like fish, malted barley, aloe, and coconut, and get almost the same yield?
Finally, remember that your time is worth a lot. Many people agree that there is nothing easier than growing in living organic soil. Once you “start the engine” of the soil with compost and worms, the thing just goes with minimal effort compared to constantly mixing synthetic nutrients and checking pH and PPM, etc. Because the soil is alive, it regulates and renews itself. A living soil food web of worms and arthropods, bacteria, fungi, and nematodes break down organic matter in the soil and all you have to do is throw some new material on top every couple of months.
There are living soil growers who reuse their soil over and over for years, and it appears to only get better with age. If you’re used to throwing away expensive hydroponic medium every run, this alone is enough of a reason to switch. Many growers actually feed their plants nothing but water and the leaves that they prune off of the plants. That’s right, the plants eat themselves, circle of life style. Now if that’s not beautiful, I don’t know what is.
The whole living soil process is beautiful, really, and so is the bud that comes from it. Try some as soon as you can, I’m sure you’ll love the experience. There are a few cultivators in Arizona who are doing living soil organics, but unless they state it on the label, it can be a little tricky to identify the real deal.
Next time you’re in the dispensary, make sure to ask your budtender who grew the flower you’re looking at, and if it’s organic. If the dispensary can’t tell you, then do a little research on the company’s website to find out how they grow. And remember, you vote with your dollars, so make sure to only support companies who are doing things right.
Thanks for reading, and until next time, be well!
For more articles by Victor Ananda, click here.