Most scientists agree that global warming is not only real, it is happening, right here and now. It can be seen in the form of increasing frequency and intensity of hydro-meteorological disasters, rising temperatures and sea levels, and an increasing frequency of droughts and floods across the planet. An overwhelming majority of scientists also believe that we humans are responsible for this damage.
Yet most people are content to maintain the status quo.
They either outright deny the existence of global warming or believe it is an isolated issue, affecting only the polar bears and ice caps. They continue to live life as they always have – driving the same gas-guzzling vehicle, consuming the same factory-farmed foods, and polluting the earth with non-organic matter. This denial, being held amidst overwhelming evidence, propels us further into a level of catastrophic warming that could have potentially devastating for all living things on earth, from the smallest single-celled organism to the largest blue whale.
In fact, a 2014 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that Earth is currently on course for the worst-case global warming scenario. They define this as a warming of 3.2-5.4 degrees Celsius by 2080. Now, that might not sound like much, but the IPCC suggests that as much as 38 percent of the world’s population will lack renewable groundwater resources by 2080. A massive decline in agriculture production, critical loss of ecosystems, and widespread plant and animal species extinction are also expected at that time.
What has caused all of this, and how can medical marijuana help? For that answer, we must delve into one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions: industrialized, large-scale, “conventional” farming practices. Some may simply know this practice as “farming.”
Agriculture and Its Impact on the Environment
In 2005, National Geographic determined that nearly half of Earth’s land was being used for agriculture. Much of that is industrialized, large-scale farming. They are the ones that Americans are used to seeing in commercials and movies, across the Midwest, and on the packages and labeling of boxes. Cleared land, large machinery, and rows upon rows of just one or two crops.
Generally segregated from livestock, these monoculture farms are problematic for several reasons. They clear the land of its biodiversity to make room for food production and contribute to the endangerment and possible extinction of both plant and animal species (i.e. the clearing lowland rainforests in Indonesia to produce palm oil has led to the displacement of megafauna, such as the Asian elephant, Sumatran rhinoceros, and tigers).
To prepare for cultivation of the land, farmers till the soil. This emits greenhouse gases into the environment and loosens topsoil, which is a major cause of unnecessary erosion. To get an idea of just how extensive this damage is, consider the soy production in Brazil, which causes a topsoil loss of at least 55 tons per year. On a global scale, topsoil erosion results in a loss of more than one million hectares of land, each year.
Once the land is tilled, crops are planted. The ground is then treated with pesticides, fertilizers, and other oil-based synthetics, which are both exhausting fossil fuel resources and causing contamination of non-farming lands, groundwater, freshwater, and marine water.
Pesticides are arguably the biggest concern since they are toxic, but even fertilizers place excess nutrients in the soil, which then leech into freshwater systems and are carried to marine sources. This ultimately alters entire freshwater and marine water ecosystems. An example is eutrophication, or excessive algae growth that depletes water of dissolved oxygen. This, in turn, leads to the death of fish and other aquatic life.
All the while, weeds become resistant to the herbicides being applied, bugs become resistant to the pesticides, and the ground is further depleted of its nutrients, which calls for more fertilizers. Leaky irrigation systems, cultivation of crops that are not suited to the environment in which they are planted, and wasteful water application methods further endanger our already depleting water resources. The ground cannot heal because it is constantly being tilled and treated, retreated, and retiled. It lacks biodiversity. So, eventually, the land becomes unusable. It is then abandoned for a new plot.
Around 2 million hectares of land suffer from complete devastation and abandonment each year (also referred to as desertification). These areas are uninhabitable for humans, plants, and animals. Unless something drastic is done to restore it (if it can be restored at all), this land may never again be home to a single species. How much longer can we go on this way? How much longer can we expect to feed the almost 7.5 billion people on the planet in this way?
Here is a hint: we don’t.
Regenerative Organic Farming
Most people have heard of organic farming, but not everyone understands the process, or what it entails. A farming method that takes a stance to “do no harm” to the environment, it utilizes organic matter and does not employ the use of pesticides, fertilizers, or other synthetic materials. It focuses on homeostasis of the planet, and of the land.
Permaculture, which has gained some popularity in the last few years, is kind of like organic farming’s cousin. The development of agricultural ecosystems to create self-sustaining and sustainable systems, it focuses on closing loops to prevent nutrient and water waste. It also encourages biodiversity, which can improve soil quality.
Regenerative organic farming goes a step beyond both methods. It takes the “do no harm” mentality of organic farming, pairs it with the biodiversity and waste management of permaculture, and then adds a holistic healing element. The goal is to regenerate and revitalize the earth’s soil. Observation and a proactive approach, rather than a reactive one – the process typically used in agriculture – are some of the keys to making this type of farming a success.
“When I wrap my head around this idea of regenerative farming, it leads right back to earth care responsibility, and the need for humanity to begin the process of making a positive impact on the environment,” Nick Mahmood, owner of Green Source Gardens, told the Cannabis Connection in a recent interview.
Awarded the Emerald Cup Regenerative Farm Award in 2016, Nick and his wife, Eliza, own 80 acres of land in southern Oregon. Their “crop” is marijuana, but their garden is truly more of a polyculture – meaning they grow diverse plant species together to encourage healthy, fertile, biologically diverse soil. You won’t find tillers or big machinery on this farm. Instead, grazers are used to tend to the under-canopy growth, and every inch of the land is worked by hand. Yet they maintain one of the lowest overhead costs within the cannabis growing industry.
“You think about the average grower and what the cycle is for them . . . it costs a lot of money and it costs a lot of energy and labor, and it costs a lot of changing the landscape. They’re purchasing everything,” Nick said.
Yet, for Nick, it isn’t as much about the money as it is about responsibility.
“When I think of receiving an award like the Regenerative Farm Award, it’s more of a responsibility,” Nick said, “It assigns responsibility to the person who receives it to begin making an effort to define methods that are working to do better things for the planet, remediating some of the destruction that’s occurred in the last couple hundred years in terms of environment.”
Cannabis Growers Are Heading up Regenerative Organic Farming in America
Regenerative organic farming is used in more than just cannabis growing. In fact, there are many small-scale food farms throughout the world that encourage biologically diverse systems. Here in America, though, cannabis growers like Nick are leading a revolution. One farm at a time, they are changing the way that we think about food and plant matter production.
“I think younger people, and even older people, understand that there’s been a lot of damage done and we need to come up with comprehensive plans that are gonna look at the welfare of the environment as the foundation of understanding that’s what takes care of us,” Nick said.
Organic regenerative farming pays homage to that foundation, not only by encouraging biodiverse ecology, but healing the earth by rebuilding the soil and sequestering carbon. In short, the intricate process is said to be the only type of farming that can help us do more than just maintain homeostasis; it may very well be the key to reversing the extensive damage caused by large-scale agriculture (which accounts for approximately half of all emissions) and other human behaviors that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
Yet there is another major benefit to regenerative organic farming – in particular, regenerative organic farming in the cannabis industry. Cannabis is considered an “accumulator plant,” which means it can help to detoxify the soil. It is also known for its ability to treat and alleviate the symptoms of some of the most painful and devastating human conditions. Time to connect with nature has also been shown to provide health benefits to humans, and it may very well be the answer to America’s ever-growing obesity problem.
Probably the best part, though, is that regenerative organic gardening can be done on an intensely small scale. It allows you to grow food, and/or medical or recreational cannabis (if permitted by your state’s laws) in a small space, right in your own back yard. In fact, if you can grow using this method – even just in your own yard – you should! It gives you a chance to contribute the earth’s healing process.
So how, exactly, does one start?
“The best way to take care of nature is to become close with nature,” Nick advised. “The main point is you’re taking time in your life to go out and look at nature and to be involved in observing and meditating in a space.”
In other words, get out there, take a look around you, and watch the earth work its magic. It already knows what it needs to heal; we just need to learn how to listen.