Story and Photos by Dan Pomerant

You can learn a lot about a person from what you see on their bookshelf. When I was younger, I stocked my bookshelves with biographies, drawn to stories of amazing lives, especially rebels and, among the rebels, drug smugglers. My 20-year-old self’s bookshelf was the usual: Bruce Lee, Ed Rosenthal, Jorge Cervantes, and a few books about smugglers flying loads from South America and shipping massive cargo across the seas. But I could never find any books about the lives and experiences of cannabis growers. Law enforcement was harsh in the ‘90s during the Clinton era and growers had everything to lose. Their stories could not be told.

A lot of people may not realize that to be a cannabis grower, manufacturer, distributor, or retailer used be very risky and dangerous in many places, including Northern California, and continues to be for some. Nowadays, our industry is turning towards corporate or craft cannabis into a race to the bottom, and market share is largely based on presentation and professionalism, rather than authenticity and quality.

Sadly, some of the very best growers – pioneers who’ve lived lives of badass risk, adventure, and endurance – are easily overlooked. This series is my opportunity to have some fun, share some of their stories, and hope to encourage consumers to really think about who and where you want your cannabis to come from, and why and what will give you the best experience every time you consume cannabis.

For the first farmer in this series, I wanted to share a story of optimism and positivity. Roots and loyalty. Naturality, surrounded by sustainable beauty, a place to balance wellness and conciseness. We produce the female cannabis plant for her healing nature. It is a deep connection to the feminine energy of the universe. That connection between female energy is a bond male growers will never have. I think this is a reason many of our industries best growers have been women, and our culture has evolved carried on the backs of their hard work and dedication. Big ups to all the women of cannabis; our industry can be an example of gender equality. That is why I want to start this series featuring my neighbor Tina of Mood Made Farms.

Tina’s story began with humble beginnings like most growers. Before coming to Palo Verde, she was living in the Mission District of San Francisco. She was exploring life, deeply entrenched in the underground art and music culture. Playing drums in rock bands like Lost Goat and The Glamour Pussies, recording and touring, putting out videos like “Hot Chick Stoner BBQ”, “zines” (Stroker Magazine), making art, and living on her own terms. Her last band was a badass all female AC/DC tribute band, AC/Dshe.

When I met with her for coffee to interview her for this piece, she explained her relationship to cannabis back then was as a conduit to creative inspiration. Smoking pot helped her manage pain while recovering from a car accident. Because of the accident, couldn’t play drums, so she taught herself how to play guitar on a ’68 Gretsch. Smoking was awesome for starting songs, but terrible for finishing them. She patched many of these riffs together for create a 12-hour composition, performed from sun up to sun down as part of the 2006 fall equinox. The Rambler, a mobile sound stage that hosted this performance, has since made its way to hauling pot plants, bags of shake, and bails of straw. It’s about to become a mobile t-shirt shop for Tina’s Moon Made Apparel line.

Tina landed in Southern Humboldt thanks to her drumming. In 2007, a drummer friend, Valerie Agnew, brought Tina on a road trip up to Palo Verde. The day they arrived, she met Joani, a fellow female drummer and someone who would become very inspirational in her life and future. They became fast friends and Tina even made a documentary about her, titled “Joani, Queen of the Paradiddle.” While working on the documentary, Tina transitioned to living in Humboldt and started working on a Palo Verde Farm, Villa Paradiso. A year after moving to the hill, Joani and her partner Marion asked Tina if she wanted to buy their land, a life-changing opportunity. Tina bought the 40-acre parcel on Palo Verde with the agreement with Joani and Marion that their ashes could one day be spread and buried to rest on the property as they blend into the regeneration of nature and the farms ecosystem. Moon Made Farms is part of Tina’s commitment to their legacy.

I asked Tina about her current relationship with cannabis. She explained she uses CBD products daily to balance her wellness and consciousness, and that high THC is mostly reserved for times of vision quests of person learning and growth. After a few years of cultivating cannabis, Tina discovered that she resonates with cultivating and ingesting high and mixed-CBD cultivars. Growing strains like Harle Tsu, Canna Tsu, Ringo’s Gift, and Pennywise was a revelation.

Moon Made Farms’ main focus is in growing CBD- dominant varieties and creating health-promoting wellness products to smoke and vape, as well as tinctures and other exciting herbal infusions. They have a diversity of CBD genetics ranging from 20:1 to 1:4 ratios including Pennywise, Cannatonic, Ringo’s Gift, and Harle Tsu, among others. Tina describes Ringo’s Gift as pleasant, easy on the throat and lungs, a sweet light mint freshness, with a relaxed and inspired effect that helps balance her turbo pace.

They also grow some pretty fire THC strains such as tasty Purple Punch, Sour Tangie, Huckleberry Hill’s Huckleberries, a Moon Made original called Pineapple Wonder that Phylos could not detect any relatives to in their genome galaxy… and maybe even a few Rebel Grown strains in the mix.

She doesn’t hold back about the role of the feminine essence of cannabis. She says, “the crucial ingredient is in sticky sweet feminine seduction that hovers over the land” that promotes healing, wellness, and a shift in consciousness.

For anyone who has not experienced cannabis in bloom, there’s nothing like it. These flowers are LOUD. Just being around the flowers makes you feel good.

Moon Made Farm’s flag ship and home piece is located in an oak grove at 2,100 feet elevation at the heart of the Emerald Triangle on Palo Verde. It wasn’t until she moved to Southern Humboldt that she was awakened to the power of nature. “Clean air, fresh water, stars in the sky,” she says. Tina’s style of cultivation is about aligning with the natural forces and using all of your senses – smelling, listening, touching the soil and the plants, and becoming intuitive on a cellular level with what the plants tell you. Inspired by Lunar Farming and the moons subtle light cycles effect on plants, “It’s all about tuning in and observation,” she says. She uses land-provided inputs to build soil and to build the beds plants live in. Her plants grow in no-till soils with established humic and fungal layers from integrating native soil, oak leaf, inoculating with humus from under the trees, making compost teas from inputs growing on the land–all of this helps introduce indigenous micro-organisms into the soil. Many of the beds are made of rock and wood harvested from the land surrounding the gardens.

Her romantic and farm partner Chris says, “If you can’t bring the plants to the forest, bring the forest to the plants.” They’ve been implementing regenerative practices since before it was common, making their own compost, woodchopping their own mulch, with nine-year- old hugelkultur beds, and learning to dial in closed-loop farming. It was a stretch to evolve out of the tiny shade gardens that Joani and Marion grew during the CAMP era, but she’s left these gardens in tact as a historical marker and reminder and part of the land’s legacy.

While Tina was wary of going legal and had a general distrust of government, she just wanted to provide medicine through the plant. “This is the most powerful plant on earth, capable of helping people globally for the first time in history,” she says. She also had witnessed on the business side of things the positive creation of opportunity this plant can create. She had seen cannabis farmers work for years to save their funds to open birthing centers in India, build schools in Haiti, get surgeries, college degrees, start their own farms, and homestead projects. She believes this plant facilitates so much creativity, dreaming, and love through art and music. This plant’s potential and these experiences and desires motivated her to continue “onward.”

From San Francisco’s underground music and art scene to the Palo Verde of Southern Humboldt, to farming and business, Moon Made Farms continues to provide for people and nurture the earth. Tina says each day is challenging but inspiring. She wants to see others feel balanced, inspired, and appreciate life. Sipping my coffee on her deck listening to the birds, and taking in the diversity of the land, I mentioned how beautiful the view was. As we compared farms in the neighborhood she said, “there’s not a bad view, it doesn’t exist; everywhere you look up here is beautiful.”

Cannabis has so much to offer and its produced in so many ways by people from all walks of life. As we continue this series, my hope is these stories will inspire a fuller experience every time you smoke through a deeper understanding of the origins of our culture.


by Todd Dalotto

A core concept of sustainable cannabis agriculture is viewing the farm as an ecosystem within a broader ecosystem. Crop management is much more than just providing for the needs of one plant species–it’s managing soils to optimize the habitat of mutualistic soil organisms, managing irrigation to favor aerobic microorganisms, and managing nutrition to maximize the roles of soil microbes and mycorrhizae to break-down organic molecules and atmospheric gasses into plant-utilizable nutrients.

The cannabis industries are centered around growing plants, so it’s vital to understand how plants play a central role in the continuum of atmospheric, pedospheric, lithospeheric, hydrospheric, and biospheric interactions. The number of these dynamic interactions is seemingly infinite, so we will focus our attention on the Nitrogen Cycle to understand how management of soil, plants, microbes, and inputs affects nutrient efficiency.


1. Nitrogen (N) is considered a plant macronutrient because N atoms are part of lipid, protein, and nucleic acid (DNA & RNA) molecules that are abundant in every plant cell. N is very plant mobile, so if there is a deficiency in the soil, older plant leaves will gladly give up their N to provide for the nutritional needs of new growth shoots–just as good parents give up their life force for the good of our children. This is why N-deficiency symptoms show as chlorosis (yellowing) of older leaves.

2. When plants die or drop leaves, the tissue becomes organic matter (biomass), consisting of mostly organic N, to be consumed and transformed ultimately to plant- utilizable forms of N. Decomposing plant roots are also a significant source of organic N and carbon in the soil.

3. Nitrate (NO3-) is taken-up and utilized by plants more efficiently than any other molecular form of N, which is why inorganic (mineral) fertilizers are an effective means of rapid plant growth, although at a cost of reducing beneficial soil microbes and increased risk of nutrient burn. Some mineral fertilizers are certified-organic because they are synthesized from plants, however they don’t contain any organic N. If the fertilizer solution is clear, it is not chemically organic. N in organic matter/fertilizers are broken-down from organic N by soil microbes and made available plants by the next two processes:

4. Mineralization: Soil microbes decompose organic matter/fertilizer and transform organic N into ammonium (NH4+), and then into Nitrate (NO3-).

5. Nitrification: Aerobic soil bacteria and archaea oxidize ammonia (NH3) and ammonium (NH4+) into nitrite (NO2-), and then oxidizes nitrite into nitrate (NO3-)

6. When wood chips and incompletely-decomposed organic matter are visible in soil or media, a high carbon (C) to nitrogen ratio exists and will cause immobilization, which transforms plant-available N into organic N (the opposite of mineralization) because soil microbes are consuming N in order to decompose carbon-rich matter. When there is a high C:N, you may see N-deficiency symptoms, even with otherwise sufficient N-fertilizer is added.

7. Soil organisms not only consume and release N as described above, but also release organic N when their own bodies die, to be decomposed by living soil organisms.

8. Good irrigation and soil management results in a healthy balance of water:air in soil pore space, which promotes soil microbes to consume atmospheric N2 gas, break the N-N triple bond (which is too strong for plant cells to break), and form nitrate. Water-logged soils cause microbes to release N2 gas, among other undesirable effects, including favoring pathogenic microbes over beneficials.

9. Atmospheric N2 gas is also transformed into nitrate by rhizobium, which are N-Fixing bacteria that have a mutualistic relationship with plant roots (particularly with legumes). Plant roots form nodules, where rhizobium lives and enjoys the carbohydrates fed by the roots. In exchange, the bacteria transform N2 into nitrate and release it at the root nodule. N-fixation is one of many benefits of cover-cropping with legumes (bean and pea family).

10. Clay particles and aggregates are mostly negatively-charged, so clay plays a particularly useful role in the cation-exchange of positively-charged ammonium (NH4+). Ammonium is held by clay colloids tightly-enough to not leach easily, but loosely-enough to move through the soil towards areas of lower NH4+ concentration (diffusion) in the rhizosphere, then transformed into nitrate by microbes (nitrification), and taken-up by plants. When over-fertilization occurs, ammonium returns to the lower-concentrated clay colloid (diffusion), and leaching occurs when cation exchange sites overflow, causing water pollution.

11. Animals (humans included) are an important part of the Nitrogen Continuum. Just like microbes, we consume plants and other animals, break-down organic N in the lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids of our food, and transform it (with the help of our intestinal microbes) into organic N in every cell in our bodies, as well as in our feces. When animals die and return to the soil, our organic N becomes the next meal for soil microbes, which break it down eventually into plant-utilizable nitrate.

12. Although not a significant source of nitrogen for plants, it is notable that lightning produces gaseous nitric acid (HNO3).

13. Plants can’t utilize the gaseous nitric acid or dinitrogen from the atmosphere directly, but they can utilize gaseous ammonia (NH3), which is taken-in through stomata (gas- regulating leaf pores) from the atmosphere. Gaseous ammonia is also released in small quantities by plants.

14. Fertilizer manufacturers recapture gaseous ammonia from the atmosphere to be used in the manufacture of inorganic nitrogen fertilizers, which can be thought of as a sustainable practice.

15. Methane gas (CH4, a fossil fuel) is used to produce ammonia, which is the precursor to numerous other inorganic fertilizers and pesticides, such as urea, ammonium nitrate, and anhydrous ammonia.

17. Over-fertilization combined with poor soil & irrigation management leads to soil erosion and eutrophication of surface water, which leads to toxic algal blooms and other pollution in oceans, lakes and rivers.

18. The combustion of fossil fuels produces toxic gasses such as nitrous oxide (N2O) and nitric oxide (NO).

19. Denitrification is a microbial process that transforms nitrate into gaseous dinitrogen, which is not a harmful product. However, it may be seen as an unsustainable process because it results in the loss of plant-utilizable nitrate and is partially the result of over watering and over-fertilization.

The entire cannabis industry flows downstream from farms, so applying this understanding of the good, the bad and the ugly of the Nitrogen Cycle, and how plants and soil microbes play a central role, can help purify the headwaters of our industry.


By Cosmos Burnigham

Bob Johnson is a humble, passionate, and accomplished man with notable, meticulous attention to detail in everything he does. He lives by the Hunter Thompson quote, “Anything worth doing is worth doing right”, and nowhere is that more evident than his grow.

He raced stock cars for 25 years. A rat rod mechanic and enthusiast to say the least, Bob custom built his 1936 Plymouth with a ’55 DeSoto Hemi. He calls her Mary Jane, and her interior is complete with intricate cannabis details throughout the cabin and she’s parked with the fleet out front including his ratified “cool bus,” refurbished 1946 rat rod school bus Chevrolet Panel Roadster. The 60 year old Arkansas native is driven to be the best that he can be in all that he does, and it shows throughout his spotless property. That said, he’s not yet that well known for his cannabis growing skills having moved to Oregon just five years ago to grow his first legal crop ever.

Some of you that have been growing for 20, 30, 40-plus years might ask what’s so special about Bob? In the game five years; couldn’t possibly be putting out anything notable or consistent or worthy of publishing, or so you might think. But this guy doesn’t mess around–remember my first paragraph? The one you just read, the intro, the build-up, well, I don’t mess around either when I tell you that I was compelled to share this story with you, not by Bob’s rat rods, nor his legendary glass pipe collection, rock collection nor enviable man cave where all of this was housed. Rather, it was the shelf on the back wall of that man cave–30 or so jars of various harvests of his own nug, grown on site, under LEDs.

At first sight, Bob’s buds were noticeably A++, denser, bigger, and more coated than any buds I have ever seen finished under straight LEDs. Many growers are hesitant to throw down the investment in LED solutions because they are worried about size and quality of their harvest under the current technological limitations of LEDs in horticulture applications. Bob, however, embraced the LED. In fact, it could be said that the owner of Green Fusion LED lights inspired Bob to stay in the game, uproot from Arkansas to Oregon, and show the world what these lights are capable of in the cannabis garden.

The humble German proprietor behind Green Fusion is not new to LED technology. He has digitally mastered chips on LED panels from the bottom of the ocean to the outer reaches of space, having built the LEDs responsible for the Titanic exploration and the International Space Station’s horticultural efforts alike. He is also responsible for a significant amount of the lights throughout the Hollywood cinema scene. And now, this same technology is finally producing buds on par or better than those fruited under traditional HID lamps, and for a fraction of the cost.

These lights are significantly lighter in weight than most LEDs, and you might have noticed Bob’s flower rooms, how close the lights are to the head colas, some even touching the bottom of the LEDs. It starts with the chips that regulate the diode and cooling fans. They are able to keep them so cool that they can be lowered directly to the tops of the plants and thereby allowing a maximum PAR while maintaining the integrity of the bulbous trichomes and the volatile cannabinoids and terps within.

You have to squeeze, smell and smoke these buds yourself to believe it. They were dense–nothing like these larfy, lanky buds that we saw from the first couple generations of LED grow lights. The flavor profiles were abundant and unique, bursting with terpenoids, dynamic takes on classics like White Widow, which had an extra something and Trinity, which was notably the original Trinity but with the terpene volume cranked full throttle. I smoked three or four of the tastiest bong hits of Mystery Haze out of one of Bob’s premier pieces from his collection. I was high–really high, giddy, and laughing like a school boy high, and this is saying a lot for someone who smokes all day for 25-plus years.

After about an hour of touring the facility I went back to the office. It was now almost two hours since my relatively small sesh with Bob and when I got back, Bear greeted me by saying, “Bro, you look baaaaaaaked!” This is someone I have smoked thousands of bowls with and who I smoke with everyday, and never, in the 12 years I have known him, has he ever commented about how baked I looked. I went to the bathroom to look in the mirror and he was right, I looked just as high as I was, all pink eyed and goofball. I busted back into the office determined to get everyone as high as I was, sharing some of the buds Bob sent home for the team here at Grow. Now, they are demanding Rat Rod Bob buds by his name rather than cultivar name. They don’t care about the lineage, sativa or indica, they just want Rat Rod Bob buds.


Story by Farmer Ton Lauerman

Organics have always been close to my heart. My family has a long line of organic farmers from the Midwest who continue to inspire the passion, hard work, and dedication necessary to grow food without chemicals. They migrated to Southern California in the ‘60s, where my second cousin grew organic produce for the still famous Ocean Beach People’s Co-op in San Diego. I grew up there, surfing and skateboarding, understanding the value of a healthy lifestyle thanks to these pioneers. By the late ‘90s, when my wife and I got together at San Diego’s first Medical Marijuana Cooperative, not only did we grow organic cannabis, we encouraged everyone to make lifestyle and dietary changes as well.

The need for organics is a phenomenon of the 20th century and more important today than ever before. In 1924, the father of biodynamic farming, Rudolph Steiner, gave what could be considered the first organic horticulture course to a group of farmers, but the term “organic” didn’t come about until 1940. This came from the concept of “the farm as an organism,” coined in the book Look to the Land by Walter James, a Lord of Northbourne in Kent, England.

J.I. Rodale brought this concept to the United States when he founded The Rodale Research Institute and “Organic Farming and Gardening” magazine in 1947, soon after the end of WWII. The Third Reich had given rise to deadly new synthetic chemicals like distillate pesticides and synthetic explosives, and the corporations that created DDT and aluminum nitrate began promoting and selling these products for use in conventional mono-crop farming methods and “the war on food.”

It wasn’t until the ‘70s that the first organic certification organization came into existence. California Certified Organic Farmers started in Santa Cruz in 1973, followed by Oregon Tilth Certified Organic in 1982. By the early ‘90s, there were more than 20 of these organizations spread across the nation helping consumers identify food grown without these synthetic chemicals.

The US government wanted to take control, however, and began its conquest by passing the Organic Foods Production Act in 1990. This required the USDA to develop nationwide standards for organic products in preparation for the creation of the National Organic Program (NOP). The final rule for the establishment of this program–published in the Federal Register in 2000 and in full effect in November 2002–made the word “organic” illegal for use by anyone outside Federal Certification. This is where things get sticky for the cannabis industry.

As a Schedule 1 (Class 1) drug, the USDA, as part of the Executive Branch of the Federal Government, cannot legally provide its exclusive NOP certification services, or allow the use of the word “organic,” anywhere within the booming cannabis industry. This makes it difficult for consumers to determine how it was grown.

Even though cannabis is a large-scale plant crop intended for human consumption and subject to the same threats of contamination from WWII-derived chemicals, the situation is currently being ignored by the US Government just as they did in the food supply for decades at the end of the last century. As a result, the same type of independent certification companies have sprung up to fill the gap. This time, however, the government owns the word “organic,” which is the only word people have become accustomed to. So what do we do?

I believe the first thing is to begin using different language for a cannabis certification program that is clearly understood and can’t be confiscated or legislated away from use by the people. I was in Barcelona recently and discovered that, in European countries, crops grown without pesticides and synthetic chemicals is referred to as “ecologic” or “ecologically grown,” which I think this is a much better descriptor. In the US, “organic” has simply become an expensive buzzword that’s lost its meaning. So, when you read an article stating that there is no nutritional difference between organic and conventional produce, you can believe it because “organic,” and the way it’s applied in agriculture today, no longer means what it did prior its takeover in 2002.

One of the reasons for this is the multiple and contradictory definitions of the word itself, especially in the realms of organic chemistry and organic compounds in particular. According to the American Chemical Society, “Organic chemistry is the study of the structure, properties, composition, reactions, and preparation of carbon-containing compounds, which include not only hydrocarbons (petroleum) but also compounds with any number of other elements, including hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, halogens (fluorine (F), chlorine (Cl), bromine (Br), iodine (I), and astatine (At), phosphorus, silicon, and sulfur. This branch of chemistry was originally limited to compounds produced by living organisms but has been broadened to include human-made substances such as plastics. The range of application of organic compounds is enormous and also includes, but is not limited to, pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals, food, explosives, paints, and cosmetics.”

In other words, since 1947, the poisonous chemicals created in WWII have become legal and fall under the scientific definition of “organic.” This allows a devious company to spray an illegal pesticide on a crop and still call it “organic” due to a language and definition technicality. According to the description above, even the fluoride contamination of the water supply can be termed “organic,” which makes all of this confusing. I believe we can begin to turn this around by changing the language we use to describe clean, healthy agricultural practices and raise the standards under which all our crops are grown.

Even though I am the first “Federally Recognized Organic Cannabis Farmer in the United States,” I intend to change the language of what I do to “ecologic” and “ecologically grown.” I’ve been a big proponent of these independent certification programs for a long time and see them as a way to raise the bar when it comes to helping people identify clean food and cannabis.

So, with a lifetime of passion and hands-on experience growing clean healthy crops myself, it seems like a good time to throw my hat in the ring and officially announce “Farmer Tom Certified, Ecologically Grown.” This is a program set up similarly to Oregon or Washington Tilth as a vehicle to oversee the cannabis farms we work with. Look for us as we hope to have it up and running very soon.


One more additional complication comes back to federal prohibition. Even though a cannabis farmer could in theory follow NOP rules, the core certifying agencies won’t certify the produce to be able to be called “organic.”

This has opened the door for several new cannabis-focused certifying agencies to enter the market.

These agencies are a new experiment and are working with various standards for listing. For most consumers, how a farmer earns these certifications can be quite vague.

That farmer may have to follow the exact same standards as the NOP has put out, or maybe they just need to pay their money and use the seal with no oversight at all.

When it comes to fertilizers certifications, or for farms that ally closely with certain brands and claim using those products make them organic, be wary of conflicts of interest and loose compliance until standards stabilize.

The NOP-supported listing is still the best way to guarantee a standard is being followed.


by Cosmos Burnigham


Watch out for any organically listed product that claims micronutrients and has questionable natural ingredients. They probably aren’t truly organic, as the product is intended to be used only after a documented deficiency.


Be suspicious of any fish fertilizer with high phosphate levels, as synthetic sulfuric and phosphoric acid are allowed to “adjust pH” in order to stabilize the finished product to a certain point, but certainly can still be claimed on a fertilizer label.


Potassium Hydroxide (KOH) is the highly caustic agent you might commonly find in a pH up product. Be wary of any kelp product that claims high potassium levels and doesn’t talk specifically about enzyme type hydrolysis, as potassium hydroxide is allowed as a processing agent.


Although the system is cleaner and better regulated than ever before, the organic industry has suffered from cases of straight fraud, such as manufacturers spiking synthetic nitrogen in liquid nitrogen products. Be reasonably suspicious and report to the certifying agency if you have reason to suspect fraud.


Many companies use green waste that is comprised of everything from yard waste to construction scraps to industrial paper inputs.


As the law is currently interpreted, a brand name typically cannot contain the word organic if the product is not on the official list. But in some cases, the name of a conventional company can contain the word organic. Companies use “mash ups” or modified words that are intended to sound like organic.


Many companies have made claims that their products are organic and built “whisper” campaigns to promote their products as organic—when in fact they are not listed and not organic. Being part of the system does at least increase the regulation and review and is more difficult for nonprofessional manufacturers.


New entrants in this marketing arena aren’t allowed to use organic and have no legal requirement to follow the system for what we now define as organic. Some have also displayed potential conflicts of interest and cozy associations with one manufacturer or another.


by Cosmos Burnigham

In the ever-evolving world of professional cannabis, each day brings new challenges and new adventures. Some days, it can be overwhelming to figure out how to make the right choices. As a consumer and gardener, I reach for the organic seal as a default statement of a better choice, but it’s not always that simple. Sometimes the choices we’re presented with in the organic realm come with more than you bargained for: chemicals, additives, waste byproducts, and false advertising can all be part of legitimate “listed” organic products. It’s a confusing and large system, so for now, let’s shed some light on organic fertilizers and how to best avoid getting burned by false advertising.


First, a little background on what “organic” means. The term has a couple of common meanings that are easily confused. In chemistry, it means “containing carbon” and primarily refers to compounds that were previously living. For example, by its chemistry definition, gasoline is “organic” and agricultural lime is not, as it contains no elemental carbon.

The other common usage, and the one we’ll discuss today, is the word’s meaning in agriculture, which is intended to describe a product of “natural” composition. Under this meaning, gasoline is definitely not organic, but agricultural lime can be if it meets certain standards. This agricultural term’s meaning and usage are wholly controlled by the National Organic Program (NOP).


On its website, the NOP describes itself as “…a regulatory program housed within the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service” and “responsible for developing national standards for organically-produced agricultural products.” In layman’s terms, this means that the NOP is a division of the US Department of Agriculture and sets the standards for the products that can be technically called, certified, or listed “organic.” This set of standards is continually updated by a board that–in theory–seeks regular public comment and is comprised of a mixed group of government and industry professionals.

NOP sets the standards that listing agencies or certifiers follow when determining whether a product can be called “organic.” These agencies are the seals you see on bottles of fertilizer or on food packaging and have names you might recognize: WSDA, OMRI, or CDFA, OIM or USDA Organics.

In other words, there’s one set of rules determined by industry, organic professionals, and government agents. If a manufacturer can document that a product follows those rules, a third-party group such as CDFA will grant that manufacturer “organic” status.


Since its inception, the National Organic Standards Board has determined that certain synthetics should be allowed for a number of reasons–such as processing and stabilization–or because no organic alternative exists. These synthetics are supposed to be reviewed every five years so that alternatives can be suggested or new information can come to light. In a recent lobby-driven change that received little press, this process was altered from a required affirmative to a required negative. Meaning that, while the board used to have to vote every five years to continue use of an allowed synthetic, they now have to specifically decide to remove one of these compounds. Thus, the momentum toward seeking alternatives is significantly squashed in favor of existing practices and materials. Not exactly the evolving and improving system that I believe was envisioned when some well-meaning, but practical people first sat down to draw up rules that wouldn’t immediately force most manufacturers out of business, but instead give them a pass until they could resolve issues.

Allowed synthetics have created a gray area as to when and how some ingredients can be used in organic agriculture. Here’s what I mean: some of those “allowed synthetics” should supposedly only be applied to organic crops under very specific circumstances. For example, if a crop has a clearly documented micronutrient deficiency, NOP rules allow a farmer to apply synthetic micronutrients to correct that deficiency. There are supposed to be rules as to how, when, and how much of a product can be applied.

While the system may intend these synthetics for use in very restrictive circumstances, fertilizer manufacturers have been known to use this loophole to market synthetic micronutrient products as organic. Once listed as organic, a product can sit on the shelf at your local garden store with no clear differentiation that it is synthetic and should be “restricted”–shady and all too common. The informed consumer should understand that there’s no “restricted use” labeling required on the products. Some listing agencies such as OMRI do differentiate, but you have to find that product on their list to discover that a product is “restricted” and its not always clear why or what the restriction is for. Be on the lookout for labels that make micronutrient claims. In particular, watch for micronutrient compounds that include sulfate, oxide or silicate, as these could be allowed synthetic forms of micronutrition.

The cultivation side of the cannabis industry has long suffered from the lack of a greater regulatory system, which has created a Wild West effect. When you combine this mentality with a boom in business that drew manufacturers from all corners of the planet, you end up with a perfect storm of fraud, misdirection, and misinformation. The deception is rampant. Fraudulent manufacturers will misrepresent their products as organic. One particularly audacious company even included the word in their business name.

Marketing being what it is, there’s no end to the immoral approaches some manufacturers will take. A particularly insidious version is the use of “non” meaning words, mashups and intentional modifications. Words like “natural” are thrown around liberally. But without defined meaning, they’re just words. In general, be suspicious of companies that overuse buzzwords or seem desperate to sell you their product. And keep an eye out for hollow mash-up words like “Veganic” and “Organix”— clear attempts to confuse consumers into thinking the products are organic. Don’t be tricked by these shady practices that use these terms and don’t support them with a trusted third-party organic listing. Tell your local grow store what you think about companies and products that practice deception and together we can clean up the bad actors.

So, your organic food and fertilizer might contain synthetic chemicals. To my mind, that’s a bad thing, as I think most consumers who buy “organic” are making that choice in support of what they believe to be a safer and more sustainable choice. However, after all the concern, I’ve laid down, let me make it clear where I personally stand: something is better than nothing. The organic labeling system does promote sustainable agricultural practices, and it’s worth supporting for some of its stronger rules, including banning GMOs, as well as the worst types of synthetic and highly toxic pesticides and irradiation.

The system also benefits from the listing agencies and watchdogs that try to hold companies accountable to an admittedly less-than-perfect set of rules. Collectively, we can pressure agencies like the NOP to improve and by doing so we can shape a better future. Who knows? Maybe one glorious day cannabis farmers will have the option of certifying our products as organic. But for now, in a world of lesser evils, the educated consumer wisely chooses truly organic products. Just follow the old adage: caveat emptor-buyer beware.

Want to reach out to the NOP and get more involved? Start on their website: offices/national-organic-program While there, you also find a link to the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances for your review at


By Jason Durose

Sustainability–A word we are all familiar with and have seen thrown around in a variety of contexts and industries. The concept of sustainability has a history of multiple interpretations, applications and, it could be argued, misuse.

More than 12 years ago, when “sustainable” was initially integrated into the building design arena, we marveled at the sparkling new world of sustainable design, sustainable buildings, and much more.

The trouble was, no one could give a clear definition of what the concept really meant.

This resulted in designers using “sustainable”– with each other and our clients–without fully understanding how to practically apply it.

I was one of those designers.

For 15 years, I was in the heart of the Silicon Valley developing high-tech, biotech and other “tech” facilities as fast as I possibility could. Speed was the game, “sustainability” was just a name we stamped on things.

Then I was introduced to the writing of John Elkington, a man who has become a leading authority on corporate responsibility and sustainable development.

Elkington coined the phrase “triple bottom line,” referring to three green pillars of logic–people, planet, and profit–to address corporate social responsibility. He argued that any company that adopted this sustainable framework created a greater business value.

As I reflect on my more than 15 years of designing and engineering commercial facilities and how in a short time the cannabis industry has been a positive disruptor in the world of bureaucracy, the opportunity to learn and teach each other has never been greater. The current worldwide cannabis market is rapidly evolving, fluctuating and hitting critical mass thresholds.

Now is the time to look inward and to adopt sustainable practices. Over the several hundred projects I have participated in since really internalizing and integrating Elkington’s logic into my work, I have developed a framework and understanding of what “people, planet and profit” means for our cannabis community.


We have a social responsibility to serve all with fairness and equity, whether customers, patients, friends, coworkers, or family. All of us share in the responsibility to create the cleanest and safest products. The social underground was the birthplace of the cannabis explosion, where, as a community, we shared ideas and educated each other on the next best method. Education in best practices is and always should be a cornerstone for the cannabis community to continue to evolve and grow.


We only get one planet, folks! Let’s focus on integrating measures to cut and conserve our natural resources and prevent unwarranted pollution. Waste in any form cannot and will not be tolerated in an open market and only the lean will survive through these bumpy times.

Imagine the cannabis industry leading others in this way! As an industry, we are capable of designing facilities to grow plants, and to grow them well.

But what materials did you use to build your facility? How can you optimize and conserve your power, water, and other resources?

We are in an emerging industry where we can decide, without much outside influence, what should be considered best practice and share it with each other.


Each of us, either as growers, processors, designers, or ancillary support services, are doing this to be fiscally sustainable as individuals or as companies. Early producers in new markets enjoy the limited supply that leads to high profit margins. But we all know that does not last forever. Inevitably, new producers are attracted to these new markets, lowering the profit margins.

Making investments early on in energy efficient technologies and systems that help you conserve and best use your resources will sustain your business (and bottom line) in the long term, especially when those margins drop. A dollar spent wisely today (as compared to a few cents to get rich quick) can translate to many dollars in savings down the road. In the established markets of Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, we already see the market contracting and those who can’t sustain their operating margins are facing bankruptcy. Planning ahead can place you on the right side of the statistical curve.

Based on my experience in the cannabis industry and as a professional engineer, I would like to offer four predictions about the success a sustainable business framework using people, planet, profits can expect:

1. Cannabis will be federally legal within the next three to five years. While difficult to predict, we know that federal regulation and reporting will create many new challenges as well as potential market opportunities (i.e. “certified organic,” etc.).

2. When cannabis is federally legal, it is almost certain the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be the regulating authority. Since 2016, the FDA started regulating all tobacco products, so the framework is already in place for them to regulate your friendly cannabis plant. If you’re producing medicinal marijuana, I highly recommend studying up on Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP).

3. The demand and market for clean and organic cannabis and downstream products will be more valuable in the short term, but will become the new normal, which may will reduce product margins.

4. The requirement for resource accountability will continue to increase, as demonstrated by California’s tough rules and regulation for cannabis due to their limited water and power supplies. Strained water resources and an outdated electrical grid have forced them to adopt these almost impossible rules. Government entities are inherently risk averse, leading them to look at pre-existing rules in similar regulatory backgrounds. Right or wrong, these rules and structures are often adopted by the rest of the country, specifically in emerging markets and specifically concerning human health.


I would like to share what I and my company, Rogue Sky, recommend as steps towards a sustainable mission for all growers:

• To ensure a business lifespan beyond three years, new grow facilities (both indoors and greenhouses) will need to focus on Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). This is determined by estimating total costs over a five- or ten- year basis then adding them to your initial start-up costs. Under the TCO model, your start-up costs will likely be higher, however you will have more control over your long-term costs and reduce the impact of market volatility affecting those costs. Plan wisely to spend money now to save your bottom line later.

• Indoor growers should consider a hybrid- or full- adoption of LED lighting. Don’t wait for the “next best” LED light, because perfection is always a moving target. We’ve seen great success with both full-LED systems or a hybrid between HPS and LED, but make a concerted effort to cut down the heat energy. It’s a win-win-win, with lower lighting energy costs, which equals lower HVAC cooling costs. Finally, nearly all states have financial incentives where they will pay you for cutting your energy consumption. In some cases, a state of the art (grow) LED fixture can be less than what a new HPS fixture costs, or in a retrofit, the initial investment will typically be recovered in just a few months. Do your research and contact your utility provider.

• Invest in active wired or wireless monitoring for your facility. This includes space temperature and humidity, lights on/off, irrigation on/off, and soil moisture sensors. The cost of these systems is coming down and a data-driven farmer is one who utilizes the most powerful tools in a grow. Minimize your energy and resource costs by knowing where it goes. Also, don’t add to your workload chasing issues, get ahead of them and get notified before you’re in trouble.

• Indoor growers and, to some degree, greenhouse growers, should consider switching temperature and humidity set points towards a Vapor Pressure Deficit (VPD) algorithm (as long as you do not have existing pervasive disease and have already installed active filtration systems). This switch alone will allow a wider operating envelope for HVAC and dehumidifiers which translates to real-time savings. More importantly, we’ve seen healthier plants with greater yields as a result.

• Indoor growers should take advantage of off-peak power consumption by switching flowering cycles so lights turn on at 10 pm and off at 10 am. In most markets, electricity is cheaper at night and HVAC also runs more efficiently in cooler temperatures.

• In building construction, use metal studs and concrete whenever possible and look for low volatile organic compound (VOC) paints and formaldehyde- free materials. Metal studs can’t harbor bacteria or mold growth, plus they are forever recyclable. If you want to know what green building materials exist in the commercial world, look up the US Green Building Council. They focus entirely on buildings and are a massive resource available to anyone and everyone.

My favorite college engineering professor, Joe Harrelson, had a motto for racing that applies perfectly to the emerging cannabis industry, “Whomever has the most things right, wins.” As we race toward nationwide legalization and getting the best products into the market, a sustainability- focused mission is not just the right thing to do, but it’s the best for all people, the planet, and your profits.


B Y LEAH BRAGGS A FTER TAKING TWO heavy samples from the very same harvest to two different laboratories for analysis, we expected some variation in the test results, but figured they’d at least be in the same ball-park, right? Regrettably, precisely the opposite proved to be true, encouraging us to investigate who is holding these analytical labs accountable for their results. After some research (google) and talking to some friends in the biz, sadly we learned that nobody is really holding anyone accountable. Sure there are some government agencies collecting fees on a state level but who’s actually paying attention? Nobody. At least not yet.

As states legalize cannabis for both medical and recreational use, it is clear that lawmakers and patients are both concerned with the quality of the cannabis available for consumption. Legislation in every state continues to call for lab tests to be performed by state-approved laboratories, but recent studies have found that inconsistent results are more common than not when it comes to cannabis.

The Journal of the American Medical Association recently published findings that only 17% of cannabis products were accurately labeled for content in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle. The study randomly selected 75 products from 47 different brands and independent testing found that 17% were labeled accurately, 23% were under labeled, and 60% were over labeled with respect to THC content. Even though the testing of cannabinoid content is being required by more and more states, without a standard method to regulate labs, results will always vary from lab to lab.

Emerging from the pack are a couple of regulatory and advisory panels that hope to set the record straight about which labs are putting out accurate numbers. The Emerald Test® is an Inter-Laboratory Comparison Proficiency Testing (ILC/PT) program for evaluating how accurately labs perform, by comparing how well the lab measures an anonymous sample. These programs are the standard in many testing industries, including environmental, food, pharmaceutical, water, petrochemical, and others. The results provide a benchmark for the industry in general, by elucidating how well the labs perform collectively. The data can also be used by the individual labs to demonstrate proficiency to their customers, or used internally to identify areas in need of improvement. The ILC/PT is now used by some state regulatory bodies as a component of certification programs, and is commonly a requirement for various ISO certifications. Finally, the results provide a measure of assurance and reliability to the industry as a whole, and particularly to those who depend on the testing lab’s results for safety, health and product performance.

The Emerald Test® is offered twice each year (though individual PT’s are always available).

The Emerald Test® takes place in the Spring and Fall of each year, with enrollment open for a set period of time. The components of each test are determined by the Emerald Test Advisory Panel. Test Samples are manufactured by an ISO 17043 accredited PT provider and require overnight shipping. After receiving and testing the sample, labs have a window in which to complete the test and submit their results through an electronic data portal. Data analysis provided by AOCS using software designed to meet requirements of ISO 13528:2015.

Labs receive their individual results, and once analysis is complete, receive the overall test results, to see how they performed in relation to their peers. Individual lab data is held in strict confidentiality and labs that perform within a specific tolerance are awarded an Emerald Test Badge. The only setback to this methodology is that the test cannot be performed on whole plants but rather a controlled solution due to Federal regulations.

The NELAC Institute’s National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program however accredits qualified laboratories for testing under the Clean Air Act (CAA), Clean Water Act (CWA), Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and cannabis testing. NELAP offers Cannabis Potency Proficiency Standards intermittently via its individually licensed state accreditation programs. They typically offer testing for THCA, THC, CBDA, CBD & CBN and not the complete offering, but this is a fine way to measure the effectiveness of your procedures internally as a lab and at the very least shows that a lab intends to do the right thing wherever possible. Because of NELAP’s individually qualified state labs, like ORELAP in Oregon, they are able to offer testing of actual cannabis plants because of their intrastate nature.

Beyond looking for The Emerald Test’s Emerald Badge of Approval, or NELAP Accreditation, there are some simple steps you can take to make sure you are getting the proper analytical test results you paid for. First and foremost, don’t even consider a lab that doesn’t harvest their own results in-house. Sent out for analysis? Who’s accountable? And besides, even just one middleman increases your margin of error or cross contamination. Analytical chemists are best suited for testing cannabis ideally because of their ability to navigate the complex matrix of cannabis. The competency of the individual testing your cannabis products is more important than the equipment being used itself.

That said, detecting pesticides at 100 parts per billion or 0.1 parts per million is difficult to do by any other method except liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS). Furthermore, you should try to get a one on one with the scientist who will be performing the test. Ask them about their equipment, procedures and guidelines or accreditation and try to get a feel for their passion for their craft and their propensity for perfection. For more accurate results, give the lab a sufficient amount of varied flowers from head colas to side colas and even popcorn. Try to make the sample indicative, ratio-wise of the overall batch you intend to label with those particular results.


By Cosmos Burningham,

Most growers really have to be on their A-game and pay attention to detail, bootstrapping wherever possible to eek out a profit margin these days. With wholesale flower prices at about half of what they were just 10 short years ago in some states, savvy horticulturalists have found another sku or two in their inventory, so to speak.

Lately processors and middlemen are lurking all around with paper to spend on your trim, leaf and duff (a term we have collectively coined as larf). Larf used to pile up in the old days–save it up and kick it down to your one friend that runs bubble bags–the guy that never has nugs but always has a hash patty for atop your bowl.

Today that larf fetches a premium, and with flower prices as low as they are and a supersaturated market on the horizon, smaller gardeners that want to stay in the game will be increasingly looking to their “larf” for signs of profits.

So what are they doing with all this larf and how much are they paying? Prices are relative to geography, and supply and demand of course, and the variety of extract methods seems to grow daily.

With the explosion of new methods comes a variety of fancy looking products and a glossary of slang that continues to proliferate by the minute on social media.

Cannabis concentrates have proven to be effective for patients suffering from all sorts of ailments. When made properly, a cannabis concentrate is reminiscent of the cannabis strain it was extracted from; the smell, taste, and effects are simply magnified due to a larger concentration by weight.

Some purists, like myself, argue that the entourage effect of the plant and the unique dynamic relationship and balance of its components are displaced, no matter the method altering the overall balance and profile of the finished product.

The extraction of cannabis concentrates is a complex and potentially dangerous process and should only be performed by trained professionals. The following briefly describes the most widely used extraction methods for now.


A popular form of non-solvent hash is dry sieve (sometimes referred to as “dry sift”). Put simply, dry sieve is a refined version of kief that has been run through a series of screens so that only the trichome heads remain. This is among the easiest ways to produce hash, using just a few good screens to filter out the plant matter. The level of quality is often determined by the amount of plant matter and capitulate trichome stalks found in the final product.

This process at its highest level yields nothing but the largest, most perfect trichome gland heads and none of the gland stems, plant matter, etc. that generally cloud the quicker, lower-quality kief extractions. The most pure dry sieve hash should melt completely when exposed to heat, known as full-melt dry sieve hash.


Kief is the simplest of concentrates. Kief is composed of the trichomes (the crystalline structures coating the outside surface of the flowers) broken away from the dried plant material, usually via specialized filtering screens and a little elbow grease. Kief is generally considered a lower-quality extract, but some top-flight extractors can produce an extremely clean and flavorful product using the dry sieve method. THC content can range from 20% to 60%, on average.


Hash has been around for centuries, and there are plenty of processes by which hash can be made. Ice water extraction is one of the most common processes used to create quality non-solvent hash. The main goal and fundamental idea behind the ice water extraction process is to isolate the trichome heads from the plant matter that carry little-to-no medicinal value.

The quality of the resulting hash is often determined by the size of the isolated trichome heads and the extent to which it melts when heated (full-melt being the best). The most important part of the ice water extraction process is drying the final product. If not properly dried, the hash can develop mold and other forms of potentially dangerous microbiological life.

Additionally solvents like ice water or ethanol may be used to more effectively strip the cannabis plant of its trichomes. Though not as potent as BHO and other cannabis concentrates, hash remains a staple of cannabis culture around the world for its clean, all-natural extraction process.


Butane Hash Oil, commonly referred to as BHO, involves a dangerous methodology using butane as the main solvent. While a number of variables can determine the final consistency of BHO (mostly temperature), people use different names when referring to each of the different consistencies and the type of product it was processed from. Shatter for instance, refers to the glass-like consistency that often snaps or “shatters” when handled. Budder, honeycomb, crumble, sap and live resin are also used to describe the different textures, though they all fall under the category of BHO.

Under this form of extraction, THC content can be as high as 80-90%. This makes BHO a popular choice for many medical marijuana patients suffering from chronic pain, sleep disorders, and other intractable symptoms. Always be sure that your oil is lab tested for purity, as improperly purged BHO may contain traces of butane, pesticides, or other unhealthy contaminants.


Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a supercritical fluid, meaning it converts into a liquid form when pressurized. At the same time, CO2 is a pure chemical substance that occurs naturally and leaves behind no residues. The CO2 extraction process allows compounds to be extracted with low toxicity and utilizes a high pressure vessel containing cannabis. Supercritical CO2 is inserted into the vessel and pumped through a filter where it is separated from the plant matter once the pressure is released. Next, the supercritical CO2 evaporates rendering your cannabinoids.


Rick Simpson Oil (RSO), whole-plant cannabis oil can be orally administered or applied directly to the skin. Sublingual delivery is the preferred method of treatment for many cancer patients. Not only is it a convenient way to medicate, but intake through the oral mucosal membranes in your mouth provides for rapid and effective absorption directly into your systemic circulation because of the increased bioavailability of the cannabinoids.

True whole-plant oil derived from the cannabis plant is made from buds and is comprised of many different cannabinoids including THC, CBD, CBN, CBG… . Many other business now sell their own renditions of the Rick Simpson Oil, some of which are high in THC while others contain only non-psychoactive compounds like CBD.


Rosin has been gaining a lot of traction in the medical cannabis community as of lately, and for good reason. Rosin is a solid form of resin that is obtained by adding pressure and heat to vaporize volatile liquid terpenes, typically with an industrial heat press (or even a hair straightener for small batches).

The rosin technique is quick, simple and affordable, allowing anyone to create quality solventless hash in a matter of seconds. To get started making Rosin, you only need a few basic tools in order to create a quality finished product.