Growing Growers

Sustainable ag starts with education

In this era of drought and increasing environmental awareness, it’s easy to point the finger for the problems our state faces, and there is plenty of finger-pointing at the cannabis industry. After more than 40 years of prohibition, there has been a severe lack of regulations to guide this industry in best practices, and so it has become a scapegoat for California’s water woes.

As in all industries, there are bad actors looking out more for their bottom line than in being a good neighbor. The temptation for lax and exploitative practices and a quick buck can be hard to resist. Even our North Bay’s beloved wine industry continues to discharge fertilizers and pesticides into the groundwater and pull water directly from our creeks.

But just as there are conscientious winegrowers, there are cannabis farmers who are concerned about the impacts of artificial fertilizers, water usage, soil biology, recycling and composting of waste products. These folks show us that it is possible to cultivate sustainably and responsibly.

Education is the first step in remedying unhealthy practices, but that’s only the beginning. We must create support systems to encourage this shift to support an industry-wide transition to best practices.

Sonoma County is home to a plethora of ancillary products—from liquid fertilizers and soil amendments to compost tea brewers and microbiology labs—that aid in sustainable farming. Local mentoring programs are available to help green your grow through biodynamic farming techniques. Yet every hydroponic store has shelves packed with synthetic, salt-heavy liquid fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Without any incentive or requirement to operate within standards, many cultivators opt for the cheaper and easier systems.

Through its lack of oversight, the cannabis industry has created a system in which it is possible for back actors to thrive, and prohibition has prevented many master growers from fully sharing their experiences and years of honed techniques. Still, sustainability is already in practice on many farms. A larger move toward regenerative farming techniques should be a conversation across the agricultural industry as a whole, not one forced solely on the cannabis industry as it emerges from behind the green curtain.

Tawnie Logan is the executive director of the Sonoma County Growers Alliance, and has been active in the cannabis industry for over 15 years. Go to for more info. Send comments to [email protected].

Sonoma County Library