Pubdate: Thu, 04 Feb 2016
Source: Boulder Weekly (CO)
Column: Weed Between the Lines
Copyright: 2016 Boulder Weekly
Author: Sarah Haas


Skywalker OG. Sour Diesel. LA Confidential. With dozens of different 
strains available to choose from, each emitting a different aroma and 
promising a different high, it is hard to remember that it is all 
just one thing - cannabis. With one ingredient served up in dozens of 
different ways, it can paralyze a consumer, but for a grower, it's an 
innovative paradise.

"It almost feels like it's never been done before," says Stephen 
Lipton, general cultivation manager of Boulder dispensary The Farm. 
"I guess because it really hasn't. Before it was a black market 
thing, and now that it isn't there is a high level of experimentation 
and ingenuity going on that you just can't deny anymore."

Once the industry came above ground it entered a sort of renaissance, 
where growers could begin refining the genetics of their clones to 
create new, more precise strains and develop more sophisticated 
techniques to grow and cure the plant.

For the growers, developing this market space comes with a deep sense 
of responsibility, as they find themselves walking the line between 
geneticist, pharmacist and product developer.

When Amendment 64 passed, The Farm expected clearer definition 
between medical and recreational use and a little more guidance to 
boot, but there isn't. It is now up to individual growers to deliver 
reliable products, accurately described, for both prescriptive and 
recreational purposes.

For Lipton that responsibility translates to craft cannabis, which he 
defines as "the artful attunement of cultivators to be able to adjust 
to the needs of each plant to bring out its full potential."

Packed into that dense definition is Lipton's 20-plus years of 
experience in small, organic farming and horticulture. In those years 
he learned that growing is a humble process of giving plants exactly 
what they need and then getting out of the way to let them do their thing.

All of that starts with the seed. Once farmers design and test seeds, 
they select the most popular and effective strains and introduce them 
into their seasonal cycles of production. Normally, a company would 
try to protect this sort of intellectual property through patenting, 
but with marijuana still listed as a federally illegal drug, that 
process is not available.

Maybe that's a good thing, Lipton says, considering what is happening 
in traditional agriculture as seeds are increasingly patented.

"I used to grow this flower called Purple Wave Petunia, which is the 
best purple petunia there is," Lipton says. "If you want to grow it, 
you have to pay that company, which owns the rights. You can grow it, 
but you can't clone it or seed it. You buy it at the store and that 
is it, you have to come back and pay for it every year. Whereas plant 
breeding in the past, and in the history of man, was in collecting 
seeds. Year after year you replant the seeds from the previous crop."

Unable to patent and unwilling to play a part in controlling the 
destiny of seeds, The Farm decided to sell them direct to customer, a 
bold business move with the potential to undermine their own market 
by enabling customers to replicate their product. But they don't seem worried.

"It is a seed and it goes from a seed to a plant to a flower," Lipton 
says. "Each individual person who gets a seed in the world could do a 
different thing with it, it is like the expression of its potential. 
We are confident that, by using our craft cannabis principles, we are 
able to express the seed to its fullest potential. That is an 
artform, getting to the point where we are able to express it in a 
meaningful way."

But what's so special about their process that they can sell seeds 
while others hoard them? Add water and nutrients, sunlight and dirt, 
let some time pass and you have high-quality craft cannabis, right? 
Not quite so easy.

Lipton has learned the hard way that plants have many formidable foes 
- - i.e., bugs - that complicate that simple equation.

There are two options when it comes to pests: spray them with 
pesticides or manage them. In choosing the latter, The Farm isn't 
just embracing a technique, it is further establishing their 
philosophy of craft cannabis. Their strategy is called Integrated 
Pest Management (IPM), a holistic approach to taking care of plants.

To accommodate IPM, The Farm abandoned the large warehouse model, 
subdividing the space into much smaller rooms that are kept 
immaculately clean and are temperature- and humidity-controlled. A 
dedicated team of growers attends to each small batch of plants, from 
clone to full-grown, pruning excess leaves, monitoring nutrient 
levels and the presence of bad bugs.

In one of the small rooms, there are a bunch of ladybugs flying 
around. According to Lipton, the team introduces them and other 
insects into the room to create a balanced ecosystem in which good 
bugs eat up the more harmful ones.

IPM recognizes that pests may never be fully eradicated. Instead, the 
practice focuses on minimizing the impact of pests rather than 
spraying harmful chemicals that would be harmful for the ecosystem or 
the consumer.

"It takes more work to do it like this," Lipton says, "but that is 
what separates us and keeps us on the craft level. Because we give 
each plant what it needs. It is not about avoiding the problem, it is 
addressing the problem. Instead of being reactionary it is about 
being proactive."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom