Living Soil, and the Cannabis Community, by HiFi Farms Director of Operations Richard Vinal

Living Soil, and the Cannabis Community

The ethnobotanist, author, and mystic Terence McKenna once said that, "Nature is alive and talking to us. This is not a metaphor."

Richard V

The idea that plants and fungi are, by definition, alive and capable of making decisions can, at first, be a pretty radical realization. What a wild and complex world this is that we find ourselves in. And it is not metaphor, but an observable fact that plants react in real time to the changes in their environment and choose specific actions. This is a pretty amazing thing. Today we’ll touch upon the actions that plants exercise through their roots, and the community of microbes that they consciously create there. Much of my information stems from Jeff Lowenfel's Teaming with Microbes which is an amazing book that should be mandatory reading for anyone living on Earth.

Plants have evolved to consciously create a community of microbes within the rhizosphere and soil that they inhabit. Unable to travel themselves, they call out and attract to themselves other living things which they desire. They take the first step towards this by exuding specialized chemical secretions out of their roots based upon their immediate needs. This ever-changing cocktail of carbohydrates and proteins are very attractive to certain types of fungi and bacteria, and it is these organisms that the plant is hoping to bring closer. In turn, these microbes attract other larger organisms like nematodes and protozoa who flock to the rhizosphere to join this exudate buffet.

In other words, these are the organisms the plant was hoping would show up to the party.

Now these larger microbes are hanging out, feasting on otherwise useless bacteria, keeping it from leaving the scene, and then returning it in a waste product that just happens to be pure food to the root tips of the plants. Arguably the best example of this is that plants need important nutrients called nitrates to grow. Certain microbes will feast upon substances otherwise useless to the plant, and then excrete them in a usable form of nitrates. The plant needs this community of microbes to trigger this excretion and the microbes need the plant to begin their side of the cycle as well. This is, in a nutshell, the basis of the living soil concept. The soil is a community of organisms all living and working together in a miraculous balanced symbiosis.

So what happened?


Basically- and at the risk of overgeneralizing- during the latter half of the 20th century, a process of chemically creating nitrates and applying them directly became the cornerstone of what is now called the “Agricultural Revolution." Instead of having to help foster an organic microbial community within the soil, the farmer could simply bypass that mechanism by adding salt-based nitrates and the plants would grow like never before. Of course, it seemed like a technological miracle at first, but there were hidden costs to this unnatural shortcut. Now that microbial life was unnecessary for the plant to receive nitrates, the plants ceased the exuding of the sugars & proteins that attracted the microbes in the first place. Artificially nitrated plants simply did not need to expend the energy, as they were already receiving all the nitrates they could ask for. So the plants seemingly thrived, and the soil around it began to die. The salt in the fertilizers destroyed much of the moisture-loving microbes that lingered, and other chemical pesticides and fungicides finished off the job. The soil was dead and empty.

Gone were the diversity of organisms that the plant once attracted to itself. No more bacteria to compete and live off of intruding organisms. No more nematodes to encircle and destroy other evil root-eating nematodes. The soil became a ghost town, with no teeming diverse life waiting there to compete for resources. When the bad bugs rolled into town like bandits, there was no population living there to fight them off. Thus began brand new blights of fungus and other disease, sweeping across acres with no resistance, other than the newest chemical cocktail brewed up in the pesticide factory. Gone were the natural structures that organisms give to soils - earthworms burrowing tunnels, bacteria and fungi secreting glue-like slimes that hold dirt together. Now the wind and water could more easily blow away top-soil. The age of salt-based fertilizers had begun - polluting waterways across the land, as the soils no longer possessed mechanisms to hold the nitrates close and keep them from leaching out.

The Cannabis Community

So what does all this mean and where does that leave us? Just as the plant benefits from the creation of a diverse and thriving community in the soil all around it, so do I think that we as individuals benefit when we do the same thing - specifically in the burgeoning cannabis industry. By sticking together, slowly and painstakingly creating a community symbiosis wherein we all continually give and take with one another, we are simultaneously creating structure and systems that offer us protection and resilience in the face of conflict. Like the plants that need nutrients to survive, we as companies and organizations require money and resources to continue. In building these organizations, we should avoid models that, like the salt-based fertilizer, bypass the community and just directly inject money. Something is lost in this method. There is a loss of culture, of resilient health, and just like a plant that lives in dead soil, as soon as the artificial fertilizer stops flowing, the organisms wither away into malnutrition. Even worse, it is shown that soils with poor structure and little microbes are a great environment for anaerobic bacteria and fungi that usually produce alcohols and other toxins as by-products, which then actively began to destroy the roots that it shares space with. Ultimately, a lifeless soil will not stay lifeless for long, and usually the first visitor will not be a friendly one. So too is a community invested in the growth of the cannabis industry critical to its success.

A rich community is a safety net. It is a chance for people to build connections and relationships that can act as a bulwark against hardship, and from outside threats with institutional power but no concern for overall health or the culture they intrude on. The rewards are not always as immediate as when taking the easy route, but when the results do come, they are strong, self-sustaining and able to go the distance.

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-Richard Vinal

Director of Operations, Hifi Farms

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