The Business of Living Soil: An Interview with Richard Vinal
It’s harvest season in Oregon and Richard Vinal, COO of Hifi Farms, is surveying the plants inside one of the company’s outdoor greenhouses. The colas are thick and heavy, and sway lazily in the autumn sunlight. The plants in this greenhouse are several weeks into their flowering cycle and Vinal is inspecting them individually for deficiencies. Typically, cultivators dispose of their soil at the end of the growing cycle. As it gets clogged up with salts from fertilizers, it is depleted of nutrients, and becomes useless for subsequent cycles. You won’t see this at Hifi Farms.
“It’s different for us because we are cultivating the soil. We have been growing a population of microbial life. The reason we do that is because the byproduct of the microbial life becomes the fertilizer that we use.”
A benefit of this practice is in retention of soil that teems with a diverse population of microbes. Many of these microbes will protect plants from pests and plant-borne illnesses. While many cultivators are preparing to dump their soil within the next two months, in Hifi’s opinion this soil is just getting started.
“There’s a perception that going organic is difficult,” Richard says as he scoops out a handful of soil from a nearby pot which houses a beautifully-flowering Island Sweet Skunk plant. The soil is moist, dark, and rich. It smells, for lack of a better word, earthy.
“It’s true that you need to understand a lot more. It’s not just plug-and-play like salt-based fertilizers and coco-coir soil mediums. But once you understand what’s happening and you’ve chosen all the right inputs, you will achieve some homeostasis and then the hard work is over.”
There are further environmental benefits, “We’re not paying for the shipping, the plastic bottles, all the endless accessories that come with using fertilizers and applying them to the plants.”
While living soil is great ecologically, is it also smart business? Hifi Farms is betting on it.
Vinal notes several operational savings, “We’re not receiving regular shipments of fertilizer. We don’t have to use expensive methods of mixing and extracting. This also saves us significantly on labor costs.” He motions to the rest of the greenhouse, where only he and another employee manage a sizable grow operation.
“The fertilizer process is labor-intensive. Receiving shipments, storing, mixing, extracting, applying and measuring out all the significant labor. By removing that whole process we are able to allocate resources to other areas of the company.” He motions to a nearby mound of soil and worm castings, “But the biggest thing to me is that we are keeping the soil. It’s expensive to purchase and then throw it away after each harvest, which is common in the majority of growers.”
“Economically, you are dependent on pesticides and fungicides, because you don’t have any natural defenses in your soil.” To punctuate his point, Vinal gently lifts some canopy to reveal a few ladybugs patrolling a cola of sticky-sweet Gorilla Glue #4.
He notes that many growers won’t see immediate results when they switch to more organic growing methods, and that there is a learning curve, “But ask anyone that’s ever had to flush their soil repeatedly or battle pesticide-resistant mites if they think bottled fertilizer are easier.”
As Hifi Farms prepares to convert from Oregon’s medical to recreational market, CEO Sara Batterby is confident that the company has all the right ingredients for success, “As we switch to adult use, our commitment is to bring the same promise to new and existing users all over the state. The best cannabis, made with love.”Based in Oregon, Hifi Farms is a Clean Green Certified craft cannabis cultivation company. For more information about the company and its products, check out our website or find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.