Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share

With June comes the onset of summer officially, and these lot hot days full of the heady scent of flowers, fully leafed out tree canopies, and the ubiquitous sound of lawnmowers seem to agree. This time of year always gets me thinking about the sheer abundance that exists all around us, and how truly resilient nature really is. Despite all that humans are currently doing to the planet, the flowers still bloom, the dandelions push up through the asphalt, and the forest still yields us wild edibles and medicinals. It’s pretty amazing, and humbling. The end of June is also bringing us a pretty spectacular looking event that is in celebration and honor of the resiliency of nature, and is an exciting convergence of two of my passions — permaculture and cannabis. The Perma-Canna-Culture course at Willow Crossing Farm will be a week long residential exploration of how cannabis can be incorporated into a permaculture design, capped off by Heady Vermont’s Legalization Celebration on July 1st. This event has gotten me reflecting on the three ethics of permaculture and how they might relate to the cannabis industry — these are Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share.

Earth Care

This first principle states that any system we design should care for the soil and all living things, and support not only their ongoing existence, but their proliferation. Beyond mere sustainability, regenerative agriculture seeks to increase abundance and biodiversity rather that reduce it as conventional practices tend to do. With its reliance on indoor, climate controlled, artificially lit monoculture grow environments fed with processed and bottled nutrients (read: insanely resource intensive!), the cannabis industry has a ways to go on this one. Even outdoor grows in semi-arid California — relying on pumping thousands of gallons of water out of tired aquifers — are not going to possible for much longer. Instead, let’s get creative and think about how nature would grow this medicine, and how we can make our cultivation of cannabis a net positive for the ecology. Some ideas might include interplanting with other crops that help to ward off insects (like marigold, for example), maximizng the yield of our summer season so we don’t have to rely on added heat/light during the winter months, using the canopy of cannabis to grow other plants in its understory, chopping and dropping the leaves and stalks into the field to return nutrients to the soil (cannabis is a bioaccumulator, meaning that if we completely remove the plant after harvest we’re robbing valuable nutrients from the soil), making our own compost tea to fertilize with rather than buying nutrients, building up the soil in patterns that conserve water, seeking out warm microclimates in which to situate the plants, planting cover crops in the off season, etc. etc. etc. There are thankfully people out there who are working on this. In states where cannabis has been legalized for adult use, we are seeing farms and processors receiving “Clean Green Certification” which is certainly a step in the right direction. Since cannabis cannot legally get a USDA Organic sticker stuck on it, these folks have developed a very similar process for reassuring consumers that their medicine was not grown or processed with harmful chemicals. Which is awesome and totally necessary, but is arguably not enough. I was encouraged by reading a recent Leafly article entitled “‘Sustainability Is Not Enough’: Why Cannabis Growers Are Looking to Regenerative Farming,” which talked about how farmers in BC are working on a certification process they’re calling DEM Pure Certification. I’m in love with their checklist of requirements. This certification would ensure that not only are the agricultural practices being used regenerative, but also that the workers are treated fairly and that the final product is set at a fair price. Which brings me to the next ethic.

People Care

This is a big one. As a society, we need to take care of ourselves and each other. One might think that cannabis being a medicinal plant that it does this by default. But its complicated. This plant has a long and sordid history of being used as a weapon against minorities. From demonizing Mexicans to being used as a justification for mass incarceration of Black people, its healing properties have been muffled while being used as a tool of oppression. Despite legalization efforts, not much has changed in this regard. Not only is access to cannabis restricted by law and outrageous prices, but even today people are sitting behind bars serving time for the same actions that are making others rich — often the only difference between them being their socioeconomic status or the color of their skin.

The cannabis industry has unfortunately not done much to undo this legacy. In many states, having a cannabis conviction in your past bars you from working in the industry, including in Vermont. Wait, what? Wouldn’t you want people with experience growing, processing, and selling cannabis to be on the ground floor of the legal market? Of course you would! So what in reality ends up happening is that only the people who have been privileged enough to get away with their black market activity are able to snag the jobs, while those who were targeted for enforcement are left in the cold. Thank goddess that some folks see the systemic racism and classism in this and have started flipping the script on this. In Massachusetts, for example, licenses are being given preferentially to minorities, folks from targeted communities, and people with past convictions. Similar programs have sprung up in Oakland and Washington DC. Time for Vermont to step up?

Of course, not everyone wants to work in the cannabis industry, and there is certainly other baggage associated with having a criminal record. So maybe the real solution is expungement. In California, under Prop 64 (the bill that legalized adult use) people can petition a court to have their past cannabis-related convictions be either expunged or downgraded. Since having a past conviction can hinder your ability to get a job, find housing, or get a loan, among other things, being able to erase this from your record is huge, and makes total sense given that the crime for which you were convicted has also been erased from the books. Some counties in Vermont are stepping up to this plate — in Chittenden and Windsor counties, “expungement days” have been scheduled in which volunteers from the State’s Attorney’s office and Vermont Law School will be assisting people in completing petitions to have their past convictions expunged from their record. This will take place in Chittenden county on June 12 and in Windsor County on June 9. Now, this is fantastic, but ridiculous that its not happening in every country around the state. I encourage each and every one of you to write to your State’s Attorney Office and demand that they host similar events in your area. Even if you don’t personally have a record, by doing so you are giving back to your neighbors who have helped pave the way for the very existence of a adult use bill in VT.

Fair Share

Finally, the last permaculture ethic is fair share, by which we mean that everyone gets what they need, and no one gets more than that if it means that others will be lacking. This ethic is one of those things you learn in Kindergarten, but unfortunately is not supported by our culture at large, which glorifies excessive wealth, encourages us to accumulate, and believes that those who are lacking just need to work harder. The “Green Rush” of the cannabis world, as its called, certainly encourages this kind of capitalistic, dog-eat-dog mentality, as people elbow each other out of the way for their piece of the pie. However, if other states have shown us anything, it’s that the market is large enough to support a lot of people doing a lot of different things, and that we’d probably be better off supporting each other than competing against one another. Just as in nature, we can each find our niche and be really good at that, then see how we can benefit from, and support, the continued existence of everyone else around us. People who try to take up more space than they really need are like the goutweed of the cannabis industry, and I’m sure we all feel the same way about goutweed. Aside from producers in the market, though, how can we make sure that consumers are all able to have a fair share? Cannabis is not known for being affordable, and indeed, if low-income people are being asked to spend a good chunk of their income on the medicine they need, we’re basically asking them to make a choice between other essentials and our products. Faced with that choice, it becomes clear that not everyone will be getting what they need. Now, this might not be our choice — it can be really expensive to be a dispensary or a small business, and we might need to charge this much to support our own livelihoods. But we should always be thinking about how we can make what we make or grow more accessible to those who need it. Green Mountain CBD has been talking about this a lot on their social media, promising to drive down the price of CBD by half by improving the efficiency of their production methods. This is awesome, and much needed. Hopefully, however, this doesn’t end up harming other producers who are unable to scale up in the same ways. One way we can prevent that is just by increasing the number of people who are producing cannabis around the state. Decentralizing our medicine production and putting it in the hands of as many people as possible is the best way to make sure its affordable and accessible. Which brings me to something I’ve been thinking about for some time now. While many are bemoaning the absence of a retail market in VT, I believe that this is an incredible opportunity to fully embrace the “gift economy” that will exist in its stead. As of July 1st, we will all be able to possess up to 1 ounce in public, and gift (not sell) up to one ounce to others. I personally want to celebrate this decommodification by establishing the Free Cannabis Project — a clearinghouse through which we can source herb from cultivators (which we can all be as of 7/1!) and distribute them to folks who otherwise could not access their medicine. HomeGrown Consulting has already announced that they will be helping veterans access free high quality seeds for them to grow (hooray!), and I want to take that a step farther to support who aren’t able or willing to cultivate themselves. If anyone would like to collaborate with me on this project, or would be interested in being either a gifter or a recipient, please get in touch with me at stephanie@@cannabotanicals.net. Any other ideas how we can incorporate permaculture ethics or principles into the cannabis community, in order to create a more resilient industry that supports all life as it grows? I’d love to hear them. And what to learn more about permaculture? Check out all the offerings at Propsect Rock Permaculture/Willow Crossing Farm to learn more, as well as the Permaculture Association of the Northeast. Until next time, happy gardening!

#permaculture #earthcare #peoplecare #fairshare #expungement #socialjustice #sustainability #regenerativeagriculture #biodiversity

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