‘Dirt Is Inert, Soil Is Alive’

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It’s a dreary late-November day at Alter Farms and Cody Alter is ecstatic. No, not because of the 3,000 plus cannabis trees he and the crew were able to tackle before the rains came. Nor was it the fresh batch of seeds they collected from hand-pollinated varietals. For Alter, the excitement is in the soil. “We planted our cover crop a little late but it sprouted and by spring these rows will be knee high in vegetation,” Alter says. “We are constantly growing something in our soil, the continuous growth maintains the microbial communities.” I lean down and stick my hand into the soft earth, layered loosely with decomposing leaf matter and speckled with the tiny seedlings. “This is some nice looking dirt,” I say. From the look on Alter’s face, I can tell I’ve said something silly. “Dirt is inert, soil is alive,” he responds with a grin. Cody Alter examines the soil. Alter Farms sends soil samples in for regular testing to ensure it contains the right mineral balance for optimal plant growth. This is my second trip to the licensed recreational cannabis producer outside Grants Pass, Oregon. I had visited earlier in the fall with my wife, a mycologist, who was tasked to sample root tips on the farm for fungal diversity. During that visit, we were blown away by the size and consistency of their acre of canopy, packed with vibrant bushes of colorful colas and buzzing with biodiversity. I had to ask what they fed their plants. Alter replied proudly with their farm’s motto: “sun, water and soil.” In an industry fueled by bottled liquid nutrients and heavy chemical fertilizers, it is a rarity to see low-input organic cannabis farming, especially at scale. A few months later, I returned to the farm to learn some tricks-of-the-trade from Alter and…

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