Contributor: Missy Matheny
Ever wondered where marijuana flower comes from? What it would be like to work on a cannabis farm? Or maybe be a part of one of those big indoor facilities that began popping up with the birth of legal recreational cannabis? And what’s the difference between outdoor grown marijuana and the kind grown indoors? No matter if it’s wax, hash, oil, edibles, or buds all cannabis starts as a beautiful flower from a garden. It could be a large-scale farm, a warehouse converted to an indoor operation, a greenhouse, or someone’s personal garden. Marijuana is a plant, and it must be tended, harvested, trimmed, and cured. Every step of the process requires people to work with the cannabis plant, and cultivation is the first step.
Detailed Breakdown Of The Cultivation & Growing Of Cannabis
Marijuana in Nevada, is it indoor or outdoor?
Firstly, most of the marijuana available on the recreational market in Nevada is grown indoors (Vegascannabismag.com). The top ten cultivators of cannabis all use large scale indoor farms, warehouses, or more recently, greenhouse facilities. Warehouse grow farms are an advent of the recreational market. Much of the marijuana available for purchase in Nevada is grown in these indoor facilities (Source: LasVegasSun.com). There are many benefits to indoor growing, with a controlled environment allowing for a reduction in the time it takes to grow cannabis to flower. With no worries about the weather, or the outside environment altogether, marijuana can be grown year-round indoors. This makes shortages less likely to happen, but it also doesn’t centralize one harvest time, either.
Nevada is located next to some of the most prime outdoor growing areas for marijuana, like the golden triangle in California, and the wonderfully wet Oregon and Washington states. When the harvest season for outdoor cannabis hits around October of every year, those states that have outdoor yields usually see discounts on the products available in that market. It’s kinda like fresh fruit and veggies, when they’re in season, they tend to cost less. Nevada doesn’t have a regular harvest season, so there is no real discount on herb like there is in our neighboring states. Dispensaries feel this, too, with most reporting a decrease in sales during outdoor harvest season (Source: LasVegasSun.com).
There are downsides to the indoor growing of marijuana. With plants requiring a lot of attention, and regular adjustments of food, water, and growth/flowering chemicals. And then there is the power consumption. The energy required to run an indoor grow farm is expensive, and is one of the major factors in the cost of indoor cannabis. Outdoor ventures use considerably less energy, and this is reflected in the cost.
A newer compromise between the two options has recently begun taking hold, in the utilization of large scale greenhouse farms. This offers up a good portion of the benefits enjoyed when growing indoors. It’s like a controlled environment, but uses the natural growth cycles of the plant, natural sunlight, and soil, without the chemicals used in growing hydroponic plants, or the energy required for indoor lights. This is now beginning to appear in Nevada, promoting itself as an alternative to the indoor grown plants that are a large portion of the recreational cannabis market.
Other states have gone through the same process from the start of legalization. Even states with prime outdoor grow areas have seen a rise in indoor grows. Portland, Oregon has large warehouse farms, but as the demand for marijuana naturally became louder and louder, outdoor farms became more popular. While Nevada does have a few outdoor farms (Source: GlobeNewsWire.com), greenhouse options are throwing its combination of both worlds into the ring.
So, what’s the real difference?
I recently had the chance to talk to people who work in the cultivation of marijuana. One, who works with indoor grown cannabis, using hydroponic systems (Jon C.), and the other who works on a larger scale outdoor farm, (Phillip M.).
The two main answers I got were: cost and looks. The initial cost of growing outdoors is primarily found in the purchase of the land to grow crops. Indoor operations have a high initial startup cost of equipment, and an ongoing cost of energy (Source: Hightimes.com). This, in turn, makes indoor grown marijuana cost more.
The reality is indoor grown marijuana is just prettier. Without weather as a factor, heavy winds and rains to be precise, indoor buds don’t suffer any damage outside of any random mishandling. Now Jon C. did say that indoor cannabis can have higher potency counts. But this isn’t really supported by evidence, as the differences are usually only a couple percent off – one way or the other (Source: TheFreshToast.com).
However, Phillip M. discussed the handling process of plants, especially during harvest time and the curing of the buds. He says, “A lot of the potency of our plants is lost during harvest. The trichomes (crystals) just fall off the plants like crazy.”
Phillip M. talked about having resin from the plants on his clothing at the end of a day of harvesting and, “smelling so strongly of marijuana that people sometimes ask me to leave.” This loss of potency in the harvesting of outdoor cannabis could explain the differences seen between indoor and outdoor grows, as indoor plants are typically smaller, and handled in a more controlled environment, therefore they lose less trichomes in the process of being harvested.
What’s it like to grow marijuana for a living?
The legal cannabis industry is the fastest growing job market in the United States right now (Source: CNBC.com). With that in mind, what’s it like to work on a pot farm? According to Jon C. and Phillip M. the one thing everyone needs to know about working in cultivation is this: it’s real work.
From routine maintenance required of any farm, to the tending of hydroponic marijuana plants, to the planting and maintaining of the crops planted in soil outdoors, it’s all a lot of work.
When I asked both my sources about the best and worst parts of their job, this is what they had to say.
Phillip M. said, “The craziest part of my job is I handle more marijuana than I could ever possibly smoke in my entire lifetime.” I brought up him mentioning that he smelled strongly of cannabis at the end of some days, and he said that it’s a positive and a negative. “See, I’ve been asked to leave a couple places of business because I smell of pungent marijuana, but I’ve also had a little old lady walk up to me and tell me how wonderful I smell. I think it just depends if someone likes the smell or not, and I love it.”
When pressed for the best parts of his job he said this, “I get to work outside, and play with heavy machinery like tractors.” He chuckled, as he reflected on his daily duties. “But the best part,” he continued, “is showing up first thing in the morning, with the dew still on the flowers. It smells so nice, and it’s so beautiful. There’s nothing else like it.”
Jon C. was just as enthusiastic about working in the cultivation of cannabis. When I asked what about the best parts of his job, he told me, “I feel a connection with my plants because there is so much time invested in them. It’s not exactly like working in nature, but indoor removes so many uncertainties, it’s worth it.”
Jon C. talked extensively of the knowledge required to get proper amounts of yields per square foot of space, being able to control the growth cycle, and the science behind indoor cannabis growing. I couldn’t get him to say too much about what he personally enjoys about working in the industry, but I did get the feeling that he really enjoys working with the plants. When pressed for positives about his job, he only said, “indoor growing removes all the random.”
The legal cannabis market is adding jobs in the thousands right now. With multiple steps in the journey of marijuana, from little seed to flower, trimmed, cured, and maybe turned into a strong concentrate or sweet edible, the options to work in the industry are diverse and aplenty. But they require various skills for each of the many different fields available. Some require education, some require physical labor, and some require customer service. All are very important jobs, but without the cultivators, we wouldn’t have any flowers, at all.
Cultivation is a job that shouldn’t be overlooked. Although it can be labor intensive at some points, and very time consuming in the case of indoor operations, it can also be very rewarding. There’s a lot of pride to be felt, as you watch the plants grow, tend to them, and help them blossom into beautiful flowers. There has never been a better time to get into the industry.