In this series of articles, titled Floral Side Chats, Green Interviews has brought together cannabis companies and floral brands that are bringing unique business models to the industry. Particular attention will be paid to how these companies are integrating innovative practices to navigate the rapidly changing landscape of regulation, supply chains and consumer demand.
Large-scale farming methods can have a negative impact on soil health and lead to inefficiency in the long term. Harvey’s All Naturals is a Colorado-based company that specializes in a full line of high-quality CBD products from farm to table. Harvey sources his cannabis from Boot Ranch Farms, a self-sustaining cannabis farm in southern Colorado that is fueled by an artesian spring.
We spoke with Harvey Craig, CEO of Harvey’s All Naturals and co-founder of Boot Ranch Farms, to learn more about the benefits of regenerative agriculture, his vision for soil health, and how he makes his CBD products. Harvey opened Ranch Farms in 2014 after the passage of the Farm Bill, and Harvey’s All Naturals followed shortly thereafter.
Aaron Green: How did you get into the world of cannabis and the cannabis industry?
Harvey Craig: I started using cannabis at a very young age. As the youngest of eight children, seven of whom were boys, I was first introduced to the cannabis side of marijuana. As an engineer, I’ve always been involved in the development of highly efficient cannabis cultivation systems over the years.
Harvey Craig, CEO of Harvey’s All Naturals and co-founder of Boot Ranch Farms.
I learned a bit more about CBD in the early 2000s when I experimented with marijuana strains to help a friend with Parkinson’s disease and through the research of Raphael Mechulem, an organic chemist and professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel. In 2014, when the Farm Bill legalized cannabis, I dropped everything because I felt it was what I needed to do.
Green: What does sustainable agriculture mean to you?
Craig: For me, sustainable agriculture means that the health of the soil and a responsible approach to the environment must be the main focus of any agricultural activity – in short, regenerative processes for the soil. To me, soil health is one of the biggest issues in the United States today. By regenerating our soils and making them alive, healthy and nutrient-rich, we create an ecosystem that supports the health and well-being of the planet.
Green: What exactly do you mean by soil health?
Craig: The ground is alive. A good natural soil contains a living microbial structure. It is a living habitat that forms in our soil over many years. In many cases, large-scale agriculture has depleted or destroyed this living structure through fertilizer and readily available tillage methods.
Farmers understand the soil. There are practices we can employ to help our living soils and microbial habitats thrive. Practices such as no-till technologies, crop rotation, using crops that cover the soil, avoiding monocultures, responsible water use, sound fertilizer and pesticide technologies, minimal recycling, the list goes on and on…..
When we talk about sustainability, it is important to understand that cannabis has two sides. There’s marijuana, and then there’s cannabis. We can’t put the two together – they are treated differently. Hemp became legal under the Agricultural Act and is regulated by the Department of Agriculture. Hemp is in fact a plant like any other. This means we can mix cannabis with other crops. This product is very similar to corn and other crops in that it is grown on a large scale on an industrial basis.
Marijuana, on the other hand, is regulated by state regulatory commissions. These rules are difficult to reconcile with general agriculture. So when it comes to marijuana, unfortunately it has to be a monoculture. Most marijuana is grown in pots, and pots are perfect. But if you just grow in a pot and then throw your soil away, that’s not very sustainable. As it stands, the marijuana industry is terribly unsustainable. For example, the energy consumption of indoor lighting is increasing, resulting in a huge carbon footprint and burden on the electrical grid. I don’t want to denigrate the inside culture, but that’s just the way it is. The only option I see for marijuana is to loosen the regulations and allow it to be part of the normal farming process.
Green: Which tillage operations affect soil quality?
Craig: When we till our soil, we turn the organisms in it over and let the sun dry them out. If this is not done properly, you will destroy the soil structure.
These tiny microorganisms in our soil create a healthy soil, but it doesn’t happen immediately, it takes years. No one has more time, everyone has to get to work immediately. It will therefore be destroyed. Now we have all this dead soil that everything grows on, and gardeners turn to fertilizer with readily available nutrients.
When we talk about cannabis, we can’t just think about a monoculture. If you keep growing the same plants in the same soil, the soil will become poorer. One of the most important elements we consume is nitrogen, and growing other plants like clover can replenish that nitrogen. Ground cover plants protect the soil from the sun, produce nitrogen for the soil and retain water in the soil.
Instead of tilling the soil, alternate crops such as root crops, radishes and other deep-rooted crops. Instead of tearing them up, let them decompose organically and return them to the soil. These deep root structures also promote soil aeration.
Green: What is the first approach for a farmer?
Craig: Farmers want their land to be healthy. Real farmers have a connection to the land and understand it. The farmer’s first approach prevents him from developing new technologies for agriculture.
Green: Suppose you are a farmer who owns or has recently acquired land on which commercial farming is carried out. How can you take that land and start the regeneration process from scratch?
Craig: First you have to take soil samples and send them to the lab. That way you know what you’re working with. It is also useful to know something about the history of the country. Was it used for grazing? Was it used to grow corn? What was it for? Were biological methods used?
There are many steps that can be taken to begin regenerating the soil, but it takes time. In many situations, people don’t want to waste this time. But what we learn is that people and farmers who take that time often suffer a financial loss in the first two or three years. Once this structure is maintained, the natural health of the soil can be restored. Plants will grow better and in the long run you will spend less money on fertilizers and pesticides because the microbial structure of the soil creates a healthy ecosystem. If we destroy this ecosystem, it will not come back easily or quickly. If there is one, it can be regenerated with good practice.
Green: My understanding is that the Boot Ranch is a farm that is not on the grid. What was your motivation for leaving or staying away from the resort?
Craig: I have a background in alternative energy and technology, and it took a lot of time to make Boot Ranch farms sustainable. First, the farm is very far from the electricity grid. So the investment in solar energy is well invested. I thought, why invest in wiring when I can save money and resources by building a highly efficient solar power system and not being connected to the grid? Our farm is self-sufficient and not connected to a power grid, which is one of the main reasons it stays off-grid.
Green: As far as I know, the farm is fed by an artesian spring. How do you monitor water quality?
Craig: Well, we’re very lucky. The natural quality of the water is one of the main reasons we chose to produce water in the San Luis Valley. When you start something new, you have to deal with the financial side of things. Investing in a cannabis farm is very different from investing in marijuana, because you won’t make as much money per pound of product sold. So you need to keep an eye on your budget and not spend too much, or you will never make a profit.
This site had self-sustaining artisan wells and water rights. No pumping is necessary, and the water flows into a 10,000 gallon storage tank where we can monitor and test the water quality. We use a pump and a drip irrigation system to water our plants, with each plant being watered. It is very efficient compared to most irrigation systems, such as flood irrigation or pivot irrigation, and does not actually consume much water.
Green: Are you growing outside or in a greenhouse?
Craig: We grow in two 3,000 square foot industrial greenhouses at Boot Ranch Farms. The Greenhouse One is equipped with all the conveniences: heating, cooling, extra lighting, automatic controls, etc. This greenhouse allows us to imitate Mother Nature a little. In this greenhouse we can have up to six crops in one year. But actually we have four.
We also have a second greenhouse, about 30 meters away, which is used to support the growth of plants during Mother Nature’s life cycle. We can bring groups of mature plants independently into the greenhouse after each harvest for multiple flowering cycles. Finally, between the greenhouses we have a 10,000 square foot courtyard that is protected by shade cloths and other things to protect these plants from the elements. By the end of October all remaining plants, both in the greenhouses and in the garden, are ripe and ready to be harvested thanks to the shorter days Mother Nature has created.
Green: Do you insure your crops?
Craig: We don’t. Hemp is a new industry and we haven’t found good crop insurance yet.
Green: Do you grow your own genetic material?
Craig: We work with a few other companies here in Colorado to provide the genetics. Consistent genetics are extremely important from a cannabis perspective, as we need to rely on THC levels to remain low. On the marijuana side, that part isn’t so important.
Several varieties have been created that I absolutely love, and I’ve tried to stay with those varieties and stay with that seed stock. One is called La femme and the other is called Le vin de cerise. Most of the best cannabis I have found is based on the Cherry strain. People are always looking for a high CBI. I would prefer a lower CBD content, on the order of 8-12%. A product between 14 and 20% probably contains more THC than the legal amount.
Green: Are Harvey’s All Naturals products grown entirely on the farm or ranch?
Craig: Yes, it’s true. There are many things that make a quality product, and that’s what we focus on at Boot Ranch. We are small, we are not trying to compete with the big market. Unfortunately, a high percentage of the production on the market comes from large industrial hemp. We focus on the long-term medicinal value and grow very high quality cannabis, trying not to compromise the quality of the cannabis in any way during treatment.
Green: How many square feet or acres does the Boot Ranch farm cover?
Craig: Booth Ranch Farm is approximately 260 acres in size. We only grow on three of them.
Green: What is your extraction process?
Craig: We use cold alcohol extraction. We do not distill the alcohol to separate it from the hemp oil. We use what is called a roto-vape. This cold processing preserves our terpenes, maintains our full-spectrum hemp oil profile, and keeps our CBDa from being completely decarboxylated. We want a high percentage of CBDa, because there are many things CBDa is good for when it comes to long-term medical goals.
Green: Do you process your own cannabis?
Craig: No, we cut that part out. What I have learned in this industry has three main elements: 1 – Agriculture; 2 – Mining, and 3 – Product line. These are three different processes, which in themselves require specific knowledge. Each of them represents a large investment, and it’s all very difficult to do. I decided to work with other people on the mining part. They have experience and we pay them well for what they do.
Green: Okay, great. And a final word on Agent Day?
Craig: Help your little farmer produce nutritious agricultural products.
Green: That’s great. That’s the end of the interview, Harvey!