Why some marijuana growers are getting into salad greens
J Thoendell stashed this in Food
Today, Gallagher is one of an increasing number of hydroponic growers who have transitioned from marijuana to produce. “I like to grow anything anyone tells me can’t be grown hydroponically,” he says. “Watermelons. Hops was a good one; no one believed it was possible.”
Hydroponic farming is booming, along with other forms of “controlled-environment agriculture.” Because indoor operations use up to 90 percent less water than outdoor farms, don’t have to use many pesticides, and can grow a large volume of food in a relatively small space, they’ve become popular with sustainability-minded restaurants and grocery stores. But as recently as ten years ago, growing fruit and vegetables inside didn’t make sense in the U.S. market. While the practice has long been central to the Dutch and Japanese food systems, in the U.S., the relatively cheap cost of land and water and the high cost of lighting and indoor growing systems combined to make hydroponics too expensive for anything but a high-value cash crop like marijuana.
Today, thanks in part to the cannabis industry, that calculus has changed. Marijuana growers have refined hydroponic technology in ways that have driven down the price. Meanwhile, the cost of land and water has gone up, and consumers have become more willing to pay a slight premium for local, sustainable produce. Given that “tomatoes” is a code word for “weed” in hydroponic supply stores, it’s fitting that nearly 50 percent of the country’s actual tomatoes are now grown indoors.