Can the World's Largest Cannabis Greenhouse Also Be the Most Sustainable?
One California company hopes so.
Glass House Brands is making one hell of a big statement about size, sustainability and the future of California cannabis. Almost 100 football fields big, in fact.
This summer, Glass House expects to harvest its first crop from its new greenhouse facility, a high-tech 125-acre tomato farm converted into the largest cannabis greenhouse on planet earth. Already one of the top-selling flower brands in California, Glass House will now have the capacity to grow on a scale unlike anything ever seen before — and, incredibly, at a cost of production that’s basically unmatched, as well.
“We’re basically making sungrown indoor,” Glass House Brands president Graham Farrar says, “and we use one-third of the energy of an average greenhouse, and one-27th the energy of an indoor grow.”
Good for people, the planet and profits
Glass House’s commitment to energy efficiency is part of the company’s “triple-net” philosophy of running a business that is good for the people, the planet and the profits.
To achieve its industry-jarring results, Glass House uses a combination of nature and technology, taking advantage of the incredible Southern California weather and also the greenhouse infrastructure that was built out to deliver a profit in the low-margin tomato wholesale business, where a nickel profit on a dollar tomato is the standard margin.
The 125-acre facility — or 5.5 million square feet — is boosted by three cogeneration units that produce 13 megawatts of power and also provide needed heat and CO2 for the climate control. The site also has 1 megawatt of solar power. According to Farrar, it’s the second-largest greenhouse in the United States, yet its monthly electricity bill runs about $28,000.
Other features include flushless toilets, which save 20,000 gallons of water a year and a positive pressure climate control system to keep the environment just right for cultivation.
Throw in year-round sunshine and 72-degree temperatures for most of the year, and it’s easy to see why so few locations can compete in terms of yield, quality or efficiency.
“There’s a reason 50% of the agriculture in the United States comes from California,” Farrar says. “It’s not because labor is cheap, not because their taxes are low, not because the land is cheap. It’s because the environment is so good that it overwhelms all those factors. The cannabis plant may be amazing, but it’s still a plant. The principles of good precision agriculture apply here.”
"Cannabis makes the world a better place"
While Glass House is set to dominate the California market with its sheer scale — if not flood the market with the state already seeing some signs of oversaturation — the company is truly situated to be one of the first national producers if and when the restrictions of federal prohibition are pulled down.
“We think cannabis makes the world a better place,” Farrar says, “so we want to bring as much cannabis to as many people as possible, ideally on a national scale, and do it efficiently enough that it’s as affordable for as many people as possible.”
But with most operators still committed to growing indoors and the threats of global warming getting closer with each passing year, what will it take for the greater industry at large to begin shifting its priorities toward sustainability and environmentally friendly cultivation practices?
Farrar believes it’s a two-part equation. One component is the consumer and getting people to understand how they can make a statement with the dollars they spend. It’s about education, and showing people why they should care how their cannabis was grown. People already care about bud structure, genetics, cannabinoid potency and terpenes. The next step is going beyond what’s in the package.
And the second, perhaps more important, component of ushering in a greater level of sustainability within the industry is a regulatory issue.
“We need to allow interstate commerce,” Farrar says.
Allowing interstate commerce will allow states like California and other agricultural hot spots to take the lead in cannabis cultivation and supply the rest of the country, while states like Massachusetts, for example, which have a much higher monetary and environmental cost associated with growing cannabis, would import the bulk of their product.
“Do you want your cannabis grown in a box under artificial lights?” Farrar asks. “Or do you want Southern California natural ocean breezes, 72 degrees and sunny every day?”