Although sustainability is the hottest trend in retail right now, and CBD is the hottest trend in wellness, how can you ensure you’re buying hemp-based products that take sustainability seriously? CBD has been touted as a natural remedy for just about every malady under the sun, and the only thing better than a natural remedy is one that helps the earth as much as it helps you, personally. But buying sustainably requires a bit of background knowledge.
In recent years, a number of large multinational corporations have seized an ever-growing chunk of the CBD market, and people are understandably skeptical about the impact this might have on the environment. Some have even begun to wonder if CBD itself is eco-friendly, or just another stressor on our already over-taxed environment.
Here’s the good news: sustainably grown CBD is real, and it’s more than a marketing slogan. It’s a claim you should investigate wherever you see it, to be sure. With a little research and a little education, it’s surprisingly easy to figure out if that “sustainable CBD” you’re looking at is legit.
Here’s everything you need to know
First, What Is CBD?
CBD stands for “cannabidiol,” and as roughly ten billion news stories and TV segments have pointed out already, it’s a compound found in the cannabis plant. That last point is worth emphasizing—while some people are under the impression that CBD is just a slang term for cannabis (there are a lot of those, after all), this is not the case.
CBD isn’t a synonym for cannabis, it’s more like an ingredient in the plant. As such, it shares some of the characteristics people typically associate with cannabis (studies show CBD could help you relax, for example). On the other hand, CBD also has important differences from cannabis itself—most notably, it won’t get you high.
Speaking of “the plant,” it’s also important to specify exactly what we mean when we say cannabis. In a nutshell, the term refers to two different types of plant: marijuana and hemp. The main difference between the two is their THC content. THC is the compound that causes intoxication (i.e. gets you high). And while marijuana plants can contain up to 30 percent THC, hemp plants are legally defined as those with less than 0.3 percent THC.
That’s not anywhere close enough to get you high, which was the logic federal authorities gave for legalizing hemp production under the 2018 Farm Bill. Since hemp is now legal at the national level, hemp-derived CBD is now legal across the country (though a few states have passed their own laws against it).
In case you were wondering: yes, that means any CBD you can buy over-the-counter comes from hemp.
However, not all of that hemp is grown using the same standards. In fact, much of the hemp fueling America’s CBD craze originates in China, with all of the environmental concerns that entails (to be fair, large corporations in the U.S. don’t have a great track record here either).
For reasons that we’ll discuss shortly, how (and where) hemp is grown can have a huge impact on the quality of the CBD derived from it. And that’s why sustainable CBD is more than a marketing gimmick—it’s essential for getting the best results.
How Is Sustainable CBD Grown?
First things first: when we talk about growing sustainable CBD, what we’re actually talking about is growing sustainable hemp (since that’s where the CBD comes from, after all).
Most of us are familiar with the concept of sustainability, but our understanding tends to be quite vague. We know that sustainable things are good—there’s a certain wholesomeness implicit in the term—though we’re not exactly sure how or why they’re good. And if you’ve ever heard about the CBD industry’s issues with mislabelling products, you might want to see some evidence to back up any claims about a specific CBD product being “sustainable.”
That’s understandable, and fortunately such evidence exists. Although the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) doesn’t provide organizations with “Certified Sustainable” designations the same way it does “Certified Organic,” it does provide a number of criteria for defining sustainable agriculture.
At Rogue Bear Farms, we’ve integrated these practices into our growing operations. Our farm in Southern Oregon’s famed “Emerald Triangle” is a relatively small one, but we like it that way—staying nimble allows us to grow top-quality hemp using:
Fertilizers come in many forms, from nitrogen-rich proprietary blends to animal manure to composted plant material. Regardless of its composition, every type of fertilizer serves the same purpose: to supercharge the growth of plants.
However, many widely-used fertilizers come with significant catches. Some of those fancy nitrogen-rich concoctions, for example, can cause massive “algae blooms” when rainwater washes the fertilizer into rivers and lakes, destroying local aquatic ecosystems. While animal manure doesn’t have quite as drastic of an impact, the huge herds needed to generate animal-based fertilizers put unique stresses on the environment (to say nothing of the ethical issues inherent to factory farming).
Plant-based compost, like the stuff we use on our farm in West Medford, avoids these problems. While it doesn’t yield the swiftly explosive yields of other types of fertilizer, it does set up our farm for long-term viability.
No Artificial Pesticides
Ever since humanity first got into the farming business, pests have been a problem. Locusts, boll weevils, and other ravenous insects have devastated many a harvest over the past few millennia, and developing effective pesticides has been a project many centuries in the making.
This can be (and often is!) a good thing. However, it can also backfire on occasion, since pesticides don’t always discriminate between actual pests and harmless insects—or other creatures—that happen to be in the vicinity. Some artificial pesticides, like the infamous DDT, have proven so “effective” that they’ve wiped out entire ecosystems in the name of boosting crop yields.
We’re proud to be part of a growing trend of organic hemp farmers in the United States, and like all organic farmers, we’re diligent about avoiding the use of artificial pesticides on our crops. It might take a little more effort to keep our hemp plants free of pests, but that’s a small price to pay for preserving our little slice of paradise.
Hemp is a bioaccumulator, which means that it excels at absorbing whatever substances are present in the soil where it’s grown. On one hand, this makes hemp an especially sustainable crop because it requires much less water to thrive, compared to plants like cotton. However, it also comes with a catch: if there’s anything less-than-healthy in that water, there’s a good chance the hemp will absorb it.
Considering how polluted many of America’s water systems have become—thanks in no small part to the overuse of man-made fertilizers and pesticides—this can be a major problem. Hemp might not need as much water as other plants, but it still needs that water to be pure.
That’s why we use water from our own irrigation wells, which tap into an underground river that flows beneath our farms. Fed by the springtime snow melts from the nearby Cascade Mountain range, the wells of Rogue Bear Farms nourish our hemp crops with water that’s free of all harmful contaminants.
Regenerative Agriculture Practices
If you can remember anything of your grade school history lessons (we know, this might take some work), you might recall the contrast between farming methods used by European colonists and those used by Native Americans. While colonists planted vast fields of monocultures—i.e. single crops—on the same land again and again until the soil was exhausted, Native Americans planted a rotating series of crops that helped the earth retain and regenerate nutrients.
Today, it’s clear that the second option is preferable for a variety of reasons. Native Americans, like indigenous peoples around the world, practiced what we now call “regenerative agriculture” by growing multiple types of plants together. The end result was a stable, bountiful supply of food and other necessities.
Rogue Bear Farms is working to implement these practices in a modern context, and we’ve been lucky enough to work with some brilliant partners in the process. Researchers from Oregon State University helped us optimize our crop cycling schedule. We’re now involved in a research pilot to see how growing blackberries, grapes, plums, pears, and pumpkins alongside hemp could help keep our soil healthy for generations to come.
As you can see, sustainable CBD comes from sustainable hemp, and the benefits for your body can be tremendous. But sustainability isn’t just about maximizing the wellbeing of individuals, it’s also about supporting the broader networks that enable life on earth.
How Does Sustainable Hemp CBD Help the Planet?
Spend enough time on the internet and you’re likely to come across an excited blog post stating that hemp could save the planet for any number of reasons. Replacing petroleum-based plastics with hemp-based ones that are more biodegradable, for example, could help alleviate the plastic crisis currently facing the world’s oceans.
Some of the enthusiasm might be a bit hyperbolic, but the science is clear that sustainably grown hemp has a wealth of advantages for the environment. And as more hemp is grown to supply the world’s growing hunger for CBD, it becomes even more important to ensure that hemp is being grown in a sustainable manner.
Leaving aside the various uses of hemp-based products (that’s a story for a different day), here are three reasons why just growing hemp is good for the environment:
Captures Carbon Dioxide
Hemp is often touted as a top-notch sequester of carbon. In other words, hemp plants help remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, where it acts as a “greenhouse gas” that is one of the main drivers of climate change. Trees typically get most of the credit for this type of air scrubbing, but some experts believe hemp might be an even better option.
The reality is somewhat more complicated, since an acre full of trees will sequester more carbon than an acre of hemp. However, hemp does have a huge advantage: it grows much more rapidly than trees, meaning that it can start cleansing the air in months instead of decades.
In recent years, hemp’s phytoremediation potential has attracted growing interest from researchers around the world. That’s likely to be an unfamiliar term, but the explanation is a simple one. Essentially, it refers to hemp’s ability to remove harmful substances (like heavy metals) from the soil.
Like we mentioned before, hemp is a bioaccumulator, so it makes sense that it would be well suited for this purpose. And while you probably wouldn’t want to turn that particular batch of hemp into CBD, once the soil has been purified of contaminants (by hemp) then it can safely be used to grow whatever people need or desire (like more hemp).
Provides Habitat for Animals
Sustainably grown hemp provides shelter and hunting territory for many types of small animals. Since it’s grown without harsh pesticides or other chemicals, a field of sustainable hemp can quickly become a thriving ecosystem where different species can flourish. Few benefit from hemp as much as honeybees, however.
Recent studies have suggested that planting more hemp could help preserve dwindling honeybee populations in the U.S. Since hemp flowers during a time when most plants are dormant, hemp provides a rich source of pollen just when bees need it most. That’s a boon for more than just bees, since these busy little pollinators are integral to the life cycles of many other plants as well.
Final Thoughts on Sustainable CBD
Whether you’re looking for smokable CBD flower or a high powered full spectrum CBD tincture, it pays to shop sustainable. You’re not just paying for a cute pastoral label and a hippie-friendly buzzword—you’re getting CBD that is safer, more potent, and just plain better than the stuff churned out by vast conglomerate operations.
Quite frankly, that’s all the reason most people need to choose sustainably grown CBD over the alternatives. But as we said before, the benefits of sustainable CBD go beyond its impact on your well being. When you buy sustainably grown CBD, you’re supporting the growth of sustainable hemp, and thereby helping to enable all the positive impacts that sustainable agriculture has on our world.
It’s a win-win for you and the planet, and that might be the best endorsement of sustainable CBD imaginable.