Community-based certification highlights farms dedicated to sustainable, regenerative cultivation techniques and fair business practices
Dragonfly Earth Medicine takes a different approach to the concept of organic with its DEM Pure certification.
Rather than replicating federal organic standards, like many certifying agencies, Dragonfly Earth Medicine (www.dragonflyearthmedicine.com) focuses on sustainable, regenerative farming practices that feed the soil and, in turn, create healthy, robust cannabis crops. Now based in Canada, the organization has awarded more than 80 farms across North America with its DEM Pure certification.
The community-based certification process follows many of the guidelines that are familiar to organic-style farmers. For example, the DEM Pure certification does not allow synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, hydroponic growing or hydrocarbon extractions.
However, co-owners Kelly Dunn and Josh Sarvis have also incorporated expectations regarding certified farms’ business practices, including that finished products must be sold at a fair price, that farms must make an effort not to waste material that can be reused and workers must be treated with kindness and respect.
Marijuana Venture: How does your program work, and what makes it different from others?
Kelly Dunn: We are a first-party cannabis and beyond certifier, meaning that our rules, guidelines, restrictions and agreements are set up by the Dragonfly Earth Medicine family and the entire DEM Pure certified community. We put the Earth first and all practices support the business and the environment. Our certification highlights the needs for a healthy environment and healthy humans.
Pure medicine is at the center of this focus. We do not follow another program’s rules and regulations. We decide what cultivation practices, techniques, amendments and applications are Pure. We do not follow federal organic standards. The DEM Pure certification is not meant to compare or be compared to federal organic certification. We feel these agencies are not doing enough to make sure that organic actually means pure.
Plus, there are loopholes in those third-party certifications. There are so many products and techniques in organic standardization, loopholes are easy to find. This is leading to a washed-out version of what ‘organic’ really is. We decided we wanted to drop the word ‘organic’ because it does not represent our farm, our inputs or our practices. The DEM Pure certification was created from feeling frustrated with the current organic standards. We wanted more stringent, regenerative cultivation practices where the focus was on closed loops and not loopholes. So, our focus is a certification that is created by the community and upheld by the community. We are the overseers of the certification because someone has to do that work. But each farm that is newly certified is approved by another DEM Pure-certified local farmer.
Josh Sarvis: The current state of the Earth and the climate is of huge importance to us. There are mass extinctions happening all over the world with new species being added to the endangered species list every day. The DEM Pure certification requires farmers to grow a bee garden and have food and fruit trees planted. We encourage farmers to save their seeds because genetically modified crops are poisoning the food stocks of the planet. We encourage utilizing natural resources such as vegetation that is already growing on your land, geothermal heating and cooling, biodiversity and growing your own cover crops and seeds. Part of having a closed-loop homestead or farm is creating a thriving sanctuary for wildlife and the surrounding ecosystem. Pure certified farms are an oasis of life.
MV: What are the current issues with the way the laws work regarding being certified as organic in food?
JS: Food is not tested in the same way cannabis is. If food were tested the same as cannabis, most of the food would have to be taken off the shelf. There are many different compounds and chemicals used in farming where there are ‘safe’ ratios because they are deemed ‘not harmful to humans.’
It is important who you ally with in your consumption or production of food. There are many certified organic food producers that use plastic sheet mulching and harmful tilling practices, and they are all okay by federal organic standards.
A certification only holds value if we believe it. So there are lots of organic food practices that our Pure certified program would never allow. We wanted a cannabis certification that was in the hands of the community. This is why the DEM Pure certification is free. Organic food certifications allow for techniques that are not regenerative and sustainable, which is what ‘organic’ means to us. Organic is something that is grown out of living soil, not just absent of chemicals. It would be nice to have a new certification for food that only focuses on soil microbiology health. That is getting to the heart of the issue in Big Agriculture. The soil is dead and they allow our food to be grown with chemicals, which deplete our food nutrients and kill all biology in the soil. This is the standard in food production. The organic certification follows much of Big Ag’s lead in the standards. It focuses on inputs (nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium) and not the soil.
MV: How does cannabis factor into this equation?
KD: Cannabis has the ability to lead the way to pure foods. The way cannabis is tested and scrutinized far surpasses the standards put on foods. There are third-party companies that are certifying cannabis and they use the federal organic standards, even though the feds do not recognize cannabis legally.
There are some farmers creating plants that are only grown with synthetics and often harmful pesticides and fungicides. There are also some of the very best gardeners in the world in the cannabis industry — farmers who are feeding their soils and tea brews, not their plants. There are cannabis farmers who have dedicated their entire lives to being the very best grower they can be. The best flowers and concentrates in the world are made by farmers that are focused on their soil, not their final product. The industry tells you how healthy weed is for you but they fail to tell you what healthy weed is, let alone how to cultivate healthy weed. There is a lot of unhealthy cannabis products that will make you sick.
MV: How can consumers know what they are getting?
KD: Consumers have to be educated. Reading labels is a way of life for most people in this community — especially for those with auto-immune disorders or any other chronic illness. It is no different than getting a prescription for a pharmaceutical and finding out all you can about that drug.
Consumers need to believe in something. By creating a program like the Pure certification, consumers will have a full picture of what each farm puts into their products. There are hundreds of documentaries out there on the harmful effects of commercial farms — even organic ones.
MV: Do you think non-organic chemicals can actually affect the experience or taste of marijuana?
JS: Of course. No question. If someone disputed this, they have never had healthy, living soil cannabis. The terpene profile cannot be compared. Also, there are many residues and irritants that can affect your throat.
MV: Is it more expensive to grow using organic methods?
JS: If you are growing Big Ag-style organics, only thinking about NPK and throwing away your soil each completed cycle, then yes. However, if soil is the focus of your garden, then it is absolutely less expensive — by a large gap.
The use of raw material, farm-grown biomass, growing indigenous microorganisms, utilizing cover crops and growing your own inoculants for teas can save money and time and create a healthier garden with more enjoyable and better-flavored finished products.
MV: Do you see certified cannabis growing in popularity?
KD: Absolutely. We know of many dispensaries that will not accept anything from a farm that has not had any certifications. Farms need to have lab tests and a certification. This is another way for consumers to be informed. We see cannabis heading in the same direction as the organic food stores that are expanding by leaps and bounds all over the country and world.
MV: Are you coming across cheaters in the cannabis industry who are not being honest about the cultivation methods they’re using?
JS: Yes. Even people who only eat organic food or grow their own food will sometimes put synthetics and pesticides on their cannabis gardens. They simply do not know how to grow the soil.
We believe that once there is more knowledge out there, gardeners will jump on. The black market created a need for privacy that has led to paranoia and many growers do not want to share their gardening practices. As the information gets out there, fewer people will have to cheat and lie about their cultivation practices.
KD: Unfortunately, many certified farms will do things to their soils and plants that are not allowed by the certification. We see this all the time. Everyone is a great organic grower until they run into a problem. Pests and leaf mildew make people feel trapped, that there is no other way to rid the pathogen unless they follow the grow store’s recommendations. Most often these ‘solutions’ are harmful to the plants, entire gardens and the end consumer. Many of these chemical solutions are not for human ingestion and developed only for use on ornamental plants.
These growers are then in a bad situation because they just used something that goes against their very expensive certification. They will lie to get their product to market with an organic certification. We feel what is lacking in this scenario is that third-party certifiers are not educating their farms.
They are only in the business of certification, not solutions for their farms to stay the course with the certification. The certifiers only visit the farm once and are not necessarily connected to the community.
This cannot happen with our DEM Pure certification because it is community-driven, with education being the most important part of being certified. We help all our farms by creating very easy-to-follow integrated pest and fungal management programs, complete with many solutions to issues that can come up in any garden. The entire community of DEM Pure farmers becomes a resource for each other.
MV: How do some growers fool buyers and consumers?
KD: By not even fully understanding it themselves. They may buy clones from a non-organic source and grow the plant organically, only to find out it still has myclobutanil in the flowers and they fail their tests.
They may not be straight about the sprays they use and they may not be honest about their fertilizers. We always check all counters at any farm we visit to see if there are any ‘side’ items used. Many times it’s the farmer themselves not being fully aware. Other times it’s a farmer trying to appease their investors and feeling pressured to have big harvests to pay the bills.