One percent of the world’s electricity is used to grow marijuana. While that may not sound like a lot, it equates to having 3 million extra cars on the road, polluting the environment and driving up the cost of cannabis cultivation. That’s why husband-and-wife duo Jesse Peters and Kate Guptill, owners of Oregon-based Eco Firma Farms, decided to do things differently. Dubbed “LEED for weed,” by Rolling Stone, the company’s mission is to become Oregon’s first carbon-neutral cannabis farm.
Guptill, who formerly worked for the Oregon Department of Justice, says, “I started with a small grow in my basement making sure to change my shoes after trimming before I went to my day job—I imagine other women in the industry began similarly. Now, this is my day job, with tons of support from my former coworkers. Every day is a new lesson in how to contribute—to the company, to the industry, to women. I believe in Eco Firma’s mission because it’s the right thing to do, for any company, that’s why we created it. It’s a constant challenge for us, but one we feel good about fighting to attain and I believe in it because I am proud to support it.”
Peters, a Marine Corps veteran who achieved the rank of Gunnery Sergeant and has been instrumental in crafting cultivation laws throughout his state (he’s a founding member of the Oregon Cannabis PAC and the Oregon Cannabis Association), shared his thoughts at length with us. The proud Oregon native – born and raised – had much to say about the environment, new strains, and the evolution of the eco-friendly marijuana movement.
What was your first experience with cannabis?
Oh, that’s super funny… I sold my first cannabis before I ever consumed it.
Really? How did that happen?
Someone I went to high school with came up to me when I was 15 and said she got a bag but she didn’t know what do with it. She assumed I did. I was, of course, trying to be cool, so I was like, “Oh yeah, totally.”
My parents always smoked marijuana. The day they brought me home from the hospital, they were arrested for five pounds that were found under my crib! So it’s been a part of my life since I grew up. Like all teenagers who had parents that smoked, I would steal a little from my parents’ stash. I bought my first bag at 16. But it only took one before I realized I could spend $40 on a bag, or I could spend $260 on an ounce, weigh the bags out, and beat my competition. Then, everyone will buy from me, and I’ll get a free bag.
So your entrepreneurship skills started at a young age. When did you start growing your own?
In 2000, my wife and I decided to start growing. We got one of those old-school black boxes that you could put in a closet. We grew one hydroponic round and got two or three ounces out of it. And that’s all it took for us to be like, Yep, let’s remodel the basement… We [did that], and then one basement turned into renting houses with basements, which turned into buying houses with basements, which turned into renting and building out shops. After a few years, we realized this was getting pretty advanced.
How did it evolve into what Eco Firma is today?
It was around 2006 when we first knew that marijuana would be legal in our lifetime, and we needed to start our business. We started separating strains, and by 2011, we came up with a name for the company as it is today.
You use wind power for your cultivation. How did that come to be?
Here in Oregon, it was as simple as looking on my power bill and seeing that there’s a spot that has a phone number with “Would you like to know more about green energy?” And I thought Yeah, sure! So we called the number and found out that based on our usage, we qualified for 100 percent wind power. It costs an extra $60 a month, but it’s worth it to be carbon neutral on the electrical footprint. It’s been three years now. In 2015, Portland General Electric recognized our company for Environmental Leadership in Support of Renewable Power, and the CEO of Portland General Electric gave us an award. In addition to wind power, all of our lights are LED. And we have about 300 lights.
If LED lights help indoor cannabis growers with energy efficiency and saving cash, why aren’t more cultivators switching over?
First, it’s the cost. LED lights are expensive. They’re expensive to buy initially, and a lot of growers have been bootstrapping themselves all the way up. Even five years ago LED lights weren’t up to par. So it’s still fairly new. Plus, not everyone has access. I’m in Oregon, so we have access to clean wind and renewable power. We also have access to the Energy Trust of Oregon, which will give us grant money to buy new equipment and upgrade old equipment. We’ve gotten over $100,000 in grants from the Energy Trust. We buy our equipment and they give us money back. So, if you don’t have a program like that in your state, then you’ve run into another part that’s really prohibitive, and it makes it really difficult to be sustainable.
Do you also use solar?
Actually, in late summer or early fall we have plans to put up a 248,000-watt solar array on our roof. It’s going to drastically decrease our power bill.
Why is being eco-friendly important to you?
There’s a massive amount of CO2 that’s produced for every pound of cannabis. It’s not that bad when you’re producing a small quantity in your basement. But for us, looking at moving forward with large quantity cultivation to scale, I could not look myself in the mirror and think, Oh I’m just going to destroy the planet for profit just like everybody else and try to sleep at night. It just wasn’t an option.
*This interview has been edited and condensed. For more information on Eco Firma Farms, visit ecofirmafarms.com.
*Featured image: ARTICHOKE SUNSET (C) Robin Eisenberg.