Currently Reading: Harvest Smarter, Not Harder

4E looks at underground illegal gardens, artificial reefs in the Atlantic Ocean and a local architecture firm that we believe has the key to Washington’s indoor cannabis cultivation future. We draw the conclusion before most even identify the problem. PDA does it all… from critique to technique.

In an abandoned shaft of the Rome Metro system the Guardia di Finanza, or Italy’s financial police, raided what was permitted as a mushroom colony this August. The smell wafting to the street suggested otherwise, and they found 340 kilograms of marijuana instead of local foragers. The garden was behind a hidden wall that dated before Mussolini’s reign. The farmer was found and arrested as was widely reported in TIME Magazine and the New York Times.

The ventilation cut close to a Central Bank vault and the police were astonished at the sophistication in putting a down-trodden under belly of the Southeastern part of the city to profitable use. Work shifts were written on a black board, all the processing accoutrements were on-site as well. Rome is full of miles of underground tunnels, many a total mystery even to city planners. During the time of their empire the builders would remove what they called “pozzolana,” or volcanic rock, in order to use it for erecting their monuments to the gods. They left artificial caverns that were brimming with potential behind.

Skateboarding pioneer C.R. Stecyk III once famously said of surfing on concrete with a piece of wood and clay wheels:

“Two hundred years of American technology has unwittingly created a massive cement playground of unlimited potential. But it took the minds of 11-year olds to see that potential.”

Those Dogtown (Venice, CA) skateboarders reclaimed pools that were emptied because of a drought in the late 1970s, and made a competitive art form that changed the world. Our point in all this is that the renegades often illuminate the good ideas, and while they proceed a bit fast and usurp the law in many cases, their brilliance is not overshadowed by the moral ambiguity. The 21st Century has been about reclaiming abandoned spaces, the ones with character from the eras of great wars and artisanal stone masonry. Restoring and reoccupying has become our preference to building a new.

The outlaw in the Roman subway tunnels had the same idea that a U.S. mining conglomerate in Michigan did. Let’s use something no one wants, to create marijuana and serve the popular demand.

If you hold up your right hand and press your thumb against the side of your palm it looks like the State of Michigan. People that are from there point to a spot on that hand to show where they are from. If you were to do just that the index finger would be what is called the “Upper Peninsula” or U.P. for short. A defunct mine in the U.P. called “White Pine” was the subject of an extensive feature in the Detroit Free Press more than a year ago – police investigated an underground garden more than a mile below top soil – and found no cannabis despite a local informant’s tip.

Brent Zettl is the President and CEO of Prairie Plant Systems (PPS), which is a bio-pharmaceutical company based in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The Canadian conglomerate owns SubTerra which owns the White Pine Mine in Michigan. PPS wants to serve Michigan’s authorized patients (they keep detailed registration records in that state), and wants to use its products to do so. They plan to do this using useless eye-sores that are strewn about every country on the planet since manufacturing moved to China in search of greater profits and mineral deposits dried up.

Mines are a waste of space when they don’t have anyone digging for buried treasure.

But they also could be the perfect site for serving what is sure to be an explosion in demand for good, permitted, tested, and approved cannabis – now that Federal legalization measures are only a matter of time.

Being that far underground means security, constant temperature with negligible fluctuation, controlled light and humidity, a sizable distance from pests, insects and fungus and basically everything indoor gardens value at a premium. These Canadian botany behemoths already cultivate cannabis in the Flin Flon, Manitoba mine by Trout Lake.

“There’s a need to bring this under the proper reins of appropriate manufacturing for patient safety and for public safety, ” said Zettl recently.


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As with any capitalist endeavor the profit motive cannot be ignored. So lets gaze upon a more altruistic example in the Atlantic Ocean, where the State of Delaware is doing more than just sheltering companies from paying the proper amount of taxes. A tradition they have become known for in our oasis of deregulation.

Since 1995 Delaware Bay has been the test site for using decommissioned NYC subway cars to create artificial reefs that allow for corral growth, and other marine fauna, in the barren sandy desert of the North Atlantic. These metal scrap heaps can provide shelter for smaller fish and become underwater metropolises for sea life.

In 2001 the MTA in New York said it wanted to donate 1,300 subway cars that they otherwise would need to dispose of. The ecological impact was a primary concern and these trains were scrubbed to remove toxic residues from every crevasse before being sunk. The idea actually dates back much further as early colonial inhabitants of North America began noticing great fishing grounds close to shipwrecks in the 1800s. The coastline had plenty of those during the Trans-Atlantic routes that often ignored the hurricane season to chase greater profits.

The subway cars that have been submerged thus far do not come anywhere near the 1,300 the MTA can provide. They are clustered for observation in what has been deemed “Redbird Reef” in reference to the old slang term in 1970s New York when trains were painted a deep red in an attempt to combat graffiti. In 2010 Delaware sunk two 100-foot barges, in 2011 a Naval destroyer.

What explanation can be made for why this isn’t a widely copied program that is being used globally to capitalize on unused cast-aways for a truly essential purpose? Why of course the same one that prevents cannabis from being growing inside mines that are unoccupied.

Bureaucracy.


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The only way to defeat its might is with an onslaught of great ideas that can improve lives.

So with that we return home to a modest-sized architectural firm with offices on Seattle’s Capitol Hill.

HyBrid Architecture was established in 2003 by Robert Humble and Joel Egan. Along with their workshop – HyBrid Assembly – they design, research and construct in a single process. It has been a treat watching local architects build a bridge to the Northwest landscape of the future. Our decision to do so was brought about by “Cargotecture” a radical project from the drafting tables of HyBrid.

These guys take ISBU cargo-containers, the things you see being shipped on railroad tracks and stacked in the Port of Seattle, and make mixed-use spaces out of them. In 2004 they constructed a prototype in Enumclaw, WA they called “Studio 320.” The interior was made using wood reclaimed from old gym bleachers in a nearby local high school. Interiors are also furred and readied for utilities, they use a soy-based spray foam insulation. Most of the time they finish it with a unique exterior door to visually set it apart.

They were conceived initially as pre-fab homes that ranged from $29.5K to a luxury package that maxes out at $200K. You still have to buy the land to create the foundation where it can be anchored. These containers are durable enough to last several generations of occupancy and are entirely re-locatable including the foundations. If that doesn’t wet your whistle consider they are engineered for high magnitude seismic activity, flood protection, stability in high wind gusts or if poor soil conditions threaten the property.

Recently they have used the same structures to create pop-up retail and recording studio spaces. The applications of this technology and design vision are endless. With an aim towards developing a fully transportable space that can move with the changing seasons from a “fish camp to a surf shack” as they put it, it became clear HyBrid was providing the retail flexibility of a food truck to a much wider range of businesses.

In order to achieve this objective they developed the “off-the-grid” option.   

You can request a “deep green” package, we find that name to be particularly ironic given what we are about to say.

This package incorporates natural gas and propane appliances (including water heater and furnace). It adds solar panels and an inverter for energy independency. Composting toilets or “green machine” sewage treatment systems come standard, along with roof-water harvest mechanisms for re-use.

In essence the closed system that a cannabis garden requires can be completely executed “off-the-grid” in any part of rural Washington State.

We arrive finally at the crux of this argument, the basis for this editorial column devised after many meeting of minds in the past few years.

Now that cannabis is legalized and regulated we propose a government subsidy to better make use of the vast acreage of this woodsy environment.

A grant – if you will – that pairs HyBrid ideas with responsible permitted horticulturalists to harvest the medication we all deserve. This gets it out of school zones and residential areas. This is a system we can grow with, one that is scalable and sustainable for generations, just like the cargo-containers we propose as the new vehicles for bringing our herb to bloom.


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