High Times at Equinox Farm: Ted Dobson talks cannabis, coronavirus and Ancient Greeks
BEN GARVER — THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE Ted Dobson, owner of Equinox Farm in Sheffield, is working with Theory Wellness to grow cannabis outdoors in Sheffield, Wednesday, October 9, 2019.
Remineralizing agricultural soil is as old as agriculture itself, says Ted Dobson, general manager and farmer-in-chief at Equinox Farm in the Berkshires in Sheffield, Massachusetts.
“We all know that soils are particularly made up of rock minerals. Eventually, some of those particles are no longer being regenerated. That’s what we’re really talking about with rock dust — it’s about the regeneration of things that are missing. Once upon a time, [the minerals] were there when the first colonists came to this country 400 years ago. You had soils that were rich, and generally they were mineral rich too.”
He adds: “The Ancient Greeks, from their earliest agricultural times, looked for mineral-rich valleys at the bottom of mountains. Why was that? It was because those areas were mineral rich.”
Although it was common-sense knowledge for millennia, Dobson says, unfortunately modern industrial farmers have forgotten remineralization fundamentals, and therefore the soils have become depleted of nutrients over many years of poor management. “I’m not even sure that our soil scientists understood in complex, subtle detail just how mineralization actually works.”
Dobson is not a scientist. However, he has worked with soils his entire adult life. In that time, he has learned that when plants grow “really super healthy,” there’s something right about the soil. For him, that includes remineralization. It is a knowledge he carried with him when harvesting his first cannabis crop at Equinox Farm last year, growing 1,800 plants under a Theory Wellness subcontract.
“I’m producing for the recreational and medicinal THC market,” he says, adding it took about three years working with a team of like-minded advocates to help bring about the local zoning bylaw necessary for marijuana cultivation. “I was the first grower in the state to be able to farm marijuana legally.”
Regarding last year’s crop, Dobson noted, Equinox Farm was unable to obtain the necessary cultivation licence for legal cannabis until mid-July, meaning Dobson could not get his first crop in until the end of July and early August. Despite the delay, with just a month to vegetate and three weeks to flower, the plants he grew in remineralized soils had great structural integrity — a surprising result in such a short time.
“There were no scientists to verify my observations, but there was very little mold or mildew disease out there. With great structure and great flower quality, I could just tell by the quality color of the leaves and by the quality of the flowers that we had succeeded.”
He added: “We had [soil amendment] that went down in March or April being rock dust and wood char, and it made a difference! It was tangible.”
As for this year, Dobson spent five weeks in late winter getting the soils ready in his greenhouses. He just finished transplanting large sativas into a newly-erected 36- by- 115-foot greenhouse. In another greenhouse, he direct-sowed a Siberian cannabis plant that is closer to a wild variety. “In this case, just putting the seed in the soil was a lot of fun and satisfying, just to see it come right up in really fertile soil that I had built up over the last several years.”
Farming through COVID-19
While COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on much of the world’s economy, luckily for Dobson the impacts thus far on his organic farm have been minimal.
“No one is preventing me from riding my bike a mile and a half to work each day, and I work behind an eight-foot-tall fence, and so we’re naturally quarantined,” he says. In terms of the cannabis business, he adds, sales are up through the pandemic, as users still require THC for medicinal and recreational purposes. “People are smoking weed.”
Fortunately, according to Dobson, while some lawmakers may be inclined to use coronavirus as an opportunity to limit people’s access to recreational cannabis stores, medicinal dispensaries are still open and it is “business as usual” for his operations. “Nothing has really changed here on the farm.”
Dobson’s remineralization journey
An avid Acres U.S.A. reader since the 1980s, Dobson trained under master biodynamic gardener Alan Chadwick, who himself was a student of Rudolf Steiner. “We talked about volcanic soil, early Greek agriculture, and soil [formed] from what once were volcanic and glacial areas in valleys, making splendid and magnificent agricultural areas because they were mineral rich.”
Quite simply: Dobson has known about the power of rock dust for four decades. “Without being a scientist, but being a young man with sharp intuition, it made complete sense to me in mineral-rich areas. All soils are built up of rock, and rocks come to life once life is added to it. We need minerals, plants need minerals. How does that happen? Multitudes of lifeforms in the soil.”
Around the time he began exploring the opportunity of growing cannabis on his organic farm, Dobson met with Joanna Campe, executive director at Remineralize the Earth, as well as esteemed biogeochemist and RTE board director Thomas Goreau, who was already acquainted with Dobson’s son, Ben — a notable organic farmer in his own right.
“It seemed like a beautiful, perfect storm of people coming together right around the time I was having thoughts of building the ultimate marijuana farm. And so, I put the basalt rock dust down. It was around this time year last year that I started doing it.”
Even more recently, Dobson sold his vegetable farm to his neighbor. On that field, these two farmers potentially plan to collaborate on the use of various combinations of rock dust, compost and biochar, as well as a control, to allow for remineralization research. Look out for updates in the spring and fall!
Carter Haydu is a writer, reporter, and journalist based in Alberta and Saskatchewan. He works for JuneWarren-Nickle’s Energy Group, with regular articles appearing in the Daily Oil Bulletin. He is a freelance columnist with the award-winning Quad Town Forum weekly newspaper, based in Vibank, Saskatchewan. He also contributes content for a series of magazines in and around Regina and Saskatoon. He received a BA in Political Science and Philosophy from Augustana University College in 2001 and a diploma in journalism from Grant Macewan College in 2005.