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Buying Land Previously used to grow crops

 
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Hi. Browsing acreage for sale in CA and seeing quite a few properties that looks like it had been used to grow weed.

Is it safe to grow fruits and vegetables over areas that had MJ crops on there before? Any concerns about the chemicals used in previous crops? Other concerns to keep in mind? Avoid these properties for creating permaculture food forests?
 
pollinator
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The worst chemicals typically used for cannabis are sprayed on the plants. With regards the soil, the worst things are typically just chemical salt fertilizer.

Obviously you can't really know what was used so you kind of have to rely on any clues based on stuff left around the property.  From seeing lots of soil tests on cannabis farms the most consistent thing I've seen is super high phosphorus levels from over use of things like bone meal.

In general I wouldn't worry about it much, the impacts tend to be limited to the immediate garden area and I suspect it would be a great site for a food forest
 
pollinator
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In most cases, I would be more concerned with almost any other large scale monoculture crop than a legal and/or small scale cannabis operation, which ironically can’t be sold legally unless it is much cleaner of toxic chemicals than food or wine has to be. The worst growers generally do their damage to watersheds and soil covertly on public land. Many viticulturists and food crop farmers complain about how cannabis farms that have come in next door requested and or held them to spraying regulations that these food growers otherwise scoffed at, but the cannabis farmers couldn’t sell their product legally with the toxic overspray they were causing. Of course the illegality brings in and rewards bad actors in the cannabis industry, but the average grower in my observation is far more likely to be organic or better than other crops.

I purchased a growers property in the last year, and grew the best tomato crop I’ve ever had on the leftover soil, top dressed with compost. I did however get to know the seller somewhat, and asked neighbors about him and his farming practices, which they said were all organic as best they could tell. He was a former backcountry park ranger like myself, and I was able to be pretty confident he was all organic. In addition to the vegetation growing on the used soil, that was also reflected in the house he built with minimal chemicals on wood etc. (he was a general contractor as well).

We got the place for less than 2/3 of his peak asking price, for what that’s worth, as the market price for herb dropped off a cliff. This makes these properties potentially good deals, at least when we bought in the fall of 2019,  but I would do my due diligence and get as much info on the prior users of the site as possible. I would not have bought a toxic waste dump, and some growers of cannabis are horrible to the environment, but no more so than the lily bulb farmers around here who own thousands of acres, and many other monoculture crops are “legally” grown with equally  destructive practices but on much larger acreage due to lower profits.

My spot is at the headwaters of a wild and scenic river and on the edge of a National Forest, with nice house, an awesome view and my own private canyon and stream.  I could not be happier with my purchase, but I think I got in at the perfect time.
 
pollinator
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Are you thinking of hydro power from the canyon?
 
Ben Zumeta
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I know of a couple micro hydro setups in the area, and have been doing some research, but no hard plans so far.

I also concur about the phosphorus excess being common, but in our case it’s balanced by a natural lack of phosphorus in our native soils due to leaching from our 80-100” of rain per year.
9EA8BE89-D97C-4A42-AC42-938A25EE412A.jpeg
The end of our tomato harvest, around Nov 10th
The end of our tomato harvest, around Nov 10th
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These ladies produced about 20lbs/day for over 2months
These ladies produced about 20lbs/day for over 2months
 
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For a number of years it was legal for me to grow marijuana to supply the medical dispensaries legally here in Washington. It was great until Inslee figured out how to tax it.

I would have little reservation buying land that had been used to grow previously. Remember, marijuana is consumed by people and you don't want to put anything on it that may be harmful.

We NEVER sprayed any pesticides other than very modest use of neem oil. I did also use diatomatious  earth and borax as needed. Anything that went on or in the plants could be mixed in a bowl and eaten.

Unfortunately with the new taxes came new licensing requirements and red tape that I could not deal with.

Good luck with your quest for land!
 
Ben Zumeta
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I agree Steve. I had a similar experience in WA and then CA, with regulation and taxation alongside overproduction from large highly financed industrial farms that produced abundant, cheap and mostly mediocre products driving down the profitability precipitously. The flush of oils and waxes, which is made with a lot of what I consider industrial agricultural waste (most seems to me to be covered in mildew and molds before being processed), also drove down prices. All of this made the land previously used to grow it, often chosen for privacy and a suitable climate for these mediterranean loving plants, much cheaper to buy as the farmers on these sites can't compete with valley megafarms that can just plop down in deep soils with loads of cash to streamline their operations and pay the powers that be to let them do as they wish. Point is, in many situations the green rush has turned to a bust, and this makes for potentially good values on the land for the right people. In many cases restoration is needed due to destructive growing practices, but they are often in beautiful places with great potential for permaculture, regeneration and a high quality of life for the stewards who take it on.
 
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Location: CA . 3000 ft elevation, mostly southwestern slope , zone 9a
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We purchased a property 3 years ago, that was a cannabis grow, and had some of the the same concerns. After a little consideration we decided to go ahead with the purchase. The price was right and we loved the location.

We were slightly concerned about what chemicals the previous owners put in the ground when it was a grow. But any property can have those kind of hidden dangers. Its hard to quarantee what previous owners did on their property.  Especially out here where everyone is isolated and does what they want to. Maybe the property was well maintained. Maybe the old man that lived there had lots of leaky trucks and tractors and dumped his fluids in a hole in the ground. Maybe that property had a mobile meth lab at one point.  Its hard to say. We felt comfortable about this property and what we knew about it.

Other bright side, because it was briefly a grow,  they had done improvements we would have wanted to do anyways. Clearing and limbing tress and removing brush to create a garden space with excellent summer sun. They also put up fencing., installed water tanks and ran water lines for the garden.
 
3 years in and only.thing that bothers me is all the plastic toothpics and cigarette butts I keep finding. But the garden has done well.
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[Thumbnail for FB_IMG_1605709443908.jpg]
 
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Location: Rural North Texas
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Here in Texas it is not legal to grow so the grow fields are often heavily booby trapped with everything from punji sticks to claymores to IED land mines to bear traps.  The state usually handles it by spraying the crop with a defoliant from the air because of the boobytraps.  If you can avoid that, then you are that much ahead of the game.  Who knows, you might even get a few volunteers returning to brighten your day,  Just make sure you keep your okra up close to the house so no one gets any ideas about the leaves.

If you like the property otherwise then go for it.  It will have a lot of the same concerns or issues you would have with any other crop land except that you know its likely not been doused in quite so many chemicals since that would have rendered the crop unsellable.  I doubt that they go in for much of the roundup ready varieties like most modern crops.  
 
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I agree with what's been said. I will stress that it's the how, not the what, of the grow. I would be far more concerned buying conventionally worked corn-and-soy agricultural property.

Monocropping is a far greater evil, in my estimation. Even if they were growing fields, they'd be spacing widely for branch formation, like if they were growing for hemp seed production. This makes it unlikely that they'd keep that much soil bare, which suggests the soil microbiota might be in a better position to rally and come to your aid in remediating the land to your needs. This also suggests by extension that something might be grown in the alleys in between even a gridwork field layout, even just groundcover, even just a grass and clover mix, and so something resembling a polyculture. It is possible that, even if they're plowing between crops, that they're simply plowing individual rows, as opposed to every square inch, meaning that the intervening, unploughed access paths would retain root and soil structure, along with microbiotic and fungal populations, and form enough to minimize topsoil loss through plowing.

I don't know what the financial situation has been state-by-state, but up here, banks and traditional lenders have been very cautious, as in, good luck trying to get money out of them at all for the cannabis industry. And that's for large corporate concerns. That means that there isn't money for chemical plant control and fertilizer most of the time. So I would be less concerned in this case than a conventional agricultural monocrop.

So again, it's not about what they grew, and that even obviated some conventional evils. It's about how they did it, and as some permies here have found, many practical, financially sustainable solutions from that circle overlap with ours in the permies venn diagram.

But let us know how it goes, and good luck.

-CK
 
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