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Eastern researchers present on cannabis at farming conference

Published on April 01, 2024

Eastern researchers present on cannabis at farming conference

Professor Brian Connolly presents on cannabis cultivation.

Patty Szczys elaborates on the New England Sustainable Cannabis Certification (NESCC).

Eastern welcomed hundreds of local farmers and agriculturalists to campus on March 23 as it hosted the 42nd annual conference for the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA). With many sessions happening concurrently, Eastern was well represented in a disucssion on sustainable hemp and cannabis. 

Biology Alumnus Ryan Vassar ‘03 kicked off the session by elaborating on the ethics of cannabis cultivation, its ecological impact and how it supports sustainability efforts. 

Vassar used his ongoing mission, titled “Project: Noah’s Ark CT,” to explain the basics of cannabis cultivation through a sustainable lens. The goal of his project is to promote the practical application of cannabis cultivation, with sustainability as its main principle.  

Vassar explained that sustainability has three pillars: people, planet and prosperity. Cannabis has a sort of symbiotic relationship with the environment; examples he cited were cannabis being good for the soil, and hemp being used for concrete. According to him, “nature has the answer.”nofa 

Patty Szczys, professor of biology and director of Eastern’s Institute for Sustainability, spoke alongside her colleague Michael Goodnough on behalf of the New England Sustainable Cannabis Certification (NESCC). The organization equips and certifies businesses to cultivate cannabis for ecological solutions such as the ones Vassar referenced.  

Szczys cited the three pillars of sustainability to explain the organization’s pledge to continuously promote biodiversity, as they are “always looking to increase community reach and engagement, and to advocate for sustainability.” 

Goodnough explained how industries’ perception of cannabis and sustainability affect the ability to cultivate it, and how it’s an incentive for the push towards sustainability. The mainstream perception of cannabis as an illicit drug stunts the process for it to be cultivated ethically, he said.  

“Right now, our industry as far as cannabis and farming are completely separated. Most cultivation organizations have no clue about farming,” said Goodnough. “We’re moving away from farming, which is the opposite of what we should be doing.” 

Bryan Connolly, who is the director of the cannabis studies minor at Eastern, further elucidated the ethical responsibility that comes with cultivating cannabis and used his students’ and current projects to explain the delicate process. “If I had three strikes against me, I would lose my license,” he said. Connolly also announced that the cannabis cultivation lab will be eligible as a liberal arts core lab requirement option for all students starting in fall 2024. 

Written by Elisabeth Craig