An argument can be made for any number of strategies when it comes to growing indoors, but one problem seems unavoidable, as with so many other businesses: the cost of energy. Fleurish Farms, a research farm based in Sonoma County, believes it may have found a solution.
Set outside of Petaluma, the 95-acre expanse is host to a bevy of operations: The multitude of strains in the outdoor grow at the base, across from an in-progress greenhouse; the rustic barn housing an array of indoor, all-natural soil experiments; the designated section for the extraction and pressing of their chemical and contaminant-free rosin; and of course, the duel cultivation rooms that round out the main property.
This latter project has been Fleurish Farms’ primary focus for the last year, and they believe it could become a modern, revolutionary alternative for indoor growing, first and foremost because of its severely reduced environmental impact.
“Everyone in the industry is well aware of the fact that indoor cultivation is an egregious violator of using energy efficiently,” says CEO of Fleurish, Dr. Jonathan Cachat. “All [California] municipalities and counties set carbon reduction goals for the next 20 years, so the idea of being able to onboard this industry while still reducing the carbon footprint is almost impossible without a solution like ours.”
He’s referring to Dynamic Supplemental Sunlight™ (DSS), a system Fleurish Farms has developed that claims to “bring the sunlight indoors”. And Cachat is very quick to point out, this does not mean greenhouse: “It couldn’t be further from the truth. The best way to describe what we’re doing, we’re taking an indoor building or a warehouse and turning that whole building into a greenhouse by putting those tubes on top. A fully insulated, controlled and regulated indoor environment.”
Those “tubes”, of course, are Tubular Daylighting Devices, supplied by Solatube Home Daylight in San Diego. Solatube themselves, working with chemists at 3M, have developed a product called Spectralight Infinity.
This, Cachat explains, is what separates Fleurish’s tubes from the pack: “This metallic or reflective film is better because it transmits 99.7% of the entire light spectrum, while eliminating IR and most of UVA and UVB.” And he says now that they’re near completion in performance metrics, they have the PAR measurements to back it up.
In some ways, the plants in the cultivation rooms are evidence enough of the system’s efficacy. The capacity for customization is on full display—plants entirely diverse in look and smell stand shoulder to shoulder, established growth patterns developing side-by-side.
Cachat has conducted time-lapse videos of the daily light distribution over the cultivation room plants, and it’s the best possible visual aid in terms of understanding why it’s “sunlight indoors”. The light from the diffused bulbs dances around the plants, creating shadow play that mimics the ever-changing nature of the sun.
Fleurish has conducted extensive research, first applying their system to small-scale indoor environments with 1 to 2 sky bulbs, and now finalizing a plan on a 1,000 square foot facility, with 60 to 70 sky bulbs. They feel confident the product could be a game changer for the industry, though they acknowledge the skepticism some will inevitably share.
Dr. Josh Earlenbaugh, Co-Founder and Master Grower at Fleurish, says there’s a conceptual gap when he explains DSS. “You come along and say you’re doing sun grown indoor and they say, ‘Okay, are you just trying to sell some sort of fancy greenhouse,’ and it’s like, ‘No, when I say something’s indoor, that means that I have complete control over that environment to the extent that you could never get with a greenhouse, period.’”
According to Earlenbaugh, with the elimination of radiation from High Pressure Sodium lamps, results would see plants retaining their color for years. Not only that, one could grow 4 pounds using an average of 1.6 kilowatt hours a day. If it’s true, those figures would be hard to ignore. But as is most often the case, when growers and other types of investors are introduced to DSS, they’ll consider cost first.
“People want a number,” Cachat says. “We say, it’s gonna be about $3000 a tube, but that cost includes more than the tube. It involves us doing a number of calculations. We look at historical weather data over the last 15 years in the place of interest to then build them PAR (Photosynthetically Active Radiation) distribution maps over the course of the year. Every install is a very complex install. How big is the room? How tall is the ceiling? To get tubes where they need to be necessitates extra cost.”
But the savings on electrical bills, Cachat goes on to say, more than make up for the extra expenses up front: “If [someone]’s running a 20,000 square foot 100-light HPS, they’re monthly bill’s probably 60, 70, maybe 100,000 dollars. A month. For them, this system’s gonna cost half a million to set up, but the electrical bill will now be $500.
At the outset, Earlenbaugh expressed worry about the mainstream viability of the system: “At first I thought, man, this is only gonna be possible for [large-scale growers], but as I started to look at the results I now see this as being beneficial for any stage of growing.”
The two acknowledge the viability of greenhouses and stress that Sungrown Indoor is meant simply as an alternative, not an aspiring industry standard. They are not so interested in competition as they are offering a solution to the state and country’s exponential energy crisis.
A year ago, Fleurish Farms started its research in relative secrecy, hesitant to reveal their process before progress. Now that the first stage is complete, they’re ready to get the word out there. The challenge now, Cachat says, is “adequately informing the industry that there’s a way to grow cannabis indoors that is potentially net zero in terms of its carbon footprint.”
State regulations combined with the incoming likelihood of legalization could leave the industry at a crossroads in terms of energy consumption: “The idea of being able to onboard this industry while still reducing the carbon footprint is almost impossible without a solution like ours.”