The New Jersey entrepreneur’s Living Wall vertical horticultural system could revolutionize the state’s growing cannabis industry
Deep down, George Irwin feels like the kid he was 40 years ago. You could catch him mowing his neighbors’ lawns in the Garden State on most weekends … but even then he would have preferred to be the one running the company, hiring people to do it.
He’s still in New Jersey. He’s still cutting grass (albeit a different way).
And he still wants to be at the top.
The “living wall” system. (GLT cannabis)
In the new and innovation-hungry cannabis sector, Irwin seems ready to do just that. He heads several companies, all focused on a patented “living wall” plant growth system that allows plants to grow vertically on walls and roofs – plants like the hoped-for next crop in New Jersey.
Atlantic City-based GLT cannabis is a promising application of the vertical horticultural system developed two decades ago by Irwin’s Green Living Technologies International. After years of paying attention to its use in projects like the Minnesota Twins ballpark, Irwin now sees an opportunity to revolutionize the medical (and soon New Jersey recreational) marijuana industry.
Compared to typical horizontal planting techniques, the GLT cannabis vertical cultivation system, the only one of its kind in the world, has about ten times the production capacity, according to Irwin. At the same time, it has the potential to lower energy needs, lower the cost of goods, and improve the environmental footprint of cannabis growers.
A worker harvests plants in a GLT facility. (GLT cannabis)
The longtime New Jersey entrepreneur is thrilled … even if Irwin never expected to get to the top of this new industry.
His passion was agriculture, not the pot. But at the same time as he was just beginning research into cannabis cultures, he became the unfortunate parent of a child with Hodgkin lymphoma.
“When my son was diagnosed with cancer, I knew enough about these cannabis products to provide my son with the specific oils that were supposed to help cancer patients,” he said. “It’s not a sales pitch. It’s no wonder. But for us what it did for my son was life changing. “
With Irwin’s son being declared cancer-free earlier than expected, the local entrepreneur became more than expected in the science behind medical marijuana.
What he saw was great potential in an area of agriculture that had barely been legitimized.
“I consider myself part of the second generation of legalized cultivators,” said Irwin. “In my view, frankly, the first generation consisted of those who were once illegal producers. Where else would you want to gain experience and knowledge without going to the black market? “
The emerging status of the industry means that from Irwin’s point of view, growing cannabis still brings a lot of waste with it. Reducing this waste is part of his goal of professionalizing the industry.
The system enables growers to harvest more crops. (GLT cannabis)
He explained that rockwool, one of the most popular indoor hydroponic growing systems used by cannabis growers, combined with synthetic fertilizers could dump potentially carcinogenic chemicals into waterways, the vast amount of which is regularly dumped in landfills.
If marijuana growers had less of a public relations challenge than a law enforcement challenge, this may have been less of an issue.
“But how can the cannabis industry now help treat a disease with techniques that could put disease at risk?” Said Irwin. “(Industry) needs to break away from the old way of working and think about science. We do that. We found a way to use compost-based organic soil and allow 100% of our waste to be reused. “
From a business perspective, Irwin makes a good case for their living wall system. The use of walls enables much higher growth capabilities in a smaller space than typical growth processes. This is a by-product of the ability to measure production in cubic feet instead of square feet.
The company also wants to make sure its marijuana medicine delivers the same dose of THC every day. Therefore, a team of plant scientists is working on isolating plant tissues that ensure consistency from one plant to the next while keeping these plants disease and virus free.
It’s all part of bringing more innovation to the table, Irwin said.
“We can even take a basil plant and infuse it with THC,” he said. “It’s a little Frankenstein-esque, but that’s the reality this industry is moving into.”
The plants grow in both horizontal and vertical rows. (GLT cannabis)
New Jersey voters passing the referendum that could allow recreational marijuana use for adults are opening the door to more local opportunities for this business. However, as this process is still playing out, the company is mainly focused on the medical side and not just the garden condition. The company’s Maine-based subsidiary, VertiKal Tech, received a medical cannabis license there earlier this year and is expected to be one of the state’s largest cannabis producers.
Irwin said his company plans to produce enough cannabis for the wholesale market here and elsewhere, and is even considering starting a local retail operation.
The way he looks at the vertical green of his company … the sky is the limit.
“We feel part of the history of cannabis in New Jersey and we are very excited to be a part of it,” he said. “We have to help create the tax revenue that can help get the state back on its feet.”