News Hit:

Cultivation takes centre stage at Growing Summit in Kelowna

Update (March 13): The Growing Summit is postponed due to concerns around the impact of public events on the spread of COVID-19. A new date has yet to be announced.

Kelowna is set to play host to an important cannabis cultivation event at the end of March. Discussions with some of its speakers and organizers drove home the importance of community networking and bringing cannabis back to it’s agricultural heritage.

From March 31 to April 1, legacy growers, policy makers, scientists, and specialists from across Canada will offer their insights on the evolving industry at the agricultural speaker series and dinner.

Stephanie Ostrander, one of the lead organizers of the C-45 Growing Summit, told Inside the Jar the event is a response to an economic and industry-wide shift back to small-scale cultivation. Where the first two years of Canada’s nascent legal industry saw a boom of market-dominant industry leviathans—federally licensed producers like Canopy Growth Corp. and Aurora Cannabis—many predict the next few years will be defined by licensed craft cultivators.

“When you look at the individuals that make up the micro industry, many of them are, by true definition, farmers. Their first priorities aren’t shareholders, investors, or large scale facilities. They don’t want to be anything but a farmer that pays their bills, takes care of their crop, and truly loves what they grow,” Ostrander told ITJ by phone. “It’s the part of the legal industry that aligns closest with the original cannabis brand, if you will, and that’s what we need to support right now.”

As such, she believes it an imperative time to create opportunities for new cultivators, licensees, and entrepreneurs to network with some of the industry’s longstanding leaders and legacy growers.

Growing pains

When asked what industry pain points keynote speaker and founder of B.C.’s Tantalus Labs Dan Sutton intends to focus on during his presentation, he said the answer is twofold. He would like to use the opportunity to educate attendees on farming and land use rights, and the potential role of farmgate (product sold directly from a grow, without a provincial or private retailer markup) in empowering local economies.

“In B.C., we have a growing issue triangulated between the Agricultural Land Commission, municipalities unsympathetic to cannabis businesses, and the businesses being misled due to confusing regulations. Cannabis is farming in British Columbia. This was established early last year and the [ALC] was forced to acknowledge that cannabis cultivation, especially in a greenhouse or outdoors, is still obligated to the same rights and the same rules and regulations as other farming across the province,” he said over the phone.

“But municipalities are still using old [ALC] messaging as a smoke screen to create bylaws that unlawfully restrict cannabis farming on farmland. It’s really critical that cannabis growers know their rights.”

Sutton went on to say recent provincial messaging around farm-to-consumer sales also warns of a potential loss to local communities, and he intends to use the platform to encourage an ongoing fight for farmgate.

“It’s a critical revenue stream for the survival of craft and micro-production. If these growers can service a localized economy in the same way they have been doing in the legacy market, then they’ve got their distribution channels already figured out… It’s a really critical tool to localize that economic impact and spread wealth around smaller communities.”

Brittny Anderson, cofounder and director of operations at the Cannabis Conservancy and a Nelson city councillor, is also a featured speaker at the event. She said her focus going into the summit is sustainability.

“When we think and talk about sustainability [in the cannabis industry] we often focus only on the environmental aspects of it, but by having a very efficient process set up can mean your entire system is also economically sustainable, as well,” she told ITJ.

“This is incredibly important considering the current margins and high startup costs associated with cultivation.”

Anderson is currently working on developing certification programs with a number of organizations, which aim to promote initiatives like regenerative farming and carbon-conscious agricultural practices.

Encouraging open dialogue

Before legalization, much of the dialogue around cultivation technology and methodology took place one-on-one between growers or on pseudonym-protected digital forums. As the new regulated industry unfolds, much of that information is being signed into non-disclosure agreements (with growers joining or establishing companies), and is guarded as valuable proprietary and intellectual property. Grow events offer a platform to encourage the sharing of knowledge and help new actors entering the industry.

Solely cultivation-focused gatherings, however, haven’t yet taken hold in Canada as heavily as they have in countries like Amsterdam or the United States, despite it being federally legal here.

For example, in April, Las Vegas will be home to the aptly named Cannabis Conference, which boasts a robust lineup of expert speakers (from researchers to growers) and a packed exhibition floor. In the same month, the CannaGrow Expo takes place in Chicago, which is dedicated entirely to the “art and science of growing cannabis".

When it comes to Canada, a similar scale event is generally something only seen in consumer- and business-centric conferences, like the biannual Lift & Co. Cannabis Expo in Toronto and Vancouver. And while cultivation-related panels and booths are featured, the subject matter has yet to take centre stage. Anderson reinforced the need for more public discourse around agriculture and said platforms like the Growing Summit are becoming increasingly important to the industry’s economic growth.

“Open dialogue and sharing information on a person-to-person level, and building trust in cultivator relationships, helps the industry as a whole,” she says.

“We should be trying to do everything we can to uplift this part of the industry, our regional and provincial economies are dependent on them [cultivators] and their success.”

Expert cultivator and Inside the Jar’s executive director Travis Lane is the emcee at the Growing Summit.

This article is available under a Canadian Creative Commons licence.