Thrive Cannabis’s on-location storefront prepares to be Ontario’s first farm-gate store, set to open this month in Simcoe, Ontario Tuesday, April 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tara Walton

Thrive Cannabis’s on-location storefront prepares to be Ontario’s first farm-gate store, set to open this month in Simcoe, Ontario Tuesday, April 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tara Walton

Farm-gate cannabis sales allow customers to buy pot straight from the farm

B.C. is on track for a 2022 launch for farm-gate cannabis

When customers roll up to Thrive Cannabis’ 184-acre farm in Simcoe. Ont, they’ll find three shipping containers fashioned into a pot shop and a colourful crew making history.

That crew is led by Thrive’s vice president of business development and ethos Bubba Nicholson, who jokes he has the facial hair to match his company’s Greybeard brand, and founder Art Bluhm, who is as spirited about pot as he is about the brisket sandwiches he sometimes surprises farm visitors with.

“We’re not just some boardroom brand that’s out there,” said Nicholson, over a video call made from his parked car during a business trip to Vancouver. “We call it a team of misfits.”

But until recently few knew the misfits behind the brand or how their products were made. That all changed on April 21, when Thrive became Ontario’s first licensed producer to sell cannabis products at the site where they’re made.

The arrangement, which is being piloted or considered by several provinces, is called farm-gate cannabis because it involves taking pot from “seed-to-sale” all at one site and uniting customers with people like Nicholson and Bluhm, who were deeply involved in the journey.

According to the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority, farm-gate sales are allowed in the province, but there are currently no retail stores located at production sites.

B.C. is on track for a 2022 launch and several companies are hoping to join Thrive by offering farm-gate in Ontario later this year.

In order to begin farm-gate sales in Ontario, companies must have a retail operator license, a retail store authorization for a proposed location and pass several inspections.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario said in mid-April that it had received 14 retail operator license applications for farm-gate sales and approved six from Thrive, Tweed Inc., Dykstra Greenhouses, Medz Cannabis Inc., Muskoka Grown Ltd. and Level Up Infusions.

It had received nine retail store applications for farm-gate and has so far issued approvals to Thrive and Medz.

Canopy Growth Corp., whose Tweed Inc. brand wanted to start farm-gate at its Smiths Falls, Ont. factory, said it has put its plan on hold until later this year.

However, many are still forging ahead because they believe farm-gate programs help consumers get their hands on fresher cannabis faster, especially in rural areas where the closest pot shop can be a considerable distance away.

With farm-gate, shoppers will learn how their favourite products are grown and processed directly from the people who made them, building relationships, trust, transparency and brand recognition.

The opportunity to build brand loyalty and educate customers confused about products is a huge opportunity for pot businesses, said Denis Gertler, senior regulatory adviser at consulting firm CannDelta.

These businesses have been hindered by laws that heavily restrict their marketing opportunities and the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced many stores to operate through curbside pickup with few chances for brands to meet shoppers.

A June 2020 survey of 3,000 Canadian cannabis consumers from the Brightfield Group research firm suggested these factors have weighed on brand recognition. The survey found most pot brands were only recognized by between one and 15 per cent of those questioned and no brand had a recognition rate above 41 per cent.

Farm-gate can tackle this problem because “it’s an opportunity for a savvy company to build a brand” like craft brewers and distillers have, but the model is not without challenges, Gertler said.

“Distilleries are often in these kinds of areas too and many of them have factory stores, which are essentially farm-gate, but there isn’t the same kind of stigma around alcohol, as there is around cannabis,” he said.

However, Robyn Rabinovich, Thrive’s vice-president of strategic initiatives, is confident the company can build a following with farm-gate similar to what wineries experience.

“They come home with a case and they are the biggest champions of those brands because of that experience that they got through learning the process,” she said.

“We’re really excited to have people wear that Greybeard badge of honour.”

Customers who visit will get access to 12 Thrive products and about 10 from other brands, though they’ll have to settle for buying them through curbside pickup until the pandemic subsides.

Williams Lake First Nation (WFLN) is watching the situation closely.

The community located six hours outside Vancouver started building a growing facility and farm-gate store under the Sugar Cane Cannabis name earlier this year, after it signed an agreement with the B.C. government to allow farm-gate sales of its craft pot products.

Getting to that point involved negotiations between the solicitor general, who was resistant because of the industry’s nascence, and WFLN, which wanted Indigenous rights to be respected, recalled Kirk Dressler, the community’s director of legal and corporate services.

Eventually, the province softened when it saw how serious WFLN was about farm-gate.

“I think that they saw it as a real opportunity, a way for people who are operating smaller operations, who want to transition into the white marketto make it viable,” Dressler said.

WFLN recently submitted its Health Canada applications for its growing facility and hopes to open it by July, but the retail store may not ready until several months after, Dressler said.

Chief Willie Sellers is already anticipating it will create jobs, boost tourism and share a secret: Sugar Cane is experimenting with music to enhance the growing process.

He hopes visitors will delight in tidbits like that and feel a deeper connection between the community, its cannabis and the process it took to get farm-gate going.

“Everybody that comes into our store is going to be able to hear about this journey that we went on and how we are growing our cannabis,” he said.

“It’s exciting and it’s fun to think about this cutting edge stuff.”

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press

cannabis

Just Posted

A forest of dance-protesters outside the BC Legislature on April 11. These participants were doing the Dance for the Ancient Forest in support of the Fairy Creek blockade and against old-growth logging. (Zoë Ducklow/News Staff)
Arrests begin at Fairy Creek blockade on Vancouver Island

Five protesters arrested as RCMP begin to enforce injunction

Ryan Cootes, Erin Bremner-Mitchell, Bill Collins and Mike Williamson of Cascadia Seaweed Corporation are here seen holding up seaweed grown in Barkley Sound in July 2020. The Sidney-based company has organized the inaugural Seaweed Days Festival running May 17 to May 23. (Cascadia Seaweed Corporation/Submitted)
Let’s hear it for seaweed: slimy, unsexy and the world’s greatest untapped food source

Experts talks emerging industry’s challenges and potential at Sidney inaugural Seawood Days Festival

A crew of WestCoast WILD Adventures employees tackled an onslaught of litter left at the ‘Locks of Love’ fence at Wally Creek on May 2. (Anne-Marie Gosselin photo)
Litter woes continue at ‘Locks of Love’ fence near Tofino-Ucluelet

Popular Highway 4 spot continues to be consumed by disrespect

Brenda and Steve Smith with a photo of Derek Descoteau. It’s been five years since Derek was murdered in Chemainus. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Friends provide continuing comfort for family in wake of unresolved Chemainus murder

Case remains before the courts five years after Derek Descoteau’s abrupt stabbing death in Chemainus

Saanich police are asking for the public’s help locating missing woman Christina Olsen, 41, who was last seen on May 15 in the 4500-block of Blenkinsop Road. (Photo via the Saanich Police Department)
MISSING: Police seek woman last seen at Saanich mental health facility

Christina Olsen, 41, left Seven Oaks Tertiary Mental Health Facility on May 15

A prowling coyote proved no match for a stray black cat who chased it out of a Port Moody parking lot Friday, May 14. (Twitter/Screen grab)
VIDEO: Little but fierce: Cat spotted chasing off coyote by Port Moody police

The black cat is seen jumping out from under a parked car and running the wild animal out of a vacant lot

A thunderstorm pictured in Fraser Valley in 2021. (Black Press Media/Jaimie Grafstrom)
Wildfire concerns sparked after 320+ lightning strikes blasted B.C. yesterday

Approximately one-quarter of the province is currently listed as being at moderate risk of fire

A restaurant server on White Rock’s Marine Drive serves customers on a roadside patio. Indoor dining and recreational travel bans have been in effect since late March in B.C. (Peace Arch News)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate falls to 411 cases Tuesday

360 people in hospital, up slightly, two more deaths

The Banff National Park entrance is shown in Banff, Alta., Tuesday, March 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Minister asks Canadians to camp carefully in national parks as season starts

Kitchen shelters in Banff National Park closed, trails on Vancouver Island will only be one-way

Names of those aboard the ship are seen at Komagata Maru monument in downtown Vancouver, on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. The City of Vancouver has issued an apology for its racist role in denying entry to 376 passengers aboard a ship that was forced to return to India over a century ago. Mayor Kennedy Stewart says discrimination by the city had “cruel effects” on the Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims aboard the Komagata Maru, which arrived in Burrard Inlet on May 23, 1914. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver mayor says sorry for city’s role in turning away South Asians in 1914

Kennedy Stewart has declared May 23 as the annual Komagata Maru Day of Remembrance

Announced Tuesday, May 18 by Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, the province added gyms, dance and fitness studios to its list of places where face coverings are mandatory. (AP/Steven Senne)
Masks now required at all times inside B.C. gyms, including during workouts

Those who disobey could be subject to a $230 fine

Over the years, police have worked with sketch artists to draw what the boys could have looked like at the times of their deaths. (Vancouver Police Department)
DNA breakthrough expected in cold case involving murdered Vancouver boys, 7 and 8

Forensic analysts are working to identify relatives of the children, whose bodies were found in Stanley Park in 1953

Livestock competitions have been part of the Pacific National Exhibiton for more than a century. (Maple Ridge News files)
B.C. provides $50 million to keep major tourist attractions going

Tour bus companies also eligible for latest COVID-19 aid

Fire investigators employ an aerial ladder truck to do an overhead inspection of fire damage to the Family Practice Clinic that was destroyed by a blaze on the weekend. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Fire destroys Nanaimo medical clinic, doctors will try to keep helping patients

Investigators trying to determine cause of blaze at building on 104th Street

Most Read