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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Bryn Sandhu signs her scholarship papers after agreeing to a full-ride scholarship at Northern Michigan University. (Contributed photo)
Earl Marriott Secondary wrestler set to grapple with NCAA competition

Bryn Sandhu will wrestle and study this fall at Northern Michigan University

The Surrey Board of Trade is calling on the provincial government to implement a temporary paid sick-leave program. (Unsplash.com photo by Kelly Sikkema)
Surrey Board of Trade calls for temporary paid sick-leave program

Reccomendations sent to provincial labour minister, news release notes

North Surrey Sport and Ice Complex. (Photo: larkgroup.com)
North Surrey rink, Newton playground earn B.C. excellence awards

Awards presented by BC Recreation and Parks Association

Surrey Memorial Hospital emergency department entrance. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Youth counselling services expand to Surrey Memorial and other hospitals with $1.35M grant

Dan’s Legacy Foundation to provide free mental health, substance-use outreach

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O���Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Flow Academy is located at 1511 Sutherland Avenue in Kelowna. (Michael Rodriguez/Capital News)
Interior Health locks out Kelowna martial arts gym following COVID violations

Actions were taken after all other steps to gain compliance were exhausted, says health authority

FILE – A plexiglass barrier is pictured creating a barrier to protect a cashier at a grocery store in North Vancouver, B.C. Sunday, March 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Grocery store workers now eligible for COVID vaccines in Fraser Health, Vancouver Coastal

Workers will be fast-tracked through the system, which is otherwise booking for people in their 50s

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A man who allegedly spat at and yelled racial slurs at an Asian family was arrested for hate-motivated assault Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
Arrest made after man spits, yells anti-Asian racial slurs at Victoria mom and kids

The man was arrested for hate-motivated assault near Quadra Elementary School Tuesday

A lady wears a vaccinated sticker after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canada may find it challenging to reach herd immunity from COVID-19, experts say

Level of immunity among the population changes with the variants, especially the more transmissible strains

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Dip in COVID-19 cases with 572 newly announced in B.C.

No new deaths have been reported but hospitalized patients are up to 481, with 161 being treated in intensive care

Ripy Jubbal of Abbotsford has received a 30-month jail sentence for the fraudulent use of credit cards and credit card data. (Facebook photo)
Abbotsford woman sentenced for $80K in fraudulent credit card purchases

Ripy Jubbal and spouse used identities of 19 different victims, court hears

Solar panels on a parking garage at the University of B.C. will be used to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen, the latter captured to supply a vehicle filling station. (UBC video)
UBC parkade project to use solar energy for hydrogen vehicles

Demonstration project gets $5.6M in low-carbon fuel credits

Most Read