News Local

Cannabis plants arrive at greenhouse

By Paul Morden, Sarnia Observer

Cannabis plants shipped from British Columbia arrived recently at the High Park Farms in Enniskillen Township. The company said its first harvest is expected in June. Handout/Postmedia Network

Cannabis plants shipped from British Columbia arrived recently at the High Park Farms in Enniskillen Township. The company said its first harvest is expected in June. Handout/Postmedia Network

Jack Greydanus expected to go on growing peppers at his greenhouse in Enniskillen Township, just like he had for more than a decade, and then a cannabis company came calling.

Today, he’s the “landlord” of Lambton County’s first cannabis greenhouse where High Park Farms, an affiliate of B.C.-based Tilray, says thousands of cannabis plants have arrived after a 36-hour trip from Vancouver Island.

The first harvest is expected in June, in anticipation of the legalization of recreational use of marijuana in Canada later this year, the company said.

Tilray, which also has a medical cannabis growing facility in British Columbia, has said it began looking in 2016 for a second site elsewhere in Canada, including locations around southern Ontario.

Greydanus and his wife Christine, who moved to Enniskillen in 1990, built six acres of greenhouse on their LaSalle Line farm in 2004 and added another seven acres in 2011.

He said their Enniskillen Pepper Company was the only vegetable greenhouse operation in Lambton at the time but others have since set up shop.

It was about “a year or so ago” that representatives from the Sarnia-Lambton Economic Partnership asked Greydanus, on half of what was then an unknown company, if he knew of any other sites in the county with access to water and natural gas, services required by the greenhouse industry.

That was followed by an approach where Greydanus was asked about selling his greenhouse.

“That was certainly nothing I was interested in doing,” he said.

“But, they asked me to throw a number at it and I did. So, I guess the rest is history.”

Last summer, Tilray CEO Brendan Kennedy said the medical cannabis company would begin by leasing the site on LaSalle Road and then purchase it within three years.

“Myself, I’m looking at other options,” Greydanus said.

“I’m still very much involved with it as the landlord of the facility.”

The arrival of the first cannabis plants at the greenhouse last week came soon after High Park received a federal cultivation licence for the site where the company had already been at work preparing for the changeover.

The company said in a news release that moving thousands of plants from British Columbia to Enniskillen Township was “a carefully choreographed process” involving a team of drivers, pilots, growers, production managers and security personnel.

The plants were taken by ferry from Nanaimo and then flown from Vancouver to Hamilton where they were loaded on trucks and driven to the greenhouse.

Tilray said previously it expected to hire 50 people to work at the site initially and create 200 to 250 full-time jobs over five years.

The company said it expects to invest up to $30 million in High Park Farms and recently announced it had purchased a London site for a facility to process cannabis from the Enniskillen greenhouse.

Greydanus said challenges facing the vegetable greenhouse industry had him thinking about expanding the Enniskillen Pepper Company before Tilray came calling.

Energy costs and wages are the biggest expenses for greenhouses and they’re being impacted by carbon taxes and the rise in the minimum wage.

Greydanus said he was faced with the need to “double or triple in size” if he wanted to continue earning returns the greenhouse operation saw in past years.

He said he believes High Park Farms will be good for the community.

Stephen Thompson, chief executive officer with the economic partnership, said its newly updated economic development strategy talks about the importance of “value-added agriculture” in the local economy.

That’s a category the growing legal cannabis market fits, making it “something we’re definitely looking at as a potential priority market,” he said.

Some areas of Lambton have good access to natural gas and water lines, giving the county “strong advantages” when it comes to attracting greenhouses, he said.

Sarnia-Lambton also has industrial buildings and facilities available that could be used for cannabis processing, a part the industry where “the value-add is, and where we could also see great job impacts,” he said.

“I think it’s an exciting area, something that we need to look at.”