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‘Some assembly required’: Cannabis grow pods turn into new business opportunity for Winnipeg company

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About six months ago, Delta 9 Cannabis CEO John Arbuthnot was busy getting ready for the looming legalization of cannabis.

There was the behind-the-scenes planning for his company’s first retail pot store, the creation of supply agreements with other cannabis sellers, and then the expansion of Delta 9’s secure growing facility in east Winnipeg.

Then Arbuthnot got a call about another business opportunity. A cannabis producer had seen a news story about Delta 9, and wanted to know if the Winnipeg company would sell its grow pods to help build out the first phase of the producer’s facility.

“Really? You know, a little bit disbelief,” Arbuthnot remembers thinking.

Delta 9 plans to have 600 of the pods stacked inside its own production facility by the end of 2019. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

The pods are essentially renovated shipping containers that are turned into highly controlled cannabis growing spaces. Each pod can produce roughly 32.5 kilograms of cannabis per year — valued at somewhere between $300,000 and $400,000 at current retail prices.

Delta 9 uses them to grow all of its product, and now sells the pods as a turnkey solution for producers who want an efficient way to grow, while reducing the risk of crop failure.

A Winnipeg cannabis company is making pot grow pods out of shipping containers and has started selling the pods to other producers. 2:23

“We’ve already heard horror stories from the rest of the industry on some major crop losses at big open greenhouse facilities,” Arbuthnot said.

“With the pod system, all of that risk is compartmentalized. If there is a risk of contamination, it’s contained within one area and that risk is mitigated.”

The pods are all about quality control, he says. They prevent air flow from one room to another and Delta 9 says if there is a problem with a crop — like plant disease, pests or fungus — because it’s contained, they can destroy it, sterilize the pod and only lose about $10,000 in product.

That’s significantly less than the millions in losses a crop problem could cost a producer who grows in a large open room.

Cannabis grows inside a pod at Delta 9’s secure facility in east Winnipeg. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

“From a risk mitigation standpoint it’s a very attractive production model,” Arbuthnot said noting his company has patents pending for the grow pods in both the U.S. and Canada.

Sign of growth, says cannabis council

The stackable pods have turned into a major source of revenue for Delta 9. The company has sold them to producers in Brantford, Ont., and out west in Victoria.

Once they’re built by the 35 different tradespeople at Delta 9’s construction facility, they are delivered by truck almost ready to use.

“There is some assembly required. It’s not quite as bad as Ikea,” Arbuthnot laughed.

The grow pods start out as shipping containers. They are renovated and given customized wall panels and hospital-grade vinyl flooring. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Delta 9’s grow pods are just one example of how cannabis companies are using innovation to get product to market, said Allan Rewak, executive director of the Cannabis Council of Canada, the national organization for Canada’s licensed producers.

“It really showcases, I think, the incredible excitement, creativity and growth we’re seeing in Canada’s cannabis economy.”

He said the pods give budding new producers the chance to learn from, and build on, the experience of established growers.

There are other turnkey solutions being used across the country, he said, including smaller options for micro cultivation and larger ones for full-scale production.

There are 35 different tradespeople at Delta 9’s construction facility working just on grow pods. The company expects them to be employed for years to come as it tries to keep up with demand. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

He points to producer Green Relief, which has a facility near Hamilton that’s using fish to help grow cannabis through aquaponics, as an example of growing creativity in the industry.

“There is so much diversity in terms of production and so much variability, it’s hard to point to one specific example,” Rewak said.

“Instead, I would point to the entirety of the industry and see what we’re doing.”

‘The globe has eyes on us’

Canopy Growth, which has cannabis production sites in seven provinces across Canada, is using large greenhouse facilities for mass production.

The company said its innovation comes in the design of the room, and it has learned a lot since it started growing in 2014.

Flowering marijuana plants are seen at the Canopy Growth Corporation facility in Smiths Falls, Ont., in this Jan. 4, 2018, file photo. Canopy says its greenhouse model is economically attractive and environmentally sustainable. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

“You can get the cost per gram lower in a greenhouse and there’s less environmental impact to using the power of the sun with supplemental lighting,” said Jordan Sinclair, Canopy’s vice-president of communications.

“And our greenhouses have rain recapture, so it’s a bit of a more economically attractive model but it’s also a much more sustainable model.”

Delta plans to have 600 of its pods stacked inside its own facility by the end of 2019, bringing its production of cannabis to about 17,500 kilograms — roughly $175 million worth at current retail prices.

And Arbuthnot isn’t stopping there — he has his eyes on potential international sales as markets open up for cannabis cultivation globally.

“We’re fortunate here in Canada that a lot of the rest of the globe has eyes on us to see just what we’re doing that’s that’s working in the cannabis space. I think it’s an incredible opportunity.”

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Future of Ottawa: Coffee with Francis Bueckert

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Francis Bueckert: When it comes to the current landscape of coffee-roasting companies and independent cafes in Ottawa, I think we are at a really interesting moment in time. There are more local roasters that are doing artisanal small-batch production—with more attention to the quality and origin of the beans.

With larger corporations such as Starbucks closing locations, it has opened a bit of space for local players to grow. We have been lucky to work with many folks in the coffee-roasting community, and we have found that there is a willingness to collaborate among different coffee roasters. For example, when Cloudforest started back in 2014, we were roasting our coffee at Happy Goat and it was the expertise of their head roaster Hans that helped me learn how to roast. Other companies such as Brown Bag Coffee have also lent a hand when we needed extra roasting capacity. There are others, such as Lulo, Mighty Valley Coffee, Bluebarn, The Artery, and Little Victories that are also part of the growing local coffee community. It’s small roasters like these who have shown me what a coffee community can look like, and that we can help to elevate each other, rather than being locked in competition.

If you care to make a prediction… What’s happening to the local café industry in 2021?

We believe that there is hope and that 2021 can be a big pivot year for small roasters and cafes.

This year will not be ideal from a business point of view. However, it could create a shift in people’s attitude toward where they get their coffee. We are holding out hope that people will support the roasters and cafes that are local to help them economically survive what is in all reality a very difficult time.

It all depends on where consumers decide to go this year. People are starting to recognize that supporting large corporations at this moment will be at the cost of the local roasters and cafes. There is the growing realization that a future where there is only Amazon, Walmart, and Starbucks would be pretty bleak. So we have an opportunity this year to support the kind of local businesses that we want to see thrive.

In your wildest dreams, what will the landscape for local coffee roasters and cafés look like in your lifetime?

In my wildest dreams, all of the coffee roasters and cafés would be locally owned and independent. They would all be focused on direct trade and artisanal coffee. Each different coffee roaster and café would know exactly where their coffee came from. Ideally, each company would be a partnership between the farmers who grow the beans and the people here selling them. There would be a focus on how to cooperate and collaborate with the farmers in the countries of origin to share the benefits around. We would all work together and share orders of cups, lids, and other packaging so that we could get better bulk pricing. In this way, we would make our local coffee community so efficient that the large corporate coffee companies wouldn’t even be able to compete.

We would also like to see people use coffee as a way to create social good. For example, we started Cloudforest as a way of helping support farmers in Ecuador who were taking a stand against large mining companies. This remote community stood up to protect their environment, so that they could have clean drinking water and soil for the next generation. They started an organic coffee cooperative to help show that there are other models of development, and we are doing our part year after year to help support their vision. They have a vision of development that does not include mass deforestation and contamination, and organic coffee is a key (among others) to show that another way forward is possible.

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Special events in the Ottawa Valley dominate annual OVTA tourism awards

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The Ottawa Valley Tourist Association hopes that its annual tourism awards will provide a little sunshine during what is a dark time for local tourism operators because of the pandemic.

The Ottawa Valley Tourism Awards are presented annually by the Ottawa Valley Tourist Association (OVTA) to individuals, businesses, and events that recognize the importance of working together for the growth of the local tourism industry, as well as offering exceptional visitor experiences.

“After a year that saw a lot of businesses in the hospitality and tourism industry being challenged like never before, the annual Ottawa Valley Tourism Awards represent a bit of light on the horizon” said Chris Hinsperger, co-owner of the Bonnechere Caves.

The Ottawa Valley Tourist Association’s (OVTA) Awards Committee co-chairpersons, Meghan James and Chris Hinsperger, said they were very pleased with the recent nominations received, especially in the Special Events category. Submissions were received for The Farm to Fork Dinner Series at the Whitewater Inn; Light up the Valley; The Eganville Curling Clubs’ Rock the Rings; The Ontario Festival of Small Halls ; The Bonnechere Caves On-line Underground Concert Series; The Opeongo Nordic Ski Clubs’ Ski Loppet; The Tour de Bonnechere — Ghost de Tour 2020; and The Bonnechere Caves Rock ‘n Roll Parking Lot Picnic.

“During a time when communities were challenged, it is nice to see that people still made an effort to get together and celebrate, albeit under certain conditions. It just shows the creativity and resiliency of our tourism Community here in the valley” said Meghan James, director of sales at the Pembroke Best Western.

There are three Award categories: The Marilyn Alexander Tourism Champion Award, The Business of Distinction and The Special Event of the Year.

Hinsperger, is excited about this year’s awards.

“During this pandemic the hospitality and tourism industry was the first to be hit, was the hardest hit and will be the last of our industries to fully recover. As Valley entrepreneurs we owe it to ourselves, to our businesses and to our communities to be an active part of that recovery. Our livelihood and economic recovery depends on our efforts. And we will get back to welcoming people from all over the world to share a little bit of the place we are privileged to call home. This awards process leaves myself and others fully optimistic about our positive outcomes.”

Award winners will be announced at the Ottawa Valley Tourist Association’s virtual annual general meeting on Monday, May 31.

The OVTA is the destination marketing organization for the Upper Ottawa Valley and proudly represents more than 200 tourism businesses, comprised of attractions and outfitters, accommodation, food, beverage and retail establishments, artists and galleries, municipalities, as well as media and industry suppliers. The OVTA is supported by the County of Renfrew, Renfrew County municipalities and the City of Pembroke.

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Future of Ottawa: Farming with Jeremy Colbeck

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Jeremy Colbeck: Well first, let’s talk about what we mean by farming. Although farms, and farming as an occupation, are in decline across Canada, they are still a major part of our rural landscape. That’s even more true for a strange city like Ottawa which includes a LOT of rural areas and whose urban boundary takes, what, three hours to cross? About 40 per cent of the rural land in Ottawa is farmland. Most of that farming is corn and soybean cash-crop, as well as some dairy and livestock farming. That’s mostly conventional farming (the kind that is profitable but not exactly where you take your kids on a Saturday).

There are also a lot of agri-tourism businesses in Ottawa, which give you that oh-so-good Saturday spot for family donkey-petting and apple-picking. And it’s totally understandable from a business perspective, but sometimes surprising to find out, that even though they grow some of the Christmas trees they sell, they might also be reselling some that come from much larger farms far away. The farmland around Ottawa is also inflated in price because of its proximity to the city, where it is in demand by would-be hobby farmers—folks who want to do some farming on their property in their spare time but make their money (to subsidize their small-scale farming habit) elsewhere. Unfortunately, many of these properties will have large mansions built on them, which will then make them completely unaffordable for the average farmer

There’s also a segment of small-to-medium-sized Ottawa farms that grow “premium” (artisanal, unique, extra-fresh, ecologically- or organically-grown etc…) products that they sell directly to local eaters via farmers’ markets or other direct marketing channels, including on-farm stores and farm stands. That’s where BeetBox fits in.

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