As we approach the legalization of recreational cannabis, residents of Leamington are doing what they’ve done for generations: growing in greenhouses.
Jawad Skieneh, Master Grower with Natura Naturals, is one of Canada’s most experienced cannabis growers. However, after graduating from Niagara College’s Horticulture program with a Greenhouse Technician degree, Skieneh immediately started working at a 106-acre cucumber facility —the largest in North America. He has also commercially grown tomatoes and ‘high wire’ peppers, and done entomology work for Amco Produce. So when Canada legalized cannabis for medicinal use, Skieneh turned his passion for horticulture into his career. No matter what plant he’s working with, Skieneh feels right at home growing in greenhouses based in Leamington, ON.
“There is this huge misconception that high-quality cannabis flowers cannot be grown in a greenhouse,” he says. “We’re doing the same thing that’s being done in warehouses, but we’re doing it cost-effectively while following the same security guidelines and protocols as any indoor facility.”
In working with Natura Naturals — who have had their ACMPR cultivation license since Sept. 2017 — Skieneh is overseeing one of Leamington’s most versatile greenhouse operations. The company has been growing produce in the area since1985, and now boasts 32 unique cannabis strains. Their 662,000 square-foot greenhouse is currently undergoing a phased retrofit that’s expected to bring their production capacity to about 70,000 kilograms of cannabis flower per year once completed in 2019.
Producing high-quality cannabis in greenhouses
Through a combination of sun, lighting, and blackout curtains, Skieneh is able to produce high-quality cannabis plants that are harvested five to six times per year. Although it produces the same quality flowers as warehouse-grown cannabis and uses the same systems to control air quality and mould, greenhouse growing has the advantage of significantly lower start-up costs and ongoing operating expenses. Furthermore, by primarily using solar energy, greenhouse growing is much more eco-friendly.
“The cost of production in a warehouse is often four to five times the cost of growing in a greenhouse,” says Skieneh. “But what people don’t understand is that you can’t match the wattage of the sun.”
Leamington, the greenhouse capital of the world
Known as Canada’s sunshine capital, Leamington has long been considered the world leader in greenhouse production capacity and technology. The city has whole heartedly welcomed the burgeoning cannabis industry, making it one of Canada’s leading cannabis production hubs. However, unlike other hubs, the vast majority of growing in Leamington is done in greenhouses.
The economic development related to the growth of the greenhouse industry — be it for cannabis or vegetables — is providing Leamington with new jobs and a stronger tax base. The municipality has been working to upgrade utilities along the Highway 77 corridor, while the town’s main water line was also recently upgraded. Union Gas has laid new infrastructure to ensure there is enough natural gas available, and Hydro One has installed new lines.
“The biggest players in the licensed cannabis producer system are teaming up with the biggest players in the vegetable system to substantially increase greenhouse capacity and production,” says Skieneh. “Within two years Leamington will be the cannabis growing capital — not just of Canada, but of the world.”