Vertical farm grows higher
They’ve tackled microgreens and herbs. This time, they’ve taken on a new crop – cannabis.
By Greta Chiu
In 2013, husband-and-wife team Brian and Roberta Bain opened Saskatchewan’s first commercial vertical farm. Initially started as a 1300 sq. ft. warehouse of microgreens, Ecobain Gardens grew into a 6000 sq. ft. facility with fresh herbs added into the mix. Known for their eco-friendly growing practices, the Bains are shaking things up again with another crop – cannabis.
Q. This is a huge change! What were some of the key driving factors for switching to cannabis?
A. There were a lot of different driving factors, and it was not an easy decision. Time and place really. Our past business experience lends itself to this industry, shipping living, bare-root products (basil) across western Canada. It is also very rare to have an opportunity like this in a lifetime, and we have the ability to capitalize and execute fairly quickly so that helps.
Q. What are some key advantages to growing cannabis in a vertical farming set-up?
A. Well, we run very lean already. We grow a very large amount in a very small space. It is easier to control limiting factors, easier to manage staff movement and processes. We are so used to rapid crop cycles and the complicated logistics that come along with the nature of our current business. We already have a purpose-built 6000 sq. ft building producing a commercial quantity of plant material and nothing else – we’re set.
Q. What was the process like, switching to cannabis, in terms of paperwork?
A. Well it’s quite the process. It’s a detailed project proposal that goes to Health Canada, similar to what HACCP certification entails. Health Canada also requires RCMP security clearances for our entire board of directors and key employees, so that can take a fair amount of time traditionally.
Q. What were some key changes that you had to make to the facility?
A. We’re changing the inside of our building quite a bit. Within the 6,000 square foot building will have a total of 14,000 square feet of growing canopy space, a tissue culture lab, a large mother room, flowering room, processing area, irrigation room, shipping receiving room, new offices and staff areas… plus our current growing equipment.
We’re adding many security cameras, controlled access on every door, motion detection everywhere, glass break detections systems, tracking systems, GPS systems for vehicles. Adding a total of 14 new dehumidifiers, 6 new zoned climate control systems, new vertical growing systems, LED lighting, a new lab, tissue culture growing room, irrigation system, and a whole lot of new doors.
Q. How similar or different is it to grow cannabis?
A. Growing cannabis starting material is very similar to our basil production. Our SOP’s are very similar; growing times and requirements are similar. The company currently ships root-on, living products throughout western Canada, so cool chain management and logistics are second nature to us. We have become experts at shipping basil in cold Canadian winters – cannabis material is much less temperamental.
Our IPM will be virtually the same, we do not skimp on preventive measures in terms of biologicals, handling practices, pre-work practices for our staff or monitoring. Our clients will rely on our products to be 100 per cent pest-free, so we are sparing no expense to ensure that happens. It honestly comes right down to the smallest details, for example: proper door sweeps, creating a slight positive pressure environment, proper layouts, proper receiving and inspection space, reliable and trusted suppliers, and so on.
Q. Can you give us a sneak peek of the products you’ll be offering?
A. Mother will be starting with a very large germplasm for genetic diversity as providing the highest quality genetics is one of our main focuses. We will be selling all sizes of vegetative plants for commercial and micro producers throughout western Canada, along with a long list of helpful services to the commercial production industry.
Mother will also supply the grow-at-home market within Saskatchewan, through a long list of retail sales clients. As other provinces start to allow plant material, we will expand to neighbouring provinces.
Q. Do you plan on returning to herbs and microgreens in the future?
A. Microgreens? No. But we will be coming back in the coming years in a much bigger way. We’ve done very well in the industry, we have formed huge partnerships that will carry on into the future. Sadly, we are not allowed to disclose how we are planning on doing this just yet…
Q. How have your friends, families and clients reacted to the new venture?
A. To our surprise, extremely well. We have had nothing but positive reactions from friends, family and business partners. The general public has shown excitement and general curiosity. Our phones have not stopped ringing since word has gotten out. Our clients are disappointed, there have been a few tears and heartfelt calls but everyone understands the industry.
Q. Have you had to grow your workforce for this new venture?
A. We are currently on the hunt for a controller, multiple lab technicians, sales executives, and we are keeping our 13 staff we currently employ.
Q. When will product be available?
A. We are aiming for early spring 2019, but it is in Health Canada’s hands.
Stay on top of Brian and Roberta’s story on Twitter or Instagram (@MotherLabs) and at motherlabs.ca.