The move towards a farm-to-table system in Canada’s legal cannabis sector is gaining momentum. In Alberta, growers are joining those in B.C. and Ontario in pushing for the right to provide customers the opportunity to purchase and sample the product right where it’s grown.
It’s not hard to imagine a future where people can tour farms and facilities, taste, and interact with cannabis the same way they already do with wine at wineries or beer at breweries.
Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Well, in Canada, it’s a future that may actually be possible.
The future of farmgate
Some provincial and national regulators are signalling they’re ready embrace the idea, but for many craft and microgrowers struggling to compete with the larger LPs, they can’t move quickly enough.
“It’s hard for us when we have so much price compression in the market to really differentiate yourself from the hundreds of other cannabis producers out there,” says Kieley Beaudry, co-founder of Parkland Flower Inc., a microgrowers based outside of Edmonton. “The way the players in the craft wine industry have been able to differentiate themselves is through tourism. It’s through being able to create an experience and have people pay for that experience as opposed to just a product. I’d love to see it go that way.”
Beaudry and her peers have been struggling to compete in a provincial landscape that does not allow for direct-to-consumer cannabis sales. Alberta’s Ministry has yet to make any of the necessary amendments to the existing legal framework to allow for it, but will be “examining the approach in other jurisdictions to help inform what future opportunities there may be in Alberta,” according to Jerrica Goodwin, press secretary to Alberta’s Treasury Board and Finance.
One of the other jurisdictions they’ll likely be watching is nextdoor in British Columbia, where the province recently pledged to develop the way it allows growers to sell cannabis.
“We’ve heard clearly how important these kinds of sales are for smaller cannabis producers trying to get a foothold in a market currently dominated by larger players,” said Mike Farnworth, B.C.’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, in a press release. “Now more than ever, our government is committed to supporting B.C. businesses and encouraging people to buy local, and that includes creating conditions for cannabis businesses of all sizes to succeed.”
“Farmgate stores provide another avenue for consumers to choose legal and is a great opportunity to further capture the illegal market.”
— Joanna Hui, OCS Communications Manager
Among the initiatives is a proposed farmgate sales program that will allow growers the right to sell direct to consumers from their sites. That’s slated to launch in 2022 and will likely be taken advantage of by growers of all capacities.
Jesse McConnell, CEO at Rubicon Organics, explains how a farmgate system and potential facility tours could benefit larger growers like their Simply Bare. “The economics probably wouldn’t be as substantial for us as for some of the smaller operations— it would be more about providing an experience for the consumer.”
“If we set aside regulation and envision my blue-sky scenario, you’d be able to come on-site and see our commitment to sustainability…starting from the ground up. You’d have the opportunity to tour the facility in a bio-secure and safe way and then there’d be some insight into some of the manufacturing processes. The consumer would also have the opportunity to taste not only the products that we offer on the market but to taste some of the R&D offerings that would otherwise maybe not make it all the way to the store shelf.”
Encouraging Canadians to buy local (and legal) cannabis
Ontario, meanwhile, is already in the process of finalizing the framework of its farmgate system, which oddly forces licensed producers to buy products back from the Ontario Cannabis Store before selling them on-site. OCS communications manager Joanna Hui says details should be finalized in the coming months and that about a dozen LPs of varying sizes have expressed interest in farmgate stores.
“Farmgate stores provide another avenue for consumers to choose legal and is a great opportunity to further capture the illegal market,” says Hui. “Farmgate stores allow cannabis connoisseurs to engage directly with licensed producers, as well as for new consumers to explore different cannabis products. We have received positive feedback from both the producers and consumers and we look forward to supporting the launch of farmgate stores in Ontario.”
So, it seems the farmgate future is all but inevitable, in B.C. and Ontario at least, but when might the “tasting room” be open?
With no word about on-site consumption being allowed by Health Canada anytime soon, that remains a daydream for now. But, boy, what a daydream it is…