Five years ago, if you took a drive through rural Brant County, you would have seen what was once a typical Canadian agricultural landscape: a tawny expanse of corn and wheat that extend deep into the flat Southern Ontario horizon line. But today, a giant swathe of this rust-coloured countryside has since seen the integration of a new crop, one that has given Canadians a reason to get excited about outdoor agriculture in a way they haven’t in decades. Here, the sea of yellow corn husks and wheat stalks now recede into fields of emerald green with smatterings of purple—a colourful mix of plants that together comprise 48North’s “Good:Farm,” one of the country’s first licensed outdoor cannabis grows.
Spanning an impressive 100-acres, Good:Farm is a jaw-dropping conglomeration of Green Crush, Silver Lemon, and many other cannabis cultivars that grow naturally under the Ontario sun. From a distance, these plants blend easily into their rural, agricultural surroundings. But make no mistake: those who lay eyes on 48North’s cannabis kingdom are witnessing nothing less than history being made. In fact, Good:Farm represents the very first time that this type of legal, large-scale, outdoor grow has existed in the country in over 80 years.
“When we started, outdoor growing was not permitted legally in Canada,” says Kirsten Gauthier, the Chief Marketing Officer at 48North, who admits they didn’t originally set out to create the cannabis leviathan that she is part of today. “But as soon as the rules changed we jumped at the opportunity. There were a number of reasons for this: the environment, customer demand for natural products, and the fact that outdoor product permits for the development of cost accessible products that do not jeopardize quality.”
The demand for environmentally friendly, natural cannabis products is something that is often ignored by large-scale cannabis growers, who often prefer the stability of a controlled environment, even if it means using highly unpopular products like pesticides. But the data on just how important these natural, ecologically-responsible growing methods are to consumers means that spurning them is not just irresponsible, but also bad for business.
Last year in the United States, a national survey conducted by Canivate Growing Systems Ltd. found that, more than almost any other factor, cannabis consumers want their products to be cultivated with organic, ecologically responsible growing practices. Among those who responded to the survey, nearly 80% of cannabis consumers supported stronger environmental standards, while 64% claimed that they would pay more for eco-friendly, organically grown cannabis. This number jumped up to 86% when consumers were asked about their support for cannabis cultivated in a way that conserves water, 88% for cannabis grown without chemicals, and 92% for cannabis grown without pesticides. The results demonstrate a simple truth about the future of the cannabis industry: today’s consumers overwhelmingly want organic, eco-friendly products—and most will pay more for it.
This is something that 48North has intuitively known since launching Good:Farm in 2019. “In 2020, consumers make brand choices based on shared values and trust,” Says Kirsten Gauthier. “Taking environmental stewardship seriously and the development of natural products are core to our identity both because it is the right thing to do, but also because it is what consumers demand today.”
While consumers say they are willing to shell out more money for eco-friendly products, 48North is determined to go in the opposite direction: using their advantage as an outdoor farm to cultivate high quality products that are more economically accessible. And while many cannabis consumers have grown up hearing stories that indoor, hydroponically grown cannabis is the be-all-end-all of flower, if you’re seeking a potent strain that with powerful effects, you might be doing yourself a disservice by smoking indoor-grown products. The reason for this has to do with the way that a cannabis plant—or any plant, for that matter)—grows.
A plant’s growth potential—and in the case of cannabis, the cannabinoid contents they produce—is realized in accordance to the type of light it receives. Since plants harness light’s energy to produce food, the higher intensity of light that’s available, the more a plant can engage in photosynthesis (the plant’s process of feeding itself) and the more it will grow.
While there are some powerful indoor growing lights on the market, there isn’t a type of artificial lighting that can compete with the sun. That’s because unlike artificial lights, sunlight contains within it all of the colours in the light spectrum, which are essential to a plant’s photosynthesis process. That’s why plants in their natural setting, beneath the sun, are not only able to create higher levels of cannabinoids—THC, CBD, THCA, among others—but also contain a more full-bodied terpene profile.
48North, for their part, have harnessed this natural power of the sun to produce cultivars with astounding cannabinoid levels. Like most outdoor grows in Canada, much of 48North’s flower is destined to be converted into next-generation products like topicals. But they also do something unique for an outdoor grow: they actually sell outdoor sun-grown flower. This outdoor, sun-grown cannabis is sustainable right down to the packaging it comes in—they even have a Clean Green certification to prove it.
In all, Good:Farm’s 100-acre property is home to 7 varieties of photoperiod plants. Between these varieties, 48North is able to produce a wide array of high THC as well as high CBD products, and variation between terpenes. Some plants have high Limonene contents, for example, a terpene known for its citrusy fragrance, while others may have high Myrcene levels. Other cultivars, such as those with between 12 – 14 percent CBD contents.
Cultivating these varieties outdoors, without the use of any pesticides, isn’t without some challenges. For starters, there’s considerations to make such as the fertility of the soil, what types of crops were grown on that land before they arrived, and of course the climate of the region. These factors that are beyond the control of 48North’s master cultivators—specifically the variability in the weather—are the biggest challenges that the company faces. But in the eyes of Rebecca Spierenburg, Good:Farm Manager, cultivating an all-natural, sun-grown product is worth the extra difficulties they face if it means providing their customers a cleaner, higher-quality product that better serves the land they grow on.
“At 48North, we care about the communities we operate in and try our very best to be strong environmental stewards,” says Kirsten Gauthier. “From the beginning I set out to create a values-focused brand, one that was progressive, authentic, and socially conscious. We set out to create a brand that people could get behind, one they felt represented their values and their aspirations.”