Berries before buds: farmer focuses on fruit, passes on pot

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Berries before buds: farmer focuses on fruit, passes on pot

A farmer in Portugal Cove-St. Philips says the red tape involved in growing medicinal marijuana has him turning his green thumb to the fresh fruit and vegetable market instead. 

"We produce three per cent of what we actually eat. Everybody knows what happens when the boats stop running," says Ian McDonald of Bickerstaffe Farms and Nurseries Ltd.

"Newfoundland can feed itself ... fruits, lettuce, herbs, stuff like bok choy, Chinese cabbage, chard, beans — all these can be grown 12 months of the year. It's learning how to do it."

McDonald had been gearing up to grow medicinal marijuana — a process that started three years ago. 

"The cost was hitting well up into the millions and the security alone was totally ridiculous," McDonald told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show .

"It was the marijuana versus the fruit."

Strawberries to start 

It wasn't just the slow start that prompted McDonald to wane on weed.

"The benefits [of growing fruits and vegetables] in the province are astronomical. Ten farms at 200 acres [each] are going to need 7,000 to 10,000 workers," he said.

"They're not available in Newfoundland. They would have to be brought in from Mexico, Cuba or Haiti. But picture the benefits to the town — these people have to eat, some of them smoke, they're going to need gas, they're going to need soft drinks and on and on."

McDonald said he's been growing strawberries year-round for three years now, and he's about 10 months away from commercial production. 

Gimme shelter

McDonald acknowledges the tough growing climate, but believes there is a proven method to growing a bounty of fruits and vegetables. 

"Most farmers here are familiar with using land in the three to four months of summer where stuff will actually grow properly," he said.

"But very few understand greenhouses. Everything you know about agriculture — when you walk in the door of a greenhouse, leave it behind you, because very little of it applies anymore."

McDonald said it's a process that involves enforcing dormancy on plants, ensuring specific temperatures and humidity levels at just the right time and other details. 

"We can actually put this in the dead of winter in Labrador ... the people in Nain can actually have fresh strawberries," he said, adding it would take a certain type of greenhouse and grow lights. 

McDonald said that can be a reality, but people have to get on the same page — something he said hasn't happened yet. 

"Most of us are sick of beating our head against a stone wall," McDonald said.

"It's only going to change if everyone's in the same mind. But we need to develop it, we need support from all levels of government, and I think this is totally doable and I'm not alone."