Rural, small-batch Ontario cannabis farm hopes to enter market of big pot players

·3 min read
Master grower Ted Jarecsni inspects the crop growing at 7 Farms Down. The Guttridge family's Merlin, Ont., farm is expected to be harvesting cannabis plants in September. (Chris Ensing/CBC - image credit)
Master grower Ted Jarecsni inspects the crop growing at 7 Farms Down. The Guttridge family's Merlin, Ont., farm is expected to be harvesting cannabis plants in September. (Chris Ensing/CBC - image credit)

Standing on a mound of dirt dubbed the perch, Jason Guttridge points at a long white house sticking out above fields of corn that blanket most of the land surrounding Merlin, Ont.

"That would be our home farm right there ... beans, wheat and corn," says Guttridge, his brother Bill standing by his side.

Chris Ensing/CBC
Chris Ensing/CBC

The brothers now find themselves staring down a harvest of their own: a first batch of craft cannabis they hope will sell in a market that experts suggest is being saturated by big-time pot producers.

In a gated field paralleled by soybeans and sweet corn, Jason outlines his sales pitch with a simple sentence.

"If you ain't growing the quality — and the industry is full of low quality stuff — you ain't gonna sell it."

Craft Cannabis in Chatham-Kent

In September, it's expected 7 Farms Down, named for the distance the outdoor cannabis crops are from the cash crop farm the Guttridge family grew up on, will be harvesting plants.

The brothers believe they'll have a crop that tests with high amounts of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the compound most responsible for the psychological effects of cannabis.

"If you want to sell, you've got to be over 20 per cent," said Jason's brother Bill, now chief operations officer of 7 Farms Down after years in Windsor's automotive industry.

"All the stuff that we're growing can achieve that easily."

WATCH | Meet the master grower of 7 Farms Down:

The focus on quality over quantity could be enough to separate their product from the competition, according to one market expert.

So will the story behind the brand.

"I think there will be a market for that small-batch producer with an interesting story," said Jay Rosenthal, co-founder and president of the research and analysis firm Business of Cannabis.

He compares the small-batch production of cannabis to craft beer or vineyards where there's opportunity to connect with consumers directly.

"I think there are brands that are coming out of places with interesting stories: very localized, outdoor grown, organic. I think there is a market for that."

Hitting 20 per cent THC should also help, considering the shifts Rosenthal sees in the marketplace.

"Provincial buyers of cannabis like the Ontario Cannabis Store, the wholesaler in cannabis, they have really doubled down on 20 per cent."

Outdoor farm with doors open

Jason sees the interest on a local level nearly every day, noting the slow-moving vehicles staring at the gated operation, initially about 32 hectares with access to expand another 120 or so hectares.

"Normally people flew by," he laughs.

He's quick to point out to people that they aren't Toronto Bay Street types trying to make a buck off of rural southwestern Ontario.

"This is our hometown, Merlin. I went to public school just down the road," said Jason, who decided to spend the wait for their cultivation licence planting and harvesting sweet corn to donate to a local food bank.

He's given full-on tours to people who have knocked on the security trailer and clarified that they weren't growing pine trees.

While he still has to harvest his first crop and see results from testing, Jason is already thinking of his next move, to sell products on site, once regulated by the province.

"Put up a little storefront... it's like a wine tour."

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