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Agriculture

High times: optimism in Smiths Falls, the little town that marijuana saved

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SMITHS FALLS, Ont. — The place pot put on the map, weed capital of Canada, the little town that marijuana saved — folks in Smiths Falls have many ways of describing their community’s transformation, but all of them stick to a common theme.

The Ontario community, home to fewer than 9,000 people, had become all too familiar with the pain of economic hardship over the years.

It now finds itself in an enviable position: at the leading edge of the global, multibillion-dollar cannabis industry.

The area, about an hour’s drive southwest of Ottawa, is home to the headquarters for Tweed Inc. and parent company Canopy Growth Corp., which make up one of the world’s largest licensed cannabis companies.

Along with its wider international expansion, around Smiths Falls the producer has been growing like a weed.

The company has created about 800 direct jobs in the community since it started gradually taking over a shuttered Hershey chocolate factory about five years ago. As its local footprint gets bigger, Tweed has also bought and begun to revitalize other buildings around town — some of which had been boarded up for more than a decade.

It has made its mark in the medical marijuana business and the next chapter opens Wednesday, when Canada becomes the first Group of Seven country to legalize recreational marijuana.

People in Smiths Falls are optimistic the end of recreational pot prohibition will be another step towards ending a particularly difficult stretch for the local economy.

“Virtually everybody you talk to would say this has been a real godsend to our community,” Shawn Pankow said in an interview inside the town’s new welcome centre.

“Our sense of optimism now is high.”

About a decade ago, the story was different. Several major employers packed up and left town, taking some 1,500 jobs with them.

Locals say grocery stores closed, neighbours moved away in search of work and the lawns of many deserted homes around town were consumed by tall, out-of-control weeds. The difficult times brought social problems — some people recall referring to the community as “Little Chicago” because of rising crime and hard drug use.

The Hershey facility’s closure really stung. It was a symbol for the community and used to attract flocks of chocolate-loving tourists.

The town’s tourism hopes now rest on Tweed’s new welcome centre, housed in the same building that used to sell broken chocolate bars at a deep discount.

The experience, however, is focused on all things cannabis.

Visitors watch a video on the history of pot use and its prohibition, and can gaze through windows at production rooms covered with jungles of the unmistakable leafy plants.

The community’s economic and social progress is still in its early stages, but some businesses say they’re already benefiting from an increase in tourists and the company’s employees.

“There’s certainly a lot of growth happening, but I think there’s still a lot to come,” said Amy Rensby, whose C’est Tout Bakery has seen a healthy increase in business.

The real estate market has also seen a lift and now multiple offers on a single property have gone from being a rarity to something that’s common, said Pauline Aunger, the broker of record for Royal LePage Advantage. The arrival of bidding wars means some houses are now selling for more than their listed prices, she added.

Ken Manwell, who’s running for council in the upcoming municipal election, said there’s new construction all over town.

“Up until the last couple of years, nothing was happening — it was really a dead situation,” said Manwell as he sat with friends in front of the Royal Canadian Legion.

For many, evidence of Smiths Falls’ new-found importance can be summed up in two words: Snoop Dogg.

The world-famous rapper and entrepreneur has partnered with Tweed to distribute his brand of cannabis products.

In August, Snoop Dogg visited Smiths Falls, where he checked out the facility and met employees and locals. He also performed a show for more than 5,000 people.

“That was pretty epic,” said longtime resident Pam MacDonald, who watched Snoop’s performance. 

“It’s crazy in this town, yeah, you don’t see too many of anybody in this town.”

Smiths Falls also held its first-ever Pride Parade in the summer, an event the mayor said received a big boost of support with the participation of Tweed employees.

But even enthused locals will admit that a vein of skepticism runs through town. Not everyone is comfortable with the idea of becoming linked to a substance in the process of shaking off the shackles of prohibition.

MacDonald, who smokes weed, said: “There’s still your odd people that will just be snotty about it — they gotta get used to it now.”

There are also fears about the rising rental costs for people who have so far been unable to benefit, directly or indirectly, from the industry.

One thing is certain: Tweed has caught the attention of investors well beyond the borders of Smiths Falls.

The stock market value of Canopy Growth is nearly $14.7 billion. Other major licensed cannabis producers — in larger cities — include Tilray Inc. of Nanaimo, B.C., which has a stock market value of almost $17.5 billion, and Edmonton-based Aurora Cannabis Inc. at $12.8 billion.

Bruce Linton, Canopy’s founder and CEO, said people from the around the world have been visiting the Tweed factory to learn more about the promising industry.

“Last week, I had to present in London, Paris, Smiths Falls and New York,” Linton said in an interview.

“That pattern was impossible … five years ago — and now it’s sort of sensible.”

Linton said he chose Smiths Falls at time when his young company needed a big building. The community, which was struggling at the time, was very supportive, he said.

“I don’t know that everybody’s going to work in the cannabis industry, but I think a lot of people thought they weren’t going to work, period,” Linton said. 

“And they weren’t very motivated and they didn’t feel very proud of where they were.”

Around town there are no obvious signs of the cannabis industry’s presence — no billboards, no posters.

But some already want the local water tower to one day feature the well-known image of a marijuana leaf.

Until it received a fresh paint job several years ago, the tower featured a Hershey bar with the slogan: “Smiths Falls — Chocolate Capital of Ontario.”

Carol Lawrence, a former tour guide at the Hershey plant, supports the idea of a tower makeover. She’s now a tour guide at the Tweed visitor centre and uses the same entrance she did many years back.

“If someone had told me five years ago that I’d be standing working at a cannabis factory, I would look at them and say they’re crazy,” said Lawrence, whose husband was laid off by Hershey after more than 35 years on the job. 

“And look at me now.”

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Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press

Storytelling is in our DNA. We provide credible, compelling multimedia storytelling and services in English and French to help captivate your digital, broadcast and print audiences. As Canada’s national news agency for 100 years, we give Canadians an unbiased news source, driven by truth, accuracy and timeliness.

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Agriculture

Why Canadians Should Care About Land Loss

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Why Canadians Should Care About Land Loss

Developments are increasingly taking over Canadian farmland. Farms once took up much of Canadian land. However, that case is not true today. Only about 5% of Canada’s land is considered prime farmland. This prime land borders one of Canada’s fastest-growing regions, and once suburban development overtakes it, Canadian farmers will have a challenging time providing food for the cities.

Farmers in Canada make their livelihood by planting, growing, harvesting and distributing food to the Canadian populations. Without land, both farmers and the rest of those living in Canada will not get fresh, Canadian grown produce.

Here are some reasons why Canadian farmers should care about land loss:

  1. Farmland Provides Food

While this is an apparent reason, it’s an essential one. Prime farmland in Canada produces food for major Canadian cities. As farmers continue to lose land, they have to rely on a smaller acreage to make the same amount of food — if not more — for the growing population.

Over the past 10 years, almost 1 million hectares of agricultural land has diminished due to development and growing populations. Agriculture continues to adapt to land loss. However, further technological advancements must first take place to grow enough produce vertically rather than horizontally.

  1. Land Preservation Will Help the Economy

Farmland preservations come with a wealth of economic benefits. Agriculture contributes to the economy through the following ways:

  • Sales: For the economy to survive, there needs to be consumer demands and sales. Almost everyone purchases produce, so there will always be a demand for those goods. Without land to grow agricultural products, no sales will be made, and the economy could suffer.
  • Job opportunities: Less than 2% of Canada’s population works in the agriculture industry. While it’s not much, that’s still over 750,000 people. Preserving farmland shows a commitment to the industry. Land loss would create job loss. However, maintaining the farmland — and even reclaiming it, along with pastures — could boost the sector and, therefore, the economy. It would provide unemployed people with job security.
  • Secondary markets: Farmers are just one part of the food business. Because of farmers and farmland, secondary markets can thrive. These would include processing businesses, restaurants, schools, grocery stores and even waste management companies.

Canadian farmers should care about land loss because standing back and allowing companies to overtake the farmland could seriously affect the economy.

  1. Farmland Benefits the Environment

Wildlife often depends upon farmland for both food and habitat. Various types of farmland create diverse habitats for many different species. Without land protection, these habitats and food sources would be destroyed, leaving many animals without a place to survive. Many would have difficulty finding a native habitat.

Additionally, growing crops helps eliminate some of the carbon dioxide released into the air. Air pollution could decrease for Canadian cities as long as no more farmland is used for development.

One major problem occurring with Canadian farmland is desertification. This happens when the soil loses nutrients and becomes barren. The urbanization of Canadian farmland is the primary contributor to desertification, which speeds up climate change and harms the environment. Keeping farmland as-is will slow down climate change.

  1. Land Loss Affects Farmers’ Jobs

Perhaps the main reason why Canadian farmers should care about land loss is because their livelihood could be taken away. If they don’t have the means to keep up with technological advancements in the agricultural industry, they will not be able to continue their jobs if they experience land loss.

Agriculture is an essential industry. Not everyone can pick up the skills needed to grow their own food, and so many people depend upon farmers for nutrition and goods.

Take a Stand to Preserve Farmland

Farmland is a worthwhile and precious resource for many people. Reduction in farmland acreage will hurt Canadian farmers and the rest of the population, the economy and the environment. Taking steps to prevent more land loss can slow the rates of destruction and keep natural habitats thriving for both humans and animalls.

Click here read more stories by Emily Folk. 

I’m Emily Folk, and I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania. Growing up I had a love of animals, and after countless marathons of watching Animal Planet documentaries, I developed a passion for ecology and conservation.

Canadian Agriculture More Energy Intensive, More Efficient

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Agriculture

Canadian Agriculture More Energy Intensive, More Efficient

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Canadian Agriculture More Energy Intensive, More Efficient

It’s no secret that agriculture has contributed to climate change through various means. For example, you may know that livestock generates greenhouse gas emissions due to how farms process it. That said, it’s now clear that farmers have found sustainable ways to offset those contributions. In Canada, it’s all about energy use.

Here’s how Canadian farmers have become more efficient as they raise crops and livestock, setting a standard the world should follow.

Energy Demand and Consumption Have Fluctuated

The demand for energy has increased across the agricultural sector as a whole. However, it’s key to note that farmers have begun to use less energy despite that fact. That points to more efficient practices. The farmers who complete their work productively save time, money and energy. As a result, Canadian workers have reduced their energy consumption per dollar by 17%. That’s thanks to sustainability.

The most common energy sources include fuel, gas and electricity. It’s how farmers use those resources that counts. Combined with technology choices and new practices, it’s clear that efficiency is more achievable than ever.

What Contributes to This Phenomenon?

It’s crucial for people in agriculture to explore eco-friendly alternatives. The grasslands that many western Canadian farmers cultivate contains excess carbon, so you can imagine what the country as a whole holds underneath its surface. Farmers have now adopted new methods to adjust how they harvest their crops. These systems are better for production, as well as soil and seed health overall.

The agriculture industry has gone through many changes, too. There are fewer farms — but those that still operate have employed agricultural technology to be as efficient as possible. These tools include different equipment that cuts down on time to increase proficiency. Plus, it’s now more common to use solar power as an alternative to traditional energy solutions.

Why Accuracy and Precision Matters

It’s a lot easier to be energy efficient when you don’t waste your resources. The means farmers practiced before they used specific innovations often created a time deficit. If you have a smaller machine, you likely need to do twice as much work. However, when you have access to equipment that fits your field, you don’t have to be as wasteful. The accuracy and precision created by technology make this a reality.

Soil Conservation Is Led by Ranchers

Many farmers have looked to ranchers for help. It’s a native part of ranching to preserve topsoil and other elements that are inherently sustainable. As a result, it seems like ranchers have been leading the charge against climate change for decades. The tactics they use to avoid tilling soil, for example, help preserve the amount of carbon that lies underneath the Earth’s surface.

The “no-till” practice is efficient in its own right. Rather than till your soil to plant a new crop, you simply leave behind what’s already there. This method is much better for soil nutrition, and it can keep carbon exposure at bay. As a result, you have much fewer carbon emissions. In general, the idea of soil conservation isn’t a new one, but old tricks can still work alongside modern technology.

The Future of Agriculture in Canada Looks Bright

If farmers continue on this path, it’ll be clear that climate solutions are at the forefront of their minds. These efforts create more benefits for them as they save time and money. Plus, there’s always the responsibility of maintaining the planet’s health. After all, without a strong ecosystem, agriculture would suffer. Through means that are more accurate and conservative, Canadian farmers have been able to become more efficient. Click here read more stories by Emily Folk. 

I’m Emily Folk, and I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania. Growing up I had a love of animals, and after countless marathons of watching Animal Planet documentaries, I developed a passion for ecology and conservation.

 

 

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