With a population just shy of 450, the western-rooted nearby community of Cremona has churned out its fair share of championship rodeo stock.
And now it’s rapidly becoming known for churning out millions of dollars of legal medical marijuana each month, courtesy of the only licensed producer in Alberta – Aurora.
Aurora has also set the wheels in motion to donate tens of thousands of dollars worth of supplies to an urban farm that grows fresh food for the less fortunate.
Grow Calgary will be the recipient of countless pots, trays and lids (mini greenhouses) and composted soil to grow their own greens on a weekly basis.
With a mantra of food access and affordability for all, Grow Calgary founder and food activist Paul Hughes is ramping up for the fifth growing season at the 11-acre urban “accidental farm” located just west of Canada Olympic Park.
Due to the stringent protocol and risk of contamination, Aurora is unable to use the growing tools or the soil more than once.
“For a long time we were recycling it (the pots, trays, lids) but I’ve been watching what Paul has been doing for a while and the light went on – no pun intended,” said chief cultivator and co-founder Chris Mayerson.
Hughes said the ongoing supply of vegetable growing instruments to help his team of 10,000 volunteers will “change the way we are growing food” and will result in a “substantial” increase in food production.
“These guys are the NASA of plant biology … their capacity to manage growing environments is unrivaled,” said Hughes, likening the Aurora team to the high-performance coaches of the growing world.
Hughes said his primary concern for this growing season is his need for a water licence – something that the province has yet to issue, due to the South Saskatchewan River Basin water licence moratorium that has been in place since 2006.
No stranger to challenging all levels of government, Hughes said this NDP government, which claims to champion climate change, needs to realize that there is no greater example of sustainability than what is at work at Grow Calgary.
He and his team will address their water needs as best as possible through mulching and the implementation of water capture technologies.
Some 250 Grow gardeners showed up last week to pick up their buckets and seeds to take home for early germination. They will plant the sprouting seedlings in a couple of months on site. The next early germination gathering is March 19.
The interior spaces for early germination on site include greenhouses; an earth ship made of packed soil, rubber tires and repurposed materials; and a Sea-Can veggie grow house.
Volunteers are always encouraged and Hughes said a number of Cochranites have rolled up their sleeves to get dirty over the last few years. Grow Calgary donates fresh, organic produce to more than 20 organizations each year.
A look inside
A tour of Aurora conducted by Mayerson and lead grower John Barnet quietly reveals that business is booming at the 55,000 sq. ft. facility that is blanketed with more than 160 cameras.
Clad in plastic protective garb from head to toe, the duo discuss daily operations as they lead the way from one fully-secured room to the next. Topics include keeping up with a seemingly endless growing demand for their product, the future of legalization and a passion for growing a product from seed that has proven therapeutic benefits.
The knowledgeable team lends credence to the image that the future of North American corporate culture swag will be infused with skateboard shoes and baseball caps.
Aurora is operating at full capacity and will be opening up an estimated 800,000 sq. ft. facility in the County of Leduc, south of Edmonton, later this fall with plenty of anticipated employment opportunities to come.
“We are making history,” said Barnet, adding that he is passionate about what chalks up to as “making a difference in peoples’ lives” by providing them a therapeutic, natural pain relief option.
“It’s hard to find someone who is not using medical marijuana who doesn’t know someone who has benefitted from it,” added Mayerson.
Walking through the halls of the tin-lined, timber-framed building leads from one operations room to the next – a laboratory; a cool, odourless, white-lit cloning room; early and late flowering rooms; drying rooms; a warehouse and many others.
Inside these sterile rooms, with a perfect temperature of between 25 C and 30 C is where “rare genetics and classic favourites” grow to maturity over an eight-week period.
There are more than 40 varieties in the genetic lab and 10 in production at all times, comprised of sativas, indicas and hybrids.
Aurora growers cultivate strains with varying degrees of THC (the “high” feeling that research links to immune system regulation, anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties of medicinal marijuana) and CBD (linked to anti-inflammatory, pain relieving, anti-nausea, anti-anxiety and muscle relaxing functions of medical pot).
Street names prevail – L.A. Confidential, Blue Dream, Sour Diesel, Querkle and Cannatonic, to name a few.
The lab-tested, gamma-irradiation free medicinal varieties are packed and shipped mail order to their growing list of more than 12,000 Aurora clients.
For Mayerson, the sky is the limit with how far Aurora will grow – especially considering the pending legalization of marijuana under the Trudeau government.
With some 90 staff at that location and another 60 in the organization, Aurora is a publicly-traded corporation and has been licensed to grow and sell their products since 2015.
According to Health Canada, there are currently 39 licensed producers in Canada – 24 in Ontario, eight in B.C., two in Saskatchewan and one in each Alberta, New Brunswick, P.E.I and Quebec.