Leaving the city to work on a farm is often considered to be the dream of retirees and aimless urban teenagers who’ve read Waldon one too many times. And as Canada’s new recreational cannabis market is now the subject of international headlines and national debate, legal pot has become dominated by large corporations, taking and controlling most of the industry through large investments and the building of gargantuan grow facilities.
Yet just as the massive wave of red-eyed cannabis business hysteria and investor money started pouring into the sector, a few small entrepreneurs have found innovative ways to get in the market before most could see past the smoke to the fire.
Danyka Dunseith came to the cannabis industry in 2017, and not by founding an LP, wellness brand, or storefront. Once a public relations specialist, Dunseith walked away from her career in Toronto to convert a family-owned farm in Stratford, Ontario, away from crops like corn, soy, and alfalfa into acres and acres of hemp.
With no farming experience, her first introduction to cannabis was through her final contract in PR. When she was brought on to help promote CBD products, her education in its potential began.
“We’d have 80-year-old women who are like, ‘my doctor can’t prescribe this but I want to learn more.’ I was like, ‘oh my gosh, I want to learn more to be able to tell you,'” she recalls. “And you know, young kids that are suffering from epilepsy. I remember this one client that I spoke to, nothing was working. With their child, I believe nine, on 50 million different pills, and the only thing that was helping was CBD lollipops.
“Stories like that. I was like, wow, this is something.”
Hemp is a crop capable of producing everything from clothing to biofuel. It’s been used for centuries by humans for a variety of purposes. While closely related to recreational cannabis, there’s a common misconception that it is the male version of the same plant. Though the cannabis buds grown by LPs across the country grow exclusively on the female versions of the plant, what we call hemp is another member of the cannabis family. Though it contains very low levels of THC, many different cultivars can be high in CBD.
Dunseith now heads up CannaCollective Inc, a collective of farmers looking to cash in on hemp. While many in her area were skeptical about the potential of it as an agricultural product, the first convert she needed was her grandmother.
“I always talk about that was the biggest stigma that I’d broken,” Dunseith said over the phone to Daily Hive. “She did her research and she was on board.”
Taking a family farm that growing typical cash crops like alfalfa, soy, and corn, Dunseith decided that she wasn’t going to go small, instead, with a head full of confidence and her exhaustive research, she ignored the cautions of other farmers and charged ahead with a sizeable planting of hemp.
Where the former public relations specialist once had to worry about promotional campaigns, she now answered to a very different client: 50 sprawling acres of freshly planted crops.
Despite the warnings, Dunseith had faith that the durability and resiliency of the “cannabis hemp.”
It was a watershed moment for the fledgling farmer. No longer merely a dream, her goals, rooted in her ambition, emerged reaching for the sun. Her first crop went on to yield 93,000 kilograms of hemp biomass ready to be converted into everything from CBD to rope to textiles.
This success doesn’t mean there haven’t been setbacks. Only certain cultivars of hemp are approved for use in Canada. Even importing these approved breeds can be difficult, as Dunseith learned recently.
“We bought Carmagnola, which is an Italian cultivar,” she explained. “It’s 17 feet tall super fibrous — a beautiful, beautiful, plant. It’s still being held at customs. It’s an approved cultivar too by Health Canada. Everything was done by the book, but they still don’t know what to do. Customs won’t release it. We have our import-export license and they’re still holding it.”
Though CannaCollective has access to other types of hemp, she worries that these barriers could stop other, already hesitant farmers from entering the market. “That’s their livelihood and they’d have nothing to put into the ground.”
Dunseith remains forward-thinking, with this year’s crop being close to 55 football fields (71 acres), she’s also found time to travel the world to learn about hemp in places from Nepal to Katmandu, England to Australia. Not merely a student, she’s also become a speaker at numerous cannabis events, including the upcoming Grow Up Cannabis Conference in Niagra Falls.
A true believer in the versatility of her crops, Dunseith hopes the industry will eventually even use hemp-derived plastics for the disposable packaging that is a requirement of recreational products. She is currently working with her business partner to convert a former Christmas tree farm into more crop space, and even hopes that the eventual upkeep on her farmhouse will be done with hemp products as well.
“I’m okay with everyone thinking that I’m cuckoo right now because I know that it will be the way of the future.”