Spotlight: Fish-powered Canadian cannabis by Tanner Stewart

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“We endeavour to farm as waste-free as possible. We don’t use sprays, no herbicides, no pesticides, no nothing. And it’s as organic as you can possibly get.”

About eight years ago, with his first child on the way, Tanner Stewart got into agricultural farming.

A serial entrepreneur, Stewart started his career in construction, but with the future heavy on his mind, he began looking into sustainable business ventures that were good for people and the planet.

In 2013, he began working with NutraPonics, an Alberta-based company dedicated to the development and commercialization of indoor vertical aquaponics farming technology. Aquaponics, where raising fish is combined with growing plants, is touted as an energy-efficient way to farm.

Stewart also served as the executive producer on The Need To Grow, a 2019 documentary film narrated by Rosario Dawson that focuses on living soil and sustainable food systems.

While lettuce was the main focus of the vertical farming company, Stewart began to kick the tires on getting into cannabis.

“I said, ‘I’ve been smoking weed for 18 years and eating lettuce for five.’ So I transitioned to the cannabis space and bought this building here in St. Stephen,” he tells The GrowthOp.

That was the beginning of Stewart Farms, a New Brunswick-based indoor aquaponics and sustainable farming company. And though he’s tending to cannabis instead of lettuce these days, he says his mission has remained the same. From dried flower, pre-rolls, topicals and bath bombs, the company aims “to create products as sustainably as possible that can help people feel well.”

You’ve had success with bath bombs, which exist in a product category that hasn’t quite had the uptake that people initially predicted. What do you think is driving that?

Most of our bath bombs are named after cannabis strains and the intention behind the original line was to educate people about those strains.

The whole concept was people don’t understand what makes cannabis strains different from each other, but people understand essential oils. And since that is what makes cannabis strains different from each other, we thought let’s make these bath bombs and let’s give them away. The formulations of the bath bombs are modelled on the essential oils and terpenes that form those particular cannabis strains.

Our original bath bombs are Bubba Kush, Blue Dream and Chocolate Hash Berry. All of those are cannabis strains. The Bubba Kush bath bomb has roughly the same terpenes in it that the actual Bubba Kush strain has. We tried to mimic the chemical composition with botanical terpenes.

In early 2020, we made 10,000 non-infused bath bombs based on three different strains and we gave them away for free. It was to promote our company and it was to educate people about cannabis strains and what makes them different and to draw attention to the essential oils.

Fast forward to April 2020, and my brilliant product development manager who is now our chief operations officer, Catrina Jackson, said, ‘Wait a minute. Nobody has any infused bath bombs on the legal market.’

We knew that people already loved them without any active cannabinoids in them so from there, it was kind of like this immediate realization that we can get this product across the entire country. This product is not on the market and the product is amazing before we put an active drug component into it. And then we just put our foot on the gas pedal.

What should people know about aquaponics?

The first thing people can assume, and quite accurately, is that any farmer that is utilizing aquaponics in any way shape or form, which would include Aqualitas, Stewart Farms and Habitat in the Canadian industry, is we believe in circular sustainable farming.

We endeavour to farm as waste-free as possible. We don’t use sprays, no herbicides, no pesticides, no nothing. And it’s as organic as you can possibly get.

We have a fish farm on-site. They’re very well looked-after tilapia and we eat our fish. So we have a fertilizer factory or supply on-site produced by our fish that is also providing a healthy and sustainable protein to people. We also use fish effluent (waste). We actually supplement that with our living soil and we get beautiful flavour profiles in our cannabis.

Out of our genetics, we’re hammering THC levels, we’re knocking them out of the park. In our pheno hunts, we’re throwing away stuff that is like 24, 25 per cent. Our top three are 27 to 31 per cent THC.

So the reason I bring this up is that the days of people thinking that you can’t get great numbers out of organics are gone. In fact, they’re annihilated.

What made you decide on your location?

I’m originally from New Brunswick. My construction company is still in Alberta and I was there for 16 years. And I saw this industry as something that could help vastly improve the economy of New Brunswick.

And Alberta and New Brunswick are yin and yang. Alberta is one of the most vibrant economies in Canada and then you look at New Brunswick, it’s arguably the poorest economic performer in Canada. New Brunswick needs to be more economically vibrant.

So that was one of the altruistic reasons I wanted to come back. And this industry was perfect for New Brunswick because New Brunswick has the third-lowest electrical rates in Canada. As well as very competitive labour rates and that comes from the province needing more jobs and more innovation.

Oh, and affordable real estate, as well. So I was able to get into this 100,000 square foot facility on 52 acres of land in the industrial park, for prices that you or I would have not been able to get anywhere else in Canada. My barrier to entry into a much larger facility that we can grow into over time was significantly lower here and we’re all competing countrywide, so why wouldn’t I want to be in one of the most affordable jurisdictions in Canada to operate?

Being located right on the ocean, does the company have farm gate plans in the works?

We do and we’re just sorting through that right now. There are a couple of others that are already online with their farm gate and we have a beautiful location, but we’re a little bit off the beaten path. I have to create an easy-out scenario with our farm gate.

And when we do pull the trigger on it, we’re still in the planning phase, but ideally, if we do this right, it will raise eyebrows across the country in a positive way. We want to do something special that honours who we are and honours the plant and a place that tourists want to come and see. And that’s another way we hope to add to St. Stephen.

What can you tell me about the rest of your team?

We’ve got a team of 25 people full-time, and 16 part-timers that are through the St. Croix Vocational Centre here in St. Stephen, so they have either a mental or physical disability, and they come in five hours a day, once a week, and we run through a four-day rotation.

Genevieve Newton, our director of cultivation, is one of the most passionate growers by far in the Canadian cannabis industry. And the work that she is doing here at Stewart Farms in the craft flower realm, it’s going to make some major waves here over the next couple of years as we continue to dial in our operations.

Catrina Jackson is leading the product development team and is the person that made all of these great products on the topical side possible.

So we’re a small team, but we’re doing big things and that’s completely driven by the quality of these people.

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