Canada’s Top Growers: Plant artist
By Mari-Len De Guzman
Spotlight on Canada’s most exceptional master growers
The force is strong with Gregg Wigeland, and this Yoda of cannabis cultivation is one with the plant.
Having lived most of his life around cannabis, he has learned and perfected the art of growing cannabis. His path to becoming a master grower has been paved by numerous trials and errors over “too many years.”
“(Cannabis) has been around me my whole life,” declares Wigeland. It’s that life experience and close affinity to the plant that propels him as one of Canada’s most exceptional growers.
As the master cultivator for Calgary-based Sundial Growers Inc., and in-charge of the company’s flagship facility in Olds, Alta., Wigeland does not only tend to the plants; he has also become a mentor to budding growers.
“When Gregg talks cannabis, you can’t help but listen closely,” writes colleague Laura Doell in her nomination of Wigeland for Canada’s Top Growers. “He is willing to teach anyone who listens. His energy is great and you just have to meet him for 10 minutes to know it.”
Wigeland has been walking amongst the circle of notable cannabis growers, particularly in British Columbia’s cannabis culture, long before Canada legalized medical – then recreational – cannabis.
“We were the ground floor,” Wigeland recalls of the early days when cannabis was an illegal substance everywhere. “It’s been an amazing road to get to where I am. We just feel blessed to be a part of this. None of us could have ever envisioned that this is actually where the girl was going to take us. We all work for the girl, she’s our boss.”
Because of his vast experience, and the bond he has developed with “the girl,” Wigeland was courted by both Canadian and international cannabis companies to join their team. His beliefs about the purpose of the cannabis plant, and where he believes she would take this industry, guided his decision to ultimately join Sundial in August of 2018.
Room for growth
Today, Wigeland manages the company’s massive, 500,000-square-foot, production facility in Olds, Alta., comprised of purpose-built modular structures, designed specifically for cannabis growing. When fully completed, the entire facility will involve 140 individually controlled cultivation rooms, with a combined production capacity of 100 million grams annually, according to a company press release.
“Every room is basically 100-light shelf, one after the other after the other. I think we are about two months away from having 115 rooms in flower. It’s 11,500 lights in flower. It’s just such a gigantic facility to really wrap your head around,” Wigeland explains.
He finds this innovative approach to growing ideal as each room is individually set up, independent of each other. It allows for a more controlled growing environment without the complexities and variability of a large-scale, commercial production.
“The beautiful thing is as we dial one room with one strain… the next room is just an emulation of the last room. Right now, we are going into some incredible genetics that are just starting to pop up in the company,” Wigeland says.
Sundial’s master cultivator is also focused on research and development. When he’s not in the grow rooms, one can find him tinkering away at Sundial’s R&D facility in Rocky View, Alta., intent on continually improving cultivation techniques and testing new genetics. His R&D team is given free rein to test and makes mistakes and test again, all in the pursuit of a better performing plant and improved production processes.
Wigeland enjoys every minute he spends in research and development, and so do his colleagues that work in that facility.
“Gregg instructs, teaches and directs at the research and development facility in Rocky View,” writes Doell. “All the innovations and initiatives he’s accumulated through experience over the past 40-plus years have come into play there and are tested.”
From materials used in the growing rooms to lights to “dialed-in-custom-strain feeds,” Wigeland is testing them all, and once the efficacy is proven, those innovations are then rolled out to live production in the Olds facility.
“He invents and initiates them all. He is a true artist of cannabis,” Doell says. “Gregg is a brave soul and pushes photosynthesis boundaries – the real deal plant artist, and does it with flare.”
An early start and a late end to the day is how Wigeland describse a typical work day – getting up before dawn to find several messages on his phone already needing his attention.
“I’m pumped from the minute I get out of bed,” he says, looking forward to morning huddles with the crew and, “dialing in not just the facility but the people.”
More than a master grower, Wigeland considers himself an instructor and gives kudos to his team who does the work day after day to produce an exceptional product that they all can be proud of.
Earning the trust and respect of his team members is important. And Wigeland finds his experience and expertise – and his willingness to share those knowledge – were instrumental in gaining the trust of his people. That positive energy from the growers, Wigeland believes, translates into energy for the plant.
“I’m 56 years old and I’ve been around this a really long time. To be seeing kids getting out of high school coming into the industry, it’s enlightening for sure. It’s an amazing experience to be a part of,” he says.
Wigeland believes in Sundial’s vision and appreciates the support it gives him to pursue new avenues of innovation to constantly improve growing processes.
Sundial had not been immune to controversies and negative press. It has been the subject of two shareholder class action lawsuits in the U.S. for allegedly failing to disclose product contamination issues that resulted in its customer, Zenabis Global Inc., returning some products to Sundial.
The issue has since been resolved between Sundial and Zenabis, and the Alberta producer has said it will “vigorously defend” against the suits. “The (product) return represented a minimal percentage of our total production to date, had no impact on our second-quarter financial results and is expected to have a negligible impact on our third-quarter earnings,” Sundial said in a statement issued in October.
The incident occurred before Vigeland joined Sundial. He could not comment on the particulars of the issue.
“One thing for sure is the corporation tightened up the quality control even more,” he says. “I like that, as I’m all about quality. Now that I am in charge of the facility we will see a lot of positive improvements and the actual finished product will certainly make an impact on the current LP market.”
Consistency and clarity are important to ensure the highest quality products come out of every harvest, says Wigeland. Keeping every grower on the same page and using available tools and technology all for the benefit of the plant. “The plant is our boss,” declares Wigeland.
Wigeland believes that producing a great product always starts with passionate, happy people – the young and eager learners, some of whom would someday grow up to be master growers, too.
“When I am showing them my knowledge, they are learning off that knowledge,” he explains. Still, he adds, the best way to learn is through trial and error.
“If you didn’t make the mistake, you would never learn the knowledge,” he says, and starting small is always a good place to start.
He encourages those who have an interest in cannabis to try planting them in their own homes. In Canada, it’s now legal to grow up to four plants for personal use. “Everybody should have plants in their house and they should create a bond with the plant.”
For Wigeland, the secret is in the plant. “It all comes back to the plant. She is a wonderful, amazing entity.”