Virtual CANNAtalk creates community of growers amid COVID-19
By Jean Ko Din
When growers have a platform to share knowledge and support, the cannabis industry moves forward.
Niek Roovers, business development manager at CANNA Canada, said it is for this reason that the idea for The Passionate Growers’ Hub came about. These small networking events began in 2019 to provide master growers, who were attending large industry events, their own space to meet each other and bond over their common passion for the plant.
“People were saying (at the event), it was the first time in 25 years that they were publically sharing what they have been doing with the plant because they felt comfortable to do that in such a meeting when they didn’t directly tell their friends what they were doing in the past,” said Roovers.
The Passionate Growers’ Hub, also known as the CANNAtalk experience, was usually organized around large industry events, like Lift & Co. Cannabis Expo or MJBizCon. When the COVID-19 outbreak forced CANNA to take its event online, the organizers knew there would be challenges but they also understood that the grower community would adapt.
The virtual CANNAtalk event was hosted over video conferencing on May 27 and June 2. The two-part forum attracted about 60 home growers, commercial growers and consultants from 40 cities in Canada, the United States and beyond.
CANNA saw the virtual event as an antithesis to the flood of webinars and virtual conferences that sprung as a result of the pandemic lockdown. Through a series of discussion sessions and small break-out groups, CANNAtalk participants shared their thoughts on a variety of topics – from breeding and genetics to managing a large-scale production facility.
One of the most common topics discussed was the challenges of “managing up.” In many large-scale grow facilities, master growers are working under unrealistic expectations from the executive team.
Many participants felt that with leaders coming from other industries, like pharmaceuticals, beverage and alcohol, and consumer packaged goods, there is a misconception among management that the same approach to regulations and operations can translate similarly to cannabis cultivation.
“This is our third CANNAtalk and it’s a recurring theme that comes back every time,” said Franck Munn, experiential marketing specialist for CANNA. “We tried to bring the discussion more on the cultivation side for this one and it was a lot more positive.”
Growers shared in their challenges of opening lines of communication and education with their management teams. Other topics also diverged into the flexibility challenges of how large grow rooms are designed in commercial facilities. Experienced participants shared some solutions they’ve discovered in how to rotate crops within the room to ensure more homogenous growing.
“There is so much knowledge involved and so much they can do for the industry, for their organization,” said Munn. “But they just need the opportunity to do so. And it starts by having a space for them to exchange and collaborate.”
The events were minimally structured with two 45-minute discussion sessions with all participants in between five-minute breakout sessions in smaller groups of four or five. Home growers intermingled with award-winning industry leaders, all for the love of cannabis.
Like many first-time events, the video conferencing meetings didn’t come without its technical difficulties. Frozen screens, muted and unmuted speakers and unstable internet connections have become a staple in many video calls during this pandemic. However, facilitators also had the added challenge of moving large groups of people in and out of multiple virtual rooms.
Even despite these “bloopers” as the CANNA team described it, the community of growers persevered.
“Franck (Munn) told me the next morning that they kept going for another three hours after the meeting,” said Roovers. “We kept a (virtual) room going and they just continued and that’s cool.”
For decades before legalisation, these growers have been afraid to share their passion and their expertise even to their closest friends. Even now with a growing legal industry, Munn said that there are still few opportunities for this community to meet and mingle. Many of these growers are now managing large-scale operations that require their full time and attention, so there are not many opportunities for them to network with like-minded people.
However, Munn and the rest of the CANNA staff believed that as industry leaders, they have to make the space for the grower community to connect.
“When talking about the stakeholders in the industry, I believe that there was a lot of people coming up from pharma tech, from finance, from different fields and the people that actually came from knowing the plant, they keep a low profile,” said Munn. “So when we created this program, we aim to help those people that are really in contact with the plant. Those are the real people. Those are the people that actually produce the plant and create the magic.”