It wasn’t until the 6-ft tall fencing topped by barbed wire appeared that neighbours on Quennell Road were alerted to the proposed use of what was once a potato farm. A numbered company based in Alberta recently purchased the Heibert farm on Quennell Road to operate an open air cannabis grow op. The fencing around the property, with infra red security lights every 350 feet, is the minimum requirement under Federal government regulations.
Rich Dowker, CEO of Crofton Craft, then announced his plan to cultivate 10,000 marijuana plants (to sell to the Government Liquor distribution board) on the 20 acre farm. The farm will grow auto-flowering Cannabis ruderalis plants, a smaller, bushy variety of cannabis that produces less sap and less THC content, to mitigate odour concerns. Cannabis will be propagated and processed on site by 12-18 people permanently and 40 during the picking season for one month. The intent is to seek organic certification after a transition period of three years.
On September 15, 2019, 25 neighbours who live on Quennell Road met to develop an opposition plan. It was standing room only at their first public meeting at Cedar Community Hall on October 1st, an opportunity to share information and consider the impacts the farm will have on the local community. At this emotionally-charged gathering Quennell road residents felt that they were being made to take part in an experiment, and there were too many unanswerable questions. They cited odour concerns about living next to ten thousand marijuana plants flowering for 4 weeks at the height of summer. Imagine the beer garden at the Crow and Gate reeking of pot when the wind blows the wrong way?
At the public meeting, Laurie Quesnel who operates a home-based business voiced her fears that there will be a negative impact on her clients from the institutional fencing and odour.
It was the Provincial government which classified cannabis production as a farm activity. With this classification, it became possible to grow cannabis in the ALR. A license is required to cultivate, process and sell cannabis for medical or non-medical purposes, issued federally by Health Canada under the Cannabis Regulations.
Keith Wilson, RDN area director for Cedar would like to see local and regional government have more say in regulations.
However, the Achilles heel of the Quennell cannabis operation is that their growing field is below the high water table of the lake. In winter this field is flooded with water for four months, which for years has been pumped back into the lake in the spring, a controversial and environmentally harmful practice, because nitrogen and phosphorus are haphazardly leached into the lake, along with other contaminants. The lake is currently experiencing expansive algae blooms, and weeds are taking over sections of the shoreline.
Normal farm practices cannot contravene the terms of the Code of Practice for Agricultural Environmental Management. The Code of Practice applies to all farms, including those that grow cannabis. Part 5 of the Code Practice, restricts farming in a flood plain and fertilizing below the high water table of a watercourse. Part 6, states: A person must not apply nutrient sources to land on which there is standing water or water-saturated soil.
Based upon these regulations, is it not the responsibility of the Provincial government to prohibit “nutrient” sources as described in the Code from being applied in the field at 2550 Quennell Road? This would mean that fertilizer cannot be placed either in the field or in the bio-degradable in-ground pots, which would surely affect the production of cannabis?
I endorse healthy field grown organic cannabis over cannabis that is grown in concrete bunkers with the use of hazmat suits, but those who live in the country need to be reassured that the quintessential rural and peaceful nature of the place they call home is protected from an invasion of ‘prison style’ grow ops, and that environmental protections are upheld. At present provincial government oversight of cannabis production on ALR land is inadequate. The negative impact on neighbouring residential properties has been underestimated. More work needs to be done, and local government needs to be more involved.
The cannabis farm at Quennell Lake is just the tip of the iceberg. Local realtor Greg Buchanan says that approx. 35 per cent of acreages being looked at in the area are for the production of cannabis.
Carolyn Herriot is author of The Zero Mile Diet, A Year Round Guide to Growing Organic Food and The Zero Mile Diet Cookbook, Seasonal Recipes for Delicious Homegrown Food (Harbour Publishing) available at your local bookstore.