Acreage Pharms Deep Dive | Master Grower Talks Industry
Benjamin Selma is Acreage Pharm’s Master Grower and Crop Steerer. In addition to overseeing the cultivation of our plants, Benji also oversees the management and training of the cultivation team.
In part 1 of this interview, we sit down with Benji to talk about his thoughts on the industry, his passion for cannabis and what drives him to cultivate cannabis.
How did you get into the cannabis industry?
You know, I never thought it was going to end up like this.
Back in the day, when I first started, I didn’t really see an endgame for what was happening in Canada, only that I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.
From the day that I tried it, I fell in love with the plant, and not just the plant itself. The properties, the people, the industry, the culture, the respect that the culture showed me – it’s a holistic thing, you know?
It wouldn’t be fair for me to say that I got into the industry; I more or less ‘fell’ into it.
I started in California and eventually found my way into a community that shared that same love, passion and respect for the plant down in the states. Over time, the opportunities for the industry started to grow larger and larger and with a large community supporting me, it just seemed natural to continue working within this sector.
I never thought I would work in the cannabis industry in the capacity that I am now. But I am so happy that I am because this is something that I’ve always wanted to do but just never envisioned actually doing.
What does a typical day look like for a Master Grower?
The wide industry itself has some loose routines, but as a Master Grower and the crop steerer, my day-to-day varies slightly depending on my priorities for that particular season or quarter.
I steer the crop so that basically means I do whatever I want with the crop.
This can range from controlling the environment to making planting, feeding and production schedules to reading COAs and sending samples to the lab for testing.
I wake up, see the plants, arrange schedules for the weeks and months that follow and organize tasks for the rest of the team.
It requires a lot of diligence and thought to grow the plants the way we want to.
We have to constantly monitor our systems, monitor the plants’ status, and monitor the team. Between the people and the plants, it’s an entirely packed day.
What do you think is the most important element when it comes to growing cannabis or being a Master Grower?
There really isn’t just one sole element, but I will say that you need to have a lot of passion and people with the right passion. Passion and knowledge and genuine love for the plant and the people behind the process.
Anyone can train their crew, but it depends on how you connect with them and how you explain to them the why behind what they’re doing. If you just tell them what to do, you’re not disseminating any passion; any love.
In the previous corporations I’ve worked at, they weren’t doing any of that.
It’s very important to get your people in the right mindset, to get them involved, engaged and passionate about not just the product, but about the operation and the team as a whole.
You need the right people, for sure. In a community of small growers, this was easy because it was a group effort. It’s hard to do in a corporation because people don’t take any responsibility or passion for the work.
When people don’t know or appreciate what they’re doing, they get stressed, and that’s why it’s so important to have a master grower that knows their stuff that can fill in that knowledge and passion gap.
The right environment, genetics, nutrient program and everything else the plant needs to grow are undoubtedly necessary, but to grow successfully at scale, you need the right people. That’s where I feel Acreage Pharms shines because they invest a lot into the people and the community around them. It’s work, but it’s involved work; it’s passionate work; it’s proud work.
As a Master Grower, are there any hard lessons that you learned firsthand?
Patience is key in the business. It’s a plant, right? So you have to wait there and sit there and let it grow and take care of it and just trust that it’ll go well.
Another valuable lesson I’ve learned is to not take anything for granted. I’ve been in the industry for a long time, and I can honestly say that it’s made me who I am today.
Anything can change at a drop of a hat, and it’s up to you and your team to fix it. That’s why respect for the people is so important—respect for your teammates, respect for communication.
You have to take care of your team. It doesn’t matter what you’re growing – you take care of the people they take care of the plant.
Do you think there’s a social acceptability issue surrounding cannabis and cannabis products?
Absolutely. The percentage of Canadians who are fine with alcohol but not recreational cannabis is staggering, and it can be attributed to a lack of education, familiarity and engagement from the industry.
I see a lot here in Canada, from LPs where they change the name of the products all the time. Breeders can create new strains with new traits and new effects, and if they put a name on it, others might grab it and name it something else entirely. There’s a lack of consistency and standardization.
It’s marketing, but it’s also creating a lot of confusion.
It’s not creating any sense of familiarity or recognition. People these days can’t say, ‘this is my LP of choice, and I recognize and enjoy this product, so I’m going to purchase it,’ and I think that’s a real problem.
Education is important, and that’s where the industry needs to focus its efforts. Where the strain comes from, why they have those traits and how it was grown is very important because you can understand the cultivar. Having that education and that dedication to the customer and the industry itself, you know, respect for the plant is first.
I have a lot of respect for breeders around the world, and I don’t enjoy it when they muddle things up like that.
Here at Acreage Pharms, a lot of emphasis is placed on the education, the knowledge, the ‘why’ behind what we do and how we do it. Like I’ve said before, it’s all about respect. The more you know about the plant, the more you’re able to appreciate and respect the care and effort that went into cultivating it.
That being said, it all comes with time. The industry is very new, there’s a lot of high expectations, and I think people who saw this as an easy opportunity now realize that this isn’t as easy as they initially thought.
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