Photo credit: Simon Schneider
Founded by fourth-generation farmer, Marc Geen, SpeakEasy is built on the same agricultural principles of the family’s farming legacy. They are about to make history cultivating one of the largest outdoor cannabis harvests in Canada this September and expect to harvest 70,000 kg of sun-grown cannabis at a projected $0.04 a gram this fall, with the same methods and climate Canada is world-renowned for.
Warren Bobrow=WB: Please Tell me about yourself? What brought you to the cannabis/botany world? What was your inspiration to do what you do?
Marc Geen=MG: First and foremost, I’m a husband and father of eight kids, and the rest of my life revolves around my role as the Founder of SpeakEasy, a cannabis LP in British Columbia’s fertile “Golden Mile.”
It’s funny because while I grew up living and working on the family farm, I really didn’t want to pursue farming. When I came out of high school, I was still adamant that farming would not be my destiny. That is until I planted my own half acre of ginseng in 1993. That changed everything for me. Working for myself where I could see the results of my hard work inspired me to the point, I could no longer see any other path for my life that didn’t involve farming. The connection a farmer has to their land is a difficult thing to explain but it is very much like growing roots — and I grew roots quickly.
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Transitioning from one crop to another is a fact of life for farming. Apples, cherries, ginseng, back to cherries and finally to cannabis is was what lead me to where I am today. I began working with growers that had cannabis personal production licenses about 18 years ago, helping them with basic good farming practices, learning and testing. Through practicing different techniques and methods I began to have a respect for the plant and for the people growing it. I saw firsthand how this plant truly helped people and changed their lives for the better. But it would be another 11 years until it changed my life. In August 2013, Health Canada announced a program that would allow production of cannabis on a commercial scale. My father and I applied and were issued the 46th application for a license under the MMPR. 6 years, 3 months and 9 days later we finally achieved our cultivation license.
Photo credit: Simon Schneider
WB: Please tell me about your company? What do you do that’s different, therefore better than your competition? What stigmas do you face?
MG: We are farmers first here. We built a business around a solid foundation of four generations of farming knowledge. Most others in the industry seem to have started from the other end; they had the business idea to sell cannabis, and then tried to learn to farm the plant after.
Very few agricultural crops have any culture attached to them. Cannabis on the other hand has a huge culture that goes far beyond just growing the plant. If you miss that step, it’s difficult to even get started in this industry. We know that a direct connection and a clear understanding of our customers, and the cannabis culture in general, is extremely important to our success and that of the industry. Taking that knowledge, adding the skill set from some of the best growers I have ever met and putting it all together makes us unique in this industry.
I have had the good fortune to have worked with many amazing BC cannabis growers over the last 18 years. Some of those relationships have helped form the foundation of SpeakEasy’s model. We have given five experienced growers a 13,300 square foot facility each and built them out to mimic their own operations. This allows them to continue growing in the way they have spent decades learning. We brought in the genetics they have developed and set everything up so they can do what they do best: grow cannabis.
The stigma attached to this crop and culture is obvious and has an effect on everyday business, with banking, securities markets and government agencies of all kinds adding extra challenges. We have been extremely fortunate to have a supportive municipal government, RCMP officers and local residents helping us through everything. I have watched the stigmas slowly slipping away, gradually disappearing as people realize the fears they had were nothing more than just that.
Photo credit: Simon Schneider
WB: What is your six- and twelve-month plan? What obstacles exist in your professional world? How do you anticipate removing them?
MG: Our immediate focus is harvesting and safely storing the crop from our 60-acre field, no small task and at a scale that has not been attempted anywhere in Canada to date. Drawing on all the harvest experience we have from other types of agriculture, we are about to make history cultivating and harvesting 70,000 kg of sun-grown cannabis, one of the largest outdoor cannabis harvests in Canada.
Our long-term goals are focused on growing our revenue. We aim to achieve our sales targets by continuing to produce the best product, staying connected to our consumer and following our longtime farming principles. We recognize our customers have other choices and while good marketing may get them in the door, it’s really the product that will make them stay.
The market in Canada is still in its infancy, with each province still establishing its own rules and regulations. Our biggest challenge at this stage isn’t other licensed producers, it’s the black market, which still provide 85% of all cannabis sold in Canada. There is a lot of growing left to do. With efficiencies of scale, good farming practices and an increased number of dispensaries to allow easy access to consumers, we are able to compete in every way with the black market.
WB: What is your favorite food memory from childhood? What does your favorite (birthday) meal look like now? Favorite food?
MG: I grew up in Kelowna, BC, overlooking the Okanagan lake on the family farm. My favorite food memory is from a warm summer evening with corn on the cob, steak and fresh peas from the garden. The smell of fresh cut lawn, my mom, dad and brothers sitting at the picnic table in the yard. If I could have any meal now, it would be exactly the same, but an extra couple of tables for the whole family.
My favorite food…. That’s a tough one, I smoked a brisket once that turned out ok, I guess that would be up there.
WB: What is your passion?
MG: I am utterly obsessed with SpeakEasy and what we do here. I live on-site and work over 100 hours a week. Every little thing that happens with this company on the corporate side or the operations side affects me personally. I feel the weight of responsibility for every employee and every shareholder that put their trust in me. I am involved in virtually every decision to do with the business, from plant health, facility design, compliance, down to the type of light switches we have. It’s my dream to do this, it’s an honor that I take incredibly seriously — and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
I wake up energized every day, excited for what it will hold, focused on the task at hand. I am so proud of what we have accomplished here. Just like the first half acre of ginseng I planted 27 years ago, I still only see this path for my life. I couldn’t do this without the support of my family, who at times know they play second fiddle to my obsession. I feel very fortunate to be able to live my dream and have the ability to pursue my passion all day, every day.