Final Bell

A Little Town with Big Cannabis Farms

Published Jul 29, 2022 03:01 p.m. ET

Leamington, Ontario has long been known as the ‘Tomato Capital of Canada’, but that title might be up to a challenge. The small town of less than 30 000, at the country’s southernmost tip, once hosted a flagship Heinz facility for over 100 years, before they left in 2014. Around this time, a new crop was being sown in the hamlet: cannabis.

First Movers Settle In

Aphria was one of the first in Canada to receive their licence to legally grow cannabis in 2014. At the time, Leamington had the largest concentration of commercial greenhouses in all of North America, with nearly 2000 acres of greenhouse vegetable production in the general area.

A pair of greenhouse growers, trained in the arts of floral cultivation, Cole Cacciavillani and John Cervini were poised to translate their experience into this new cash crop.

“The challenge in expanding from geraniums and poinsettias for retail chains like Costco into marijuana for medical patients was that most of the existing expertise was built up around a crop still largely illegal,” writes journalist Doug Schmidt in a Windsor Star article from 2014.

Nonetheless, Aphria attracted top talent to Leamington in the earliest days of the cannabis industry. It would go on to be one of the biggest cannabis companies in the world, valued at over $5 billion dollars, and eventually merged with Tilray (NASDAQ:TLRY, TSX:TLRY) in the biggest deal to date in the industry.

A New Wave of Cultivators

Nearly a decade after Cacciavillani and Cervini first dreamed of legal cannabis cultivation, a new crop of cultivators have set up shop in Leamington - in part due to the sheer magnitude of cannabis talent concentrated into a town where everyone seems to know everyone else.

Auxly (TSX:XLY) opened one of their facilities in ‘The Sunparlour of Canada’ (yet another moniker for the region) in 2020, in the same year that Cronos (TSX:CRON) set up their ‘Grow Co’ down the road from the others already mentioned.

At the same time, Greenway Greenhouse (CSE:GWAY) was born from decades of experience in the greenhouse cultivation realm, as a child of Sunrite and DelFrescoPure - successful in their own rights, growing fruits and vegetables for dozens of supermarket chains throughout North America, that also called Leamington home.

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A Lifelong Commitment to Cultivation

Carl Mastronardi was born to first generation Italian immigrants that had landed in Southern Ontario. After the family built an empire, it was split among the children, with Carl receiving a slice. He built an empire in his own right, with DelFrescoPure products found on the shelves of your local grocery store.

Jamie D’Alimonte, nephew to Carl with farming in his veins, had aspirations to take greenhouse cultivation to the next level. Together they formed Sunrite Greenhouses in 1993, continuing the legacy of cultivation success and elevating the greenhouse cultivation game.

In 2020, they received their licence to cultivate cannabis and Greenway Greenhouse was born. They capitalised on the local expertise, in part from their own DelFrescoPure and Sunrite teams, to build a cannabis company that leveraged their cultivation experience and ability to scale - already growing businesses from a few acres to hundreds, a few times over.

A Legacy for Leamington

From over 100 years of farming history in Leamington, the legacy of local cultivators is a story in the making. The town already boasts the largest Latino community, by percentage, in the entire country - a testament to the expertise from around the world that calls Leamington home.

The southernmost part of Canada, it lies on a latitude similar to Northern California and Italy - often famed for their ability to grow excellent crops - the former being known for Humboldt County ingenuity. The Leamington region remains in the top three for North American greenhouse density.

As the most sunlit region in Canada, with local talent in droves, Leamington will always be a hotbed for greenhouse cultivation.


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