Canada’s 2023 Top Grower Award winner for the standard license category, Genevieve Newton, head grower and director of cultivation at Stewart Farm, recalls winning Top Female Grower at Hemp Fest back in 2021. “So I told Tanner [Stewart],” she says, “I was after top male grower. Not just top female grower, but top male grower – so, everyone.”
Newton sat down for an interview from the LP’s office in the town of St. Stephen, New Brunswick, minutes from their operation and farmgate location, to discuss winning Top Grower and achieving her five-year goal in two.
“It’s funny,” she says, recalling the first winner of the award back in 2019. “[Gregg Wigeland] used to be the master grower at Sundial when I was a lowly grunt,” she says. “He won that award when I was still cleaning up plant piss off the floor; I remember him winning that!”
Between moving a 70kg load of cannabis destined for Australia, which she had done before the call, the daily affair of overseeing numerous micros while managing the residual riptide from audit season, on top of the other tasks attached to the tail end of an unprecedented year of actual tempests, Newton found time to share her journey and to revel in her well-earned spotlight, eight years in the making. “It means so much to me,” she says. “It was a sign I needed that I’m still needed in this industry.”
If 2023 were a nute, it’d be Power Bloom
“It’s been a crazy year for growth,” says Newton. It’s now been two full years since starting her position at Stewart Farms, when “topicals were the locomotive, and the dry flower was more of a side hustle,” she says. “Our biggest problem now is I don’t have enough weed.”
Meeting international and domestic needs meant the producer had to rearrange domestic supply, pulling out of B.C. “to feed the OCS because their demand was higher.” Stewart Farms has flower selling in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and several medical platforms, including Abba Medix, where Daily Grape is in the top five selling herbs.
Stewart Farms’ bath bombs are still a leading topical in British Columbia.
“Isn’t it amazing?” she says. “This tiny little farm has such a big impact all the way across Canada. And a lot of it is because of the topicals; they’re changing people’s lives.”
The micros were brought in to fulfill international orders, and over an eye-opening series of experiences, the farm has gone through several options in search for ideal partnerships. “Right now, we have one micro facility partner in Fredericton. We have one in Cape Breton and now one near Kelowna, B.C.”
The cannabis farm had their license renewed in October after a complex spring audit season attributed to GMP certification, a CRA audit, followed by a Health Canada audit.
“When I started two years ago, I had two fellas [Ross & Jon] under me and one was half time security, so 1.5 fellas,” she says. “In order to manage the micros more efficiently, Catrina secured some provincial funding, so I selected a young scientist for my team, Matt. Without these guys I would not have been able to put my effort into post-harvest quality, export and managing the micros. These guys are like my left and right hands.”
Ability, agility and flexibility
Other curveballs the director of cultivation encountered this year was the cessation of the tilapia aquaponics operation at the farm and the closure of their Stepwell soil provider. “Basically both got ripped from me at the same time,” says Newton. “GMP happened in May, so at that time we had to make the tough decision to temporarily remove the fish farm – it was just going to be too hard to get certified while having them, and with all of these 2.0 product orders, we need the space for secure storage.”
The cultivation team began crafting their own soil mixes, using a base of Pro Mix, while Matt’s scientific research informs the other organic inputs and soil amendments. In a rural town, securing inputs they can “buy locally and get consistently” is crucial.
“Most [LPs] I’ve been at, their biggest mistake is doing 100 things in one run and expecting to figure out what worked. So, we do everything really slowly and we document everything,” she says.
Organized chaos: grow journals to SOPs
Newton began growing cannabis with a few pointers from her dad in her 2×2 closet with CFL lights and miracle grow. From there, she became active on 420 magazine forums and developed relationships with old school growers from the southern United States. Around 2016, there was very little online content about growing, so she began documenting each of her grows, participating in weekly podcasts and taping YouTube tutorials for the altruistic purpose of community and education.
Newton moved from the cannabis production program at Olds College to a practicum at Acreage Farms, a position at Sundial and finally to Candre, where they encouraged her media documentation as a form of free promotion. That’s how Catrina Jackson, Stewart Farms’ COO and product developer, discovered her work.
“The way Tanner got me over here was, he’s like, ‘you will no longer be working at a weed factory. You will be coming here to run a weed farm,’ and that’s exactly what it was.” Newton’s first assignment was to germinate 300 seeds out of a choice of 20,000 that Stewart himself had seed-hunted globally.
In a huddle with her growers, she asked them how they germinate. ‘Okay, well that’s how I do it at home,’ she said to them. “I’m full chaos at home, you know, home growing,” says Newton. “I came into this hot and I would do 100 different seeds have them all labeled. I have logbooks from my earlier home grows and they’re wild. So, I was the lady for the job,” she says.
Of those 300 seeds, Newton oversaw a 98 per cent success rate, then began cutting back from there, finding Daily Grape and other top genetics.
They cleaned up the library that had “40 different Dosi Cakes, a bunch of Brittany’s Frozen Lemons,” and now they have 43 solid genetics.
Stewart Farms also operates as a nursery that took a back seat during the winds of 2023. Still, they managed to do a lot of clone-selling through their farmgate store and to other LPs with whom they have “genetics deals,” such as Sundial, Organigram and FIGR. “My farm is really small, but it’s everything together – all the canopies together,” she says.
Newt’s personal herstory
Genevieve Newton is a second-generation farmer. “That’s where I’m different from all these master growers who have black market experience and have been growing for 30 years,” she says, having learned her gardening skills from her dad and grandpa growing up in Saskatchewan. She knew her dad was also growing in his closet, “but weed wasn’t [her] thing at the time.”
Newton moved to Edmonton in 2003 to complete a degree in social work from the University of Alberta, beginning her 15-year career as a social worker. In 2012, she got sober from hard drugs and alcohol and abstained from everything for four years. “Then I got really, really sick in 2015/16 and was diagnosed with colitis,” she said. Doctors prescribed heavy drugs but due to her history, she opted out. Instead she suffered with chronic nausea for over a year and lost a tremendous amount of weight. A friend advised her to consume cannabis and her reaction was to say no. Her sponsors said they would discontinue working with her and she would lose her support.
Finally at the end of 2016, Newton tried cannabis and felt hungry for the first time in a year.
Her councillors quit her even though the plant had saved her. “It gave me my nutrition back,” she says, “it helped me emotionally and it calmed me down.”
The expensive, elusive cannabis prescription led her back to nature, to gardening, and to consulting with her father whom she remembered had grown. She began a grow journal, connected with others online and fell in love with the practice.
SNDL, no longer growing, was Newton’s first cannabis job. Candre, now closed, hired her as irrigation lead then production co-ordinator. And just when it felt like time to move on from Alberta, Tanner Stewart appeared on a call asking her to transition to New Brunswick. “It felt good to be wanted,” she says. “Before no one cared about experience, or passion, or creativity. Tanner thought it was an asset.”
Newton moved to the east coast with her operations knowledge and experience in vertical farming from Candre – the “Cadillac facility.” She went east to work with living soil and aquaponics, “and I got all that,” she says. “And now we’ve moved into a different direction with lots of higher-level learning.” Despite hurricanes and market failures, Newton charges forward as the genuine, world-class cannabis cultivator that she is, growing organic medicine for all the right reasons.
“For four years while I was sober, I was searching for happiness.” says Newton. “Something to replace my addictions, my drinking. That is how you stay sober – you replace that with something you love,” she says. “I tried all these things and it was this thing. That was what it was.”