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The economy of rural Newfoundland and Labrador is in desperate need of development and Chris Snellen is hoping to literally help things grow now that he owns the fish plant in Jackson’s Arm.
Snellen has more than three decades of experience in the controlled-environment plant growth business, having used hydroponics to quickly grow lettuce out of a downtown St. John’s facility for decades.
In the last several months, Snellen has been positioning his business portfolio to focus on turning the idle fish plant on the western shores of White Bay South into an agricultural venture.
Last August, Snellen sold half of his company, CEPG Consulting and Design Inc., to Future Farm Technologies Inc., a company with a mission of producing wholesale and retail cannabis products.
The new entity, now considered a subsidiary of Future Farms, maintained the name of CEPG Consulting and Design Inc. and still has Snellen as its president and chief executive officer.
In December, another of Snellen’s companies, 420 Holdings Inc., bought the fish plant in Jackson’s Arm from the Northern Shrimp Company.
Last week, CEPG bought a 50 per cent interest in 420 Holdings Inc., and announced it is preparing three applications to Health Canada for cannabis-related licences. Those licenses are for small-scale cannabis production, a cannabis nursery, for the sale of seeds and cuttings; and secondary processing of cannabis products.
While the goal is to eventually get into the cannabis industry, Snellen isn’t about to sit around and wait for those applications to be filed, processed and approved. In the meantime, and even if those licences do not get granted, he plans to grow vegetables and possibly bottle water products at the plant.
He said he is already close to a deal with a local wholesaler to sell lettuce, spinach, basil and turnip greens grown at the plant, which he noted is ideal for a water bottling plant.
“It’s in great shape,” Snellen said of the facility. “It’s not like it’s a rebuild. We’re going to go in, turn the lights on and wash it. Then, we’ll start growing food.”
Pending some inspections due later this week, Snellen hopes to get the cleanup started right away and have some fresh produce ready for the market within a few months.
In terms of bottled water, the company is looking to take advantage of a 10-inch pipe already hooked up to a pristine water supply. The plan is to possibly make specialty products, like maybe water infused with chaga — a birch fungus rich in antioxidants and other healthful properties.
“We’re not going to try and compete with Nestle and 10-cent bottled water,” said Snellen. “We’re trying to create a couple of niche products.”
Should the cannabis licenses be granted, there could be water infused with cannabidiol (CBD) or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), two natural compounds with medicinal properties found in cannabis plants. THC is the psychoactive compound that can produce a high from cannabis, while CBD is nonpsychoactive.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty about cannabis licenses,” said Snellen. “We don’t even know if we’re going to get one. This (business plan) allows us to do something while we’re waiting.”
Snellen and his wife, who is from the area, bought an old school in nearby Pollard’s Point around five years ago. They were going to turn that into their home and a production facility.
They still might seek a micro grow-op licence for there too eventually, but couldn’t turn down the chance to operate out of the fish plant when that opportunity recently presented itself.
Snellen figures there will be five or six jobs created for the cleanup and getting the first grow rooms up and running, plus whatever economic spinoffs the venture will generate.
Where it goes from there is still up in the air.
“I don’t think it will ever be back to the level of a fish plant with 300 people working there,” he said. “We are trying to keep expectations low, but we are hoping to grow it if it takes off and the cannabis licences come in.”