For SpeakEasy’s Marc Geen, growing cannabis carries on a family farming tradition

It may be a new world, but Geen chose a moniker that looks back to an earlier, less enlightened time

Marc-Geen

SpeakEasy's Marc Geen at the farm in Rock Creek, British Columbia.

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Marc Geen’s great-grandfather arrived in B.C.’s Okanagan Valley at the turn of the 20th century. Growing tree fruits in the area around what is now the Kelowna Airport, he became one of the pioneers in what would turn out to be one of the region’s defining industries.

His children carried on that agricultural legacy, and so did theirs. As for Geen, he’s a farmer too, albeit a different type. He got into the family business in the early ’90s, when his father was moving away from tree fruits and harvesting ginseng instead.

“Ginseng was the hot new trend, a wild craze at the time,” Geen tells CannCentral. “The Okanagan tree-fruit industry was going through some transitions. Washington state was pounding a lot of fruit up and depressing the prices. It was costing us more to harvest than the crop was actually worth, not taking into account any of the other expenses of growing a crop. A lot of farmers at the time were looking for other alternatives.”

Ginseng seemed like a good option, but the demand for it soon petered out. “Ginseng died a very quick death, and we got back into cherries,” Geen recalls. “With cherries, it’s like Russian roulette for farming. I mean, most farming is risky, but cherries is extremely risky. You get a cloud on the wrong day and your crop is gone.”

Getting into the weed business

These days, Geen grows neither cherries nor ginseng. Instead, he bought a portion of the family farm in Rock Creek and started a cannabis-growing operation, which he calls SpeakEasy. When CannCentral connects with Geen via telephone, he’s in the middle of harvest season, but he’s happy enough to explain how he got into the weed business.

In 2013, a newspaper article caught his eye. Health Canada, he read, was launching a program that would allow for the commercial production of cannabis for the burgeoning medical market. Geen sent in an application and waited. And waited. Then waited some more.

“We were the 45th application for the MMPR [Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations] program in 2013, in mid-August,” he says. “It took us six years, nine months, and a few days to finally achieve our license. We went through different regimes of rules and regulations and the Cannabis Act and finally received our license for the first LP [licensed producer] last year on November 8.

Indoor vs. outdoor?

“We immediately put in our application for our 60-acre outdoor,” Geen says. “We received that in the spring, and that allowed us to start harvesting now. And this morning we received our latest amendment, which includes 60,000 square feet of indoor and another two acres of outdoor cannabis land.”

As he speaks, SpeakEasy’s first harvest is still in progress, but Geen says the total yield will be in the neighbourhood of 70,000 kilograms. That’s the type of number you can really only achieve outdoors.

SpeakEasy-harvest
Harvest time at the SpeakEasy farm in Rock Creek, B.C. Photos by Andre Pinces.

Geen notes that outdoor growing yields quantities suitable for the production of extracts and concentrates, while indoor cultivation produces high-quality flower. Each type of growing has its place.

“They do work together; they’re not competing against each other,” Geen says. “They compete against greenhouses, though. And greenhouses lose both times. Greenhouses cannot produce the quality that you can produce indoors, and they can’t produce as efficiently or as cheaply as you can produce it outdoors. So, greenhouses are the real loser in this new world.”

SpeakEasy

It may be a new world, but Geen chose a moniker that looks back to an earlier, less enlightened time. The name SpeakEasy is a reference to the Prohibition era, sure, but it’s also meant to honour those who laid the groundwork for today’s cannabis industry. Chiefly, those who were working in the biz when it wasn’t quite legal yet.

“It represents what we’ve gone through as the people who have been warriors for cannabis, moving it from the illicit market into the white,” Geen explains. “The amount of time I’ve spent working in this industry and working with others who had licenses, and seeing the differences it made it in their lives, just made it a cause that I could fully get behind. I could really see the results and how people are affected positively from access to cannabis.”

“The  word speakeasy also has connotations from the Roaring ’20s and ’30s—of people having fun behind closed doors because it was illegal at the time. So it brings all of that together.”

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