THC Biomed

THC Biomed

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Being a part of the Cannabis industry’s growth has made Cleo’s work with THC BioMed, one of Kelowna’s oldest licensed producers, that much more meaningful. And they’re just getting started in a rapidly accelerating industry, where the long-awaited potential is now becoming a reality.

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When THC Biomed was founded in Kelowna in 2012, the goal was to create a cannabis product that was accessible to all medical patients at a reasonable price. As one of the oldest licensed producers in Canada, the company was able to start researching and studying how to grow cannabis in a legal, regulated environment thanks to a rare exemption research 56 license they received. This allowed their team to select the best strains possible from around the world to cultivate, while also developing their own proprietary strains.

While the market for cannabis has grown thanks to legalization, THC Biomed remains focused on delivering high-quality, affordable, and accessible cannabis strains, which they grow sustainably in small batches, indoors. 

“We hand water all our plants…if you have everything automated, you’re not really looking at what the plant needs. Some plants need a little bit less water, and some more. So, we mitigate this by hand watering,” says Cleo Menezes, who started with the company in 2014 as the Head of Corporate Sales and now works in Corporate Communications. “We grow our plants in soil and don’t use any pesticides or exogenous chemicals. We just keep it really simple. We grow them organically in dirt, with pure nutrients and lots of love.”

Sustainability and accessibility are at the core of THC Biomed, which is a publicly traded company that now employs around 40 people at its flagship Kelowna facility. As a pioneer in the industry, the THC Biomed team is always looking for innovative ways to deliver cannabis to the wide variety of people who use their products. One of their newest products is a flavoured cannabis beverage shot, a first among the cannabis beverage market, which typically comes in cans and bigger bottles.

The versatility of the cannabis plant, and the diversity of its consumers, fuels the THC Biomed team’s passion and creativity, as does the region that they call home. 

“Our valley is home to wineries, craft breweries, beaches, and we’re also growing our arts and culture sector, celebrating more and more local talent. The Okanagan is exciting and progressive and growing so fast, it’s a truly fantastic place to work and play.”

Looking forward, the company wants to expand into other provinces and is excited about the farm-gate sales program currently in development by BC’s provincial government. Cleo notes that the local government and organizations like the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission recognize the cannabis industry as a significant driver of economic growth in the region. This support and growth also extend to the region’s tourism industry—in the spring of 2022, Kelowna successfully hosted the inaugural BC Cannabis Summit and the CannaGolf Classic. 

“It makes me feel very confident in the future of the industry because now that we’re finally being recognized and marketed alongside the other local core industries, it means the massive potential that has always been here is now turning into a profitable reality,” adds Cleo. “There are lots of benefits to running the business here, there’s lots of opportunity for growth and expansion, so that’s a big benefit to being in Kelowna.”

Jealous
Fruits

When it comes to farming, it’s all about timing. That’s what makes Okanagan-based Jealous Fruits the envy of cherry farms throughout the world.

The company capitalizes on the higher altitude of its orchards and Okanagan Lake’s moderating effect on temperature to extend cherry harvest into mid-September, so they can export product long after others have completed their seasons.

“There’s a big gap between Northern Hemisphere production and when the Southern Hemisphere production starts out of Chile and Argentina, as they don’t start until November,” says Jealous Fruits’ Sales Manager, Julie McLachlan.

“If we can pick fruit in early September, store it or put it on a boat to China, it’ll be sold in mid-October, when there will be literally nothing available in the world except us.”

Launched as a fruit stand in the early 1900s, Jealous Fruits is owned by the Geen family, with David Geen serving as the company’s CEO, running the operation with his two sons, Eric and Alex. The company is now the only vertically-integrated cherry grower in Canada, meaning they have the capacity to grow, process, and package their crops in-house—controlling the process from blossom to box, as McLachlan notes. “When you buy from us, you know you’re getting our fruit,” she says.

In the 1990s, David Geen saw an opening in the global market for cherries. With their years of experience and David’s reputation as one of the top cherry growers in the world, they went all-in. That was when their international business took off.

“There’s no place like the Okanagan. There’s a great sense of community, a lot of growth happening in the Valley. There’s quite a future for us.”

Growing cherries can be a risky investment, though. McLachlan notes that “cherries are a high-value crop because of its finicky relationship to heat and rain.”

Moreover, to compete as an international agricultural exporter, farms have to produce a significant volume. To meet international demand, Jealous Fruits has invested heavily in its infrastructure. In fact, the company opened its new, state-of-the-art 140,000 square foot facility in 2020.

The facility offers highly precise weight accuracy thanks to automatic box fillers. The latest technology, including the first UNITEC automatic palletizers in North America and optical sorting equipment, means gentler handling and quick identification of damaged product.

At its busiest, Jealous Fruits employs up to 1,200 staff, with more than 1,000 pickers throughout their 1,100 acres of cherry trees.

In 2021, the company produced its largest crop to date: nearly 7,000 tonnes, a 250% increase from the previous year. McLachlan says they are processing about 18 tons an hour.

In addition to mainland China, the farm has a sustained presence throughout Asia, including Taiwan and Japan. Jealous Fruits also exports to Europe and in 2022, they hope to enter the Korean market.

Geen says it’s extremely gratifying to see all of their hard work bearing fruit. “I take personal satisfaction in the jobs created and seeing our products shipped to markets around the world.”

“We’re very proud of the reputation that we have in the Central Okanagan and worldwide,” adds McLachlan. “It’s a testament to what David and his wife Laura have been putting into the company since the 1990s. It’s been a long time coming.”

Farming Karma Fruit Co.

As successful tree-fruit farmers, Karma and Kuku Gill worked and raised their kids on their Okanagan apple orchard—30 years later, the kids are all grown up and working alongside their parents to operate Farming Karma Fruit Co., the agritourism business the Gills launched in 2019. The transition from well-respected orchardists to successful producers of value-added fruit products and tourism experiences was supported by the community.

“Whether it was learning about manufacturing practices and equipment or retail sales and distribution, our community was able to assist us in different ways,” says Karma and Kuku’s son, Avi Gill, who is also the company’s president. It was a desire “to give back to the community,” he adds, as well as “the hope of sparking the interest of the next generation of agricultural pioneers,” that inspired Karma and Kuku to launch their family-owned and operated business.

Avi’s wife, Binny, and younger brother, Sumeet, are also involved in the business, using their unique combination of skills to make the company a success.

At the Gills’ Kelowna property, you’ll find Farming Karma’s production facility, where their line of fruit sodas, which are free of added concentrates, preservatives, and sugars, are made. 

Reflecting back on community partnerships, it was Peter Boyd of Independent Grocer who gave the Gills their first retail opportunity. After just three years in business, and thanks to some initial guidance from Boyd, Farming Karma Sodas can now be found in more than 3,000 stores across BC and Ontario, as well as select stores in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the Yukon.

Avi says being situated in the Okanagan and having the ability to build off the consumer desire for the region’s fruit has helped Farming Karma establish a solid reputation. The local community is also to thank.

“When you’re looking to collaborate [in the Okanagan], there is always someone who is willing to help make a positive impact on your business.” That’s good karma, indeed.

“The support from the community is immense and there is no other place you would want to start. It’s accessible and easy to create a buzz in this community—consumers here are progressive and always looking to support local businesses.”

Paynter’s Fruit Market

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Being a part of the Cannabis industry’s growth has made Cleo’s work with THC BioMed, one of Kelowna’s oldest licensed producers, that much more meaningful. And they’re just getting started in a rapidly accelerating industry, where the long-awaited potential is now becoming a reality.

Download Cannabis Profile
On the far end of West Kelowna sits Paynter’s Fruit Market, a 40-acre fruit and vegetable farm owned and operated by Jennay Oliver, who is the fourth generation of the Paynter family to work this piece of land. More than 100 years ago, Jennay’s great grandfather, Edwin Paynter, first farmed here. In 1951, her grandfather, Harry Paynter Sr., sold the first pieces of fruit from a roadside stand. Her aunts and uncles took the helm in the ‘80s and then handed the reins to Jennay, who took over the operation in 2007 at the age of 23.

“Farming is a way of life, and it offers this perfectly balanced lifestyle,” says Jennay. “What keeps me passionate is seeing people come in and they’re so excited about when things are ready. They’re so excited that our fruit stand is located right on the orchard, they can walk out and see the fruit growing on the trees.”

Taking over the farm at such a young age, Jennay had to learn on the job; she says she is still constantly learning, as agriculture practices continue to shift and evolve. She credits the support of the farming community for helping her solve problems as they come up. Local organizations like the Regional District of the Central Okanagan and Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission also keep her informed about programs and funding that can support her small business.

“Over the last 10 years, we’ve doubled the production of our farm, and now we’re trying to consolidate, improve, and continue to build the sustainability of the farm and trying to be even more efficient with the fruit stand,” says Jennay. She notes that consumer preferences have also shifted to a more sustainable mindset during this time, with people caring more about food quality and having a connection with where their food comes from.

Farming sustainably means the Paynter’s team is constantly thinking about how to minimize inputs to keep the soil as healthy as possible. They use an array of farming techniques, like rotating fields, planting cover crops, not tilling, and using compost as fertilizer, to support the land. This all leads to fresh, locally grown produce that people buy up with enthusiasm, including chefs at local restaurants like Old Vines at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery and The Landing Kitchen + Bar at the Cove Lakeside Resort, both of which are also venues for business meetings and events. 

Making connections in the community extends to Jennay’s relationships with fellow farmers, who she regularly collaborates with. Since they don’t grow every type of fruit and vegetable on the farm, Jennay seeks out local and regional farmers who are growing quality products that can then be sold at Paynter’s Fruit Market, which only carries made in BC products. 

To Jennay, who is raising two young daughters on the farm, the future success of Paynter’s Fruit Market and farming in general extends well beyond her lifetime.

“In 100 years, I would like to see the same amount of land being farmed in the Okanagan that there is right now…it makes our land beautiful and it’s a huge part of our economy.”

Off The Grid Organic Winery

For more than 100 years, farmers in the Paynter family have worked the same plot of land in West Kelowna. Today, brothers Nigel and Travis Paynter, along with their wives, Sheri—one of a growing group of female winemakers in the region—and Hayley (plus numerous family members who are employed full time) practice sustainable farming on the land to grow grapes that are made into premium, organic wine.

The Paynter’s founded Off the Grid Organic Winery, which is certified through the Pacific Agricultural Certification Society, in 2015. Now producing about 2,500 cases of wine per year, Off the Grid was the sixth winery in BC to have both its grapes and wines certified as organic. But producing amazing organic wine is just one facet of Off the Grid’s existence.

True to its name, Off the Grid is committed to its sustainability efforts in all aspects of its operation. The wineshop was built out of straw bales, which offer double the insulation value compared to a standard build, and has solar panels on the roof to power the wineshop. Its unobstructed views of Okanagan Lake and permaculture-in-action operation make it a must-stop destination for tourists and wine enthusiasts.

In addition to wine tastings, locals and visitors alike are also welcomed for yoga classes, live music, and fundraising events for the BC SPCA. A visit with the winery’s flock of rescue animals, including goats, who can explore and play up on the wineshop roof, sheep, and chickens, round out the guest experience and their grazing also helps eliminate weeds.

When asked about the future of the business, Nigel says his goal is to keep the winery and vineyard going for another 100 years.

“Success for us is being able to educate people on sustainable farming practices, and of course, selling out of wine.”

“The wine industry in the entire Okanagan has been so welcoming. Every winemaker looks to help one another, not just in starting [a winery] but constantly with ideas and tips should any problems arise.”

CedarCreek Estate Winery

As one of the original eight wineries in the Okanagan Valley, CedarCreek Estate Winery is a seasoned veteran who happily works with the other wineries in the region’s developed viticulture sector. But CedarCreek isn’t one to rest on its laurels. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

The Central Okanagan winery, which has been named Canadian Winery of the Year at the InterVin International Wine Awards three times (most recently in 2019), is undertaking a significant transformation to be a fully organic vineyard.

According to Winemaker, Taylor Whelan, it’s a fundamental shift in how they’re thinking about their wines and their connection to the land they’ve farmed for more than 40 years.

“Everything you spray on the vineyard goes back into Okanagan Lake,” Whelan says. “The lake is our drinking water. As we conceptualize the closed loop, we want to make an effort to leave this place a little bit better than how we found it.”

The closed loop Whelan speaks about is the holistic philosophy of cultivating the natural ecosystem of the 50-plus acres on which CedarCreek resides. The winery doesn’t use anything that wouldn’t be found outside the natural area and relies on animals and plants to naturally combat disease and pests. In addition, CedarCreek employs an extensive composting program, leaving nothing to waste.

The shift in thinking can be summarized this way: in order to go forward, CedarCreek is going back. “Conventional agriculture is something that started in the last century, and it changed the way people farmed. A similar thing happened with vineyards. We’re on the journey back to what we were doing 100-150 years ago,” Whelan says.

“People can say viticulture is pretty natural but once you look under the hood, often it’s not,” he adds. “So, we’re making the commitment to say we’re going back and trying to be as natural as we can.”

And what about the quality of the wine? Did the move to organic maintain CedarCreek’s strong reputation?

In 2019, CedarCreek became certified organic in its farming and winemaking, part of a growing movement. In fact, when CedarCreek started the organic process, 4% of the Okanagan’s wineries were organic. Now, it’s close to 18%.

CedarCreek’s Organic Viticulturist, Kurt Simcic, says it’s even better. In his mind, going organic “led to a new range of wines, a tier above platinum. It’s been a natural evolution—the grapes grow differently, the flavour profile is changing, Taylor is producing more unique and more valuable wines.”

Whelan and Simcic point to organics as the first major achievement in a journey. CedarCreek is also partnering with Regeneration Canada, a national movement with a focus on regenerative land management, to see how they can further care for the ecosystem in which they farm.

“We’re not going to sit back and say, “We’re organic.” We can always do more and do it better,” Simcic states. “That’s an important piece to how we’re carrying on. It’s a super fun and exciting project to be a part of.”

If the winery’s track record over its 35-year history is any indication, there is sure to be more excitement, innovation, and award-winning wine in CedarCreek’s future.

“Many tourists who come to the region are surprised at what we can produce here. I love to see more international recognition for the Okanagan happening because there are amazing wines here.”

50th Parallel Estate

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What started as a first conversation on a houseboat along the Shuswap became a fruitful marriage and business. The Krouzels founded 50th Parallel Estate Winery, one of the Okanagan’s largest wineries in one of the best viticultural regions in the world. They’re excited to connect people and place with each glass of Pinot.

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After some lakeside contemplation, self-professed Glamour Farmers, Curtis Krouzel and Sheri-Lee Turner-Krouzel took the plunge to build their “slice of heaven,” 50th Parallel Estate Winery, on a 61-acre estate in Lake Country, north of Kelowna.

“The Central Okanagan provides one of the most diverse regions in the world in which to produce world-class wines and boasts uncompromised beauty and complementary tourism experiences that draw guests from around the world,” says Krouzel.

The couple hand planted the winery’s first 10 acres of vines in 2009. Krouzel used his engineering background to improve the process by designing a planting machine that was able to navigate difficult slopes on the property. From there, the team took on the challenge of growing notoriously difficult Pinot Noir grapes and went all-in with the varietal. In fact, it is the only red wine produced onsite, making up about 35% of the winery’s production.

In 2020, 50th Parallel launched its Glamour Farming canned wine, aligning with consumer trends and offering a more sustainable, fully recyclable option.

50th Parallel’s original winery was expanded by 15,000 square feet in 2018. The architecturally stunning space includes a tasting room, flexible indoor-outdoor space for banquets and events, and BLOCK ONE Restaurant, which made OpenTable’s list of Top 100 Restaurants in Canada for 2021.

“Let’s be honest, there is no lakefront city in the world like Kelowna. We are not an emerging international destination… we have arrived.”

In addition to helping source and secure meetings and conferences, Krouzel notes that Tourism Kelowna’s team “was very helpful in the early years, helping bring influencers and media to the winery to spread the word about our up-and-coming new business.”

“We have managed to achieve our goals of building a place where people want to come and visit and experience our wines, and most importantly we have built an incredible team that we are proud to
call our 50th family.”

Alpine Aerotech

Starting with just four employees in 1990, Alpine Aerotech is a perfect example of the success that can be achieved in the Okanagan.

Today, the company is one of the largest helicopter customer support centres in the world, employing 150 people between their two BC facilities, including their main headquarters in West Kelowna.

“We chose the Central Okanagan because of the many established helicopter operators in the region; the Okanagan is also home to some of the longest-standing operators in Canada,” says President, Jeff Denomme. “The region has a variety of companies that work internationally but still call the Okanagan home, providing a significant contribution to our local economy.”

It was these established helicopter operators that contributed, in part, to the company’s success, adds Denomme.

“There was a need to provide heavy maintenance and overhaul services to help support the local industry, providing innovative solutions through our manufacturing capabilities and fostering relationships with our customers has made [Alpine] Aerotech what it is today.”

Thanks to its best-in-class reputation, Alpine Aerotech now provides services to some of the most successful companies in the world from its almost 100,000 square feet of combined manufacturing and office space. The company has been a recognized service centre for Italy’s Leonardo Helicopters since 2017 and is one of the largest and most reputable support facilities for Texas-based Bell Helicopters.

“The Okanagan is full of opportunity and continues to grow,” adds Denomme. “All you have to do is take a drive through the Valley to see the diverse industries and companies that have succeeded here.” 

Of course, you can always see it by helicopter, too.

“The Okanagan offers a great work/life balance. You don’t have to travel far to take in all the amenities the region has to offer. The local community is also very personable and very willing to work together.”

Natures Formulae

Many entrepreneurial journeys start out of a founder’s home, often the garage or basement. For Barbra Johnston, the journey started at her kitchen sink, where she launched Natures Formulae Health Products Ltd. more than 30 years ago.

As a pioneer in Western Canada’s health and wellness industry, it was Barbra’s vision and dedication to developing all-natural products that laid the foundation for the company’s success.

“We are one of a few Western-based manufacturers in the cosmeceutical and nutraceutical industry,” says President, Alison Yesilcimen.

Today, Natures Formulae has moved on from Barbra’s kitchen sink, now occupying a 30,000 square foot facility in Kelowna. More than 80 team
members work at the facility, developing and manufacturing the company’s own line of branded products, as well as private label and custom all-natural products for national and international brands.

“We are honoured to have developed thousands of products in our in-house research and development lab,” says Yesilcimen. “Our formulators seek out products and ingredients that can drive new innovation.”

The search for unique and innovative natural ingredients is a global endeavour but starts in the company’s backyard. In fact, Kelowna’s official flower, the Arrowleaf Balsamroot, or Okanagan Sunflower as it’s known to residents, is just one of the local ingredients making its way into Natures Formulae’s products.

“We are all about health and wellness, which is why living in nature’s playground has been instrumental in shaping our organization,” Yesilcimen says. “Natural is our niche. Full stop.”

“Many organizations have supported our business throughout the last thirty years. More recently, we have worked with UBC [Okanagan] and Okanagan College to find graduates looking to start their careers. Many of our employees have graduated from these incredible institutions.”

Jupiter Avionics

Renowned worldwide for the aircraft audio communications equipment they design and manufacture, Jupiter Avionics has been recognized as one of Canada’s fastest-growing companies for each of the last three years.

Jupiter was founded in 2011 after Northern Airborne Technology (NAT) closed due to restructuring. Several senior executives from NAT saw a new door ready to be opened as one was closing and assembled the Jupiter team with well-respected avionics professionals who had previously contributed to NAT’s success.

The products Jupiter designs and manufactures, which are produced mainly for mission-oriented helicopters (think medical transport, firefighting, law enforcement, and emergency search and rescue), include audio controllers, wireless intercoms, and a multitude of accessories and interfaces.

“Virtually all our products are exported, and our customers hail from every corner of the globe,” says President, Mitch Stinson. “Although we do not have a high local profile, we are well-known worldwide
in our market.”

Stinson adds that the company’s strategy is to provide highly customizable products while maintaining short lead times. They have developed a “nimble and adaptive approach to meeting market needs,” he says, which combined with the longstanding expertise of its founders, is surely a contributor to the company’s reputation and success.

As Jupiter Avionics carries on its growth trajectory, there is no doubt that the impact of the company’s work will continue to be felt throughout the world.

“The core of our team has lived in the Kelowna area for more than 30 years. When we decided to form our own company, it was a no-brainer to base ourselves in Kelowna… we knew we’d be able to attract new employees to the area given its wide range of year-round activities.”