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Not weed, but a seed of an idea for a new crop for Nova Scotia

Kevin Cain of Maritime Hemp Innovation examines a hemp field near Cocagne, N.B.  Hemp is an established crop in New Brunswic, and is starting to be grown in Nova Scotia.
Kevin Cain of Maritime Hemp Innovation examines a hemp field near Cocagne, N.B. Hemp is an established crop in New Brunswick, and is starting to be grown in Nova Scotia. - SaltWire Network

A Halifax company is trying to establish hemp in the Annapolis Valley to supply its wholesale and retail markets

David Giffin is ready for the question, and the answer is no.

“Hemp is not marijuana.”

Giffin, his brother Jordan and Jack MacDonald, all Halifax men in their mid-20s, established Giffin Technologies in 2017 to make value-added products from hemp seed.

“Hemp is the cannabis plant, but there’s no THC, all the THC is bred out of the hemp plant and it’s used for industrial purposes like food and fibre,” Giffin said. “The fibre, you can make textiles, rope, building material. The seeds, you can make into a lot of food products, and that’s what we do, we only utilize the seed of the plant. We make hemp seed oil, hemp protein powder, baking flours and hemp hearts, which is the inner heart of the seed. The seed is a super food, with Omega 3, a lot of minerals, protein and dietary fibre.”

Giffin Technologies is conducting a trial this summer at a farm near Canning, and also has a research and development farm outside Bridgewater. For now, their raw material comes from a hundred contracted acres in New Brunswick.

“The infrastructure is greatest in New Brunswick, it’s a little behind in Nova Scotia,” said Giffin. “But we’re getting the ball rolling for trials in Nova Scotia so we can have farms in the Annapolis Valley.”

An aerial shot of a hemp field, where different varieties are being grown to see which is most suitable for cultivation in the Maritimes. - Contributed
An aerial shot of a hemp field, where different varieties are being grown to see which is most suitable for cultivation in the Maritimes. - Contributed

Hemp plants can grow up to two metres tall. The raw seed comes from the fields to Giffin’s small warehouse and factory in Windsor in huge bags, where machines grind it into powder and oil.

If the Canning trial goes well, it’ll be used as an example for other farmers, some of whom are skittish about growing hemp because of the complexity of harvesting.

“What can happen is in a combine the rope-like stalk can get wrapped up,” said Giffin. “There are specific settings to get around that, but farmers don’t want to do trial and error, a lot of farmers want a set solution, a known solution. With more trials comes more security to pass along to the farmers.”

A hundred acres of the crop yields about a hundred thousand pounds of seed to process, sufficient for Giffin Technologies’ oil and protein contracts. Giffin exports oil to Australia and the U.S., and powders to bulk sellers, private label companies and ingredient suppliers.

While Giffin Technologies sells bulk products on pallets, affiliated company Earthli has a retail presence in several Halifax area stores, and is working with a food brokers to get on Sobey’s and Loblaws store shelves.

David Giffin of Earthli, the Halifax company that's processing hemp into food products for wholesale and retail markets. - Bill Spurr
David Giffin of Earthli, the Halifax company that's processing hemp into food products for wholesale and retail markets. - Bill Spurr

Consumer products are packaged at the Dartmouth Adult Service Centre in recycled metal tins with labels made from recycled paper and containing scoops made of sugar cane.

Giffin says the company will focus on food for the next couple of years, then branch out into other hemp products. He has long been fascinated by hempcrete, a building material.

“I always knew I wanted to have a business, and have it in hemp. It was just a matter of what part of hemp we were going to get into,” he said. “Canadian hemp oil is comparable to Colombian coffee. Buyers know the quality of the Colombian bean, just as international companies and other countries rely on Canadian hemp seed and hemp seed oil as the superior product, superior to Asia and Europe because of regulations and traceability.”

Giffin Technologies has four employees, and plans to have 40 in a couple of years. Revenue in seven figures is another goal for two years from now.

“There’s still more demand than supply,” said Giffin, who, along with his co-founders went through ACOA’s Business Development Program and went into business right out of university.

“Being young does present its challenges. People have the belief that young people aren’t as knowledgeable as, say, a middle-aged person who normally runs this type of business,” he said. “We counter those perceptions with ambition, drive and hunger.

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