Jennifer Ayotte, cannabis pioneer, has been selected for an international mastercourse. To be clear, Ayotte is a cannabis cultivation manager who happens to be a woman, rather than the alternative.
But the Wayland Cultivation Manager is also honoured to be among a significant female minority selected to the inaugural 15-member Jungle Talks Pro Manager Medicinal Cannabis Mastercourse June 2 through 15th in The Netherlands. An international event building on the model of floriculture and vegetable-based predecessors, it recognizes cannabis’s emergence as a horticultural subsector.
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By Jeff Tribe
The interdisciplinary opportunity links medical cannabis industry members with leading-edge Dutch horticulturalists for an intensive two-week networking-rich investigation of contemporary and evolving best practices through complementary presentations, site visits and industry-leader peer interaction. Professionals from around the globe were invited to apply, successful candidates selected through secondary screening based on competence and contribution to the group dynamic.
A passionate believer in the efficacy of medical cannabis, Ayotte is a focussed and driven pioneering industry professional attracted to the mastercourse for the singular accelerated growth opportunity it represents.
“It’s definitely important for us to be a presence there,” she said, citing growing recognition amongst the broader agricultural community. “Instead of the illegitimate stepchild.”
Ayotte came obtusely to cannabis’s contemporary green gold rush, following husband Jeff’s westward quest to Boone, Colorado to design a visionary production facility combining smart-technology automation with resource efficiency and sustainability. Her initial foray into agronomy was driven by crop issues jointly threatening harvest and the Ayotte family’s financial commitment, met initially by a patronizing attitude containing more than a hint of ‘isn’t that cute.’ Jennifer’s interim performance exceeded that of the initial and two subsequent contracted growers, leading to official recognition of fait accompli.
“I hate ‘agronomist’, hate ‘master grower’, hate titles,” she mused, adding with a smile, “let’s do cultivation manager.”
Post Boone, Ayotte has been at the forefront of diverse global cannabis-industry progress including a consultation in Hawaii’s particularly challenging growth environment, overseen development of a full grow in Switzerland, and mapped out and engineered a 165-hectare German hemp production operation from seeding through harvest and drying, as well as creating integrated Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for each unique facility, reflective of their specific international jurisdictions. Subsequently, she accepted the supervisory position at Wayland’s Langton-area purpose-built cannabis production facility, where to date, Ayotte has more than tripled previous production benchmarks while also creating her fifth set of tailor-made SOP.
Her passion for excellence is driven by ‘love of the flower,’ her approach keeping eyes on the plants, striving to predict and head off issues before they arise.
“It’s experience and time, that’s what it equates to. Historical data and the subtle differences that work for a grower and wouldn’t work for anyone else.”
Although she feels there is no major down or upside to being a female cannabis grow manager, (“Either sex, it’s a lot of hard work,”) Ayotte says the industry definitely is a ‘boys club’ with predominantly male growers.
“I don’t think a lot of people realize very few women are in the field,” she said. “And women have a lot to offer.”
Females are however becoming an increasing presence she says, their population expanding.
“The industry is young and growing – there is opportunity everywhere to get involved and advance.”
The mastercourse features horticulture (biology meeting technology, automation, transparent, safe and sustainable ‘green’ practices) and medical cannabis components, the latter featuring digital business-to-business networking, the Netherlands’ public/private cannabis trials, CANNA analytical laboratory testing, grow light system solutions, and entrepreneurial vision and strategies.
The mastercourse franchise is the brainchild of husband and wife concept development team Ed Smit and Renee Snijders, Netherlands natives residing in Costa Rica. They launched Nethwork in 2010, an initiative targeting Central American horticultural development through a three-week managers training under the slogan ‘Think Orange, Grow Green’, combined homage to Holland’s collaborative in-house approach and sustainability. A 17-member cluster of Dutch companies at its core reflected both their heritage and the fact the tiny European country is second only to the United States in produce exports.
“It says something about the level of technology and innovation Holland has reached,” said Smit.
Mastercourse expanded participant scope and potential market impact for host companies while retaining the initial concept’s central tenets.
“It’s very much in line with what we did before,” said Snijders. “But on a worldwide scale.”
Each continent was represented at the vegetable mastercourse, all but Australia for the floriculture. Adding a medical cannabis option developed from expressed interest, a matter said Smit of replicating a proven concept.
“We are in a good position to match our contacts and experience with a new crop,” Snijders added.
Candidate criteria for the previous courses was predominantly ‘future-proof’ company members aged 25-40 either on or destined for the board of directors.
“This group is more diverse than we are used to,” said Smit, citing the comparatively restrictive nature of some international cannabis regulations. As a result, participation will largely be European and North American growers but also include a major investor and medical professional. Three successful female candidates will add to group dynamics, believes Snijders, a number eclipsing previous mastercourse participation, two for the vegetable option and zero for flowers.
“I find it very positive we have three women,” said Snijders, clarifying their selection is welcome, but based on merit. “We want women, but never because of the fact they are women.”
A collaborative team in their own right, Snijders and Smit found affinity with Jennifer’s share of Canadian cannabis power couple status, but emphasized her inclusion is based on individual qualifications.
“She has all the potential to become one of the leading figures in the world of cannabis,” Snijders credited.
Smit says previous mastercourse participants exited with a growth experience, business cards and personal connections to the decision makers from leading Dutch horticultural companies, exposure to business opportunities and a network of global peers they can consult, trust and genuinely like.
“You are looking at the newest technology and thinking that applies to your own company and sector,” Snijders concluded.
Typically, industry players roll one of two ways says Ayotte, either unbelievably friendly and communicative.
“Or it’s the veil of secrecy where somebody figures they have the magic formula. But for the most part, they are very friendly and communicative.
“The industry doesn’t learn and move forward unless we learn together.”
In broader terms, Ayotte sees the cannabis mastercourse as an extension of that reality and welcomes her opportunity to both participate and contribute.
“ I think it’s critical for the cannabis industry to co-mingle with established agriculture and become part of the team instead of the outsider. And I think acknowledging cannabis is an agricultural crop is one of the first steps.”