Bright ideas: Inside Aphria’s state-of-the-art greenhouse

Aphria Quality Director Mary Jo Camboia details how the licensed producer meets—and exceeds—industry safety standards

Leamington, Ontario, located along the shores of Lake Erie, is a planter’s paradise. With a population of 28,000, it’s known as the sunshine capital of Canada, and those rays flood Health Canada licensed producer Aphria’s massive greenhouse complex, a 360,000-square-foot production facility where the company grows its medicinal marijuana crops.

Inside, the environment is bright, warm and fragrant with the aroma of cannabis. “Our growing conditions in the greenhouse provide for a bright, natural environment, which is optimal for the plant’s DNA profile,” says Mary Jo Camboia, Quality Director at Aphria. “It’s almost keeping it in a very natural state.” It’s an energizing atmosphere for Aphria’s plant biologists, whose focus is on maintaining strict environmental and biological protocols that meet, and often exceed, government regulations.

“I’d like to say that our quality system is extremely robust,” says Camboia. “We’re not limited to just standard operating procedures. We also include initial and ongoing personnel training, there is a facility sanitation program, and proper hygiene practices for employees and visitors. There is production control at all stages of the process. Our standard operating procedures are detailed and comprehensive and clearly defined with step-by-step instructions required to complete any tasks.”

Consistency is key in every segment of Aphria’s business, from quality control to standard operating procedures to cannabis growth cycles. Crops are rotated between areas during the different stages of the growth cycle, such as “vegetative” (the crop’s main growing stage) and “flowering” (when female plants produce the THC-rich buds). “It’s clean, it’s organized,” she says. “You walk in and see consistency.” The atmosphere of each area varies depending on the plant’s progress. “If you’re in our flowering greenhouse, you will get more of a fervent smell of the product,” she says, adding, “it smells like work to me.”

Aphria has been a licensed producer since 2014, involved with organizations ranging from The Arthritis Society and Rethink Breast Cancer to Kalytera Therapeutics, PhytoPlain and Medlab (Australia) to expand medical marijuana research and education. Visitors to Aphria often find the facility to not be what they expect. “People are often surprised about the energy the team has, the teamwork, the collaboration, the organization, the friendliness, the documentation and quality practices that are in place, and that we are all working for the common goal,” she says. “You handpick who’s going to join you on this journey. It’s important to get people with the same goals, motivations or experience.”

Camboia previously worked for Jamieson Laboratories in international and domestic regulatory quality assurance, alongside Aphria CEO Vic Neufeld and CSO Gary Leon. “Originating from the natural health products world, over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, and the produce industry, quality has never been viewed as intellectual property,” she says. “Aphria’s quality department feels strongly that open communication and sharing fundamental practices is key to building a strong industry.”

That collaborative spirit thrives among the tight-knit staff of 112 who work in Aphria’s sun-dappled production facility. “It’s a very uplifting environment for our employees,” Camboia says. “When we step out to the greenhouse, it feels good.”

This post was sponsored by Aphria.

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1 comment

  1. Ryan Reply

    My question is, "how is your runoff? Is it beneficial?" I'm going to assume the usual salt-based, synthetic nutrients are being used in this massive operation, and, like all bottle-growers, you need do a heavy flush of the root zone to rid the plants of the nastiness being fed them. Where does all this contamination go? Back into Lake Erie to create more blue algae blooms? Poison whatever fish (if any at all remain) that habitate the lake? Sure the greenhouse looks great, but, how will Aphria deal with this issue?