Perseverance pays off for NC & HESIC alumni Peter Brewer

Peter Brewer holding mushrooms at Heartee

 

Peter Brewer is a 2021 graduate of the Greenhouse Technician program; a 2022 graduate of the Commercial Cannabis Production program. He worked with the worked with the Horticultural & Environmental Sciences Innovation Centre as a Research Assistant from 2021 to 2022 and was hired as a Research Associate for a year from 2022 to 2023. He now works at Heartee Foods. Read on to learn about his journey to success.

What year did you graduate and what program?

I attended Niagara College (NC) and took the Greenhouse Technician program graduating in 2021 followed by the Commercial Cannabis Production program in 2022. The Greenhouse Technician program provided an excellent plant science and cultivation base and I was able to specialize in indoor grow systems with the Commercial Cannabis Production program.

What led you to want to go to Niagara College in the first place?

I knew from a pretty young age that I wanted to work in plant production, specifically food or cannabis. I first pursued a bachelor’s degree in biology but wanted to enter the industry as quickly as possible. I’ve always learned better from hands-on experience, so I switched to NC and absolutely loved my time there.

When did you work with Research & Innovation? Years and what was your role?

I worked with Research and Innovation (R&I) as a Research Assistant in the Horticultural & Environmental Sciences Innovation Centre(HESIC) part-time from fall 2021 until summer 2022, during my studies in the cannabis program. After I graduated, I was lucky to be offered a full-time 1-year contract as a Research Associate with HESIC focused on cannabis research where I worked from May 2022 until May 2023.

Describe where you’re at now in your life / career. What are you up to?

I am currently living in my hometown Ottawa and have been lucky to find an exciting job working for a mushroom growing company called Heartee Foods. At Heartee, we grow high quality gourmet mushrooms such lionsmane, chestnuts and oyster mushrooms indoors in shipping containers that have been customized to provide a perfect growing environment for these species of mushrooms. We provide fresh, locally grown mushrooms delivered directly to many restaurants, markets and Loblaws grocery stores. The company is growing quickly; we have farms all over Canada. The way we are setup means we can easily build new farms wherever there is a demand for these kinds of mushrooms. I have been working at Heartee for three months now and have really been enjoying my time here. Mushrooms grow so much faster than the cannabis and greenhouse crops I’m used to growing so I find the pace quick and exciting. The company is also very open to new ideas and is adaptable to changes that can improve growth, yield, and efficiency, I find this very refreshing compared to some of the lack of adaptability I saw working in the cannabis industry.

How has your experience with Research & Innovation helped prepare you for the workforce?

My time with HESIC was amazing for preparing for my current role. During my time as a Research Associate, I was involved in almost all the tasks in our experiments including planning, growing, data collection, cleanup and report writing. This experience made me quite adaptable to different roles that mushroom production at Heartee requires. We’re a relatively small team (compared to the HESIC team) so like many individuals on the HESIC team, I have to wear many hats and help out with all aspects of growing. Some of the transferable skills I have found most useful at this new job are monitoring indoor growing environments, troubleshooting HVAC, humidifier and exhaust systems, my close attention to detail on optimizing growth and the use of Excel for data collection and inventory control. The roles at HESIC were perfect for this transition as the modified shipping containers we use at Heartee is like the one used in NC’s CannaBunker.

A memorable applied research project during your time at R&I?

A memorable applied research project that stands out to me during my time at R&I would be my first Integrated Pest Management (IPM) related project with Sebastian Jacob testing the efficacy of beneficial insects on pest insects. This project was amazing to set up, the results were interesting, and it had me excited to come to work in a way that I hadn’t experience prior to that. I felt like we were discovering some very interesting stuff, and the team was great to work. I formed some friendships that last to this day during that project.

“My time with HESIC was amazing for preparing for my current role. During my time as a Research Associate, I was involved in almost all the tasks in our experiments including planning, growing, data collection, cleanup and report writing.”

– Peter Brewer, R&I and NC alumni

Do have any special memories during your time as a student at NC?

My best memories as a student at NC were the times I shared with the friends I made. I was a bit nervous when I first came to Niagara, as I’m a slightly introverted person and was moving somewhere that I knew nobody. However, I very quickly made many good friends with similar interests who made me feel welcome immediately.

Do you have a mentor who influenced you?

It is very difficult to pick one. During my time as a student in the greenhouse and cannabis programs classes taught by Derek Schultze, Mary-Jane Clark, Sebastian Jacob and Bill Macdonald helped morph my general love of plants into a genuine interest in plant science, IPM, and plant pathology. During my time as an employee at HESIC, Branka Milunovic, Laurie Zuber and Stanley Leggett were amazing mentors that taught me a lot and were amazingly patient and eager to help when needed.

What advice would you give to a current student?

Get involved with the College as much as possible. Working at the College is great for hands on experience either with R&I or some of the other jobs involved in many of the programs. I worked for the College greenhouse for some time before joining HESIC and the hands-on experience I gained was amazing. If you can’t get a job with the College than get involved with clubs or teams. Getting involved at the College is great for making friends with similar interests and goals and having new experiences which I believe is a key part of college or university.

Since graduating, what have you learned? Are there specific examples from jobs you’ve done since that you want to share?

I have learned that in the food and cannabis production industry consistency and speed is key for things to go smoothly. You must learn how to order tasks for maximum efficiency and be predictable in your speed in completing those tasks. These skills will allow you to more effectively coordinate with coworkers to complete all the key tasks of the day and ideally leave a little extra time for the inevitable chaos and crunch times that come up occasionally in these industries.

What do you do in your personal time?

I love to hike and explore new places in nature. Both Niagara and Ottawa are rich in naturally beautiful areas. I also enjoy fishing, finding new music and practicing martial arts – specifically Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Proudest achievement since graduating?

The coolest experience I have had since graduating was during my time as a Research Associate speaking at the Grow Up Conference with the GrowDoc founder, Daniel Lirette, on an experiment he and his company had done with my Commercial Cannabis class. That whole conference was very fun for me and really opened my eyes to a more science driven side of the cannabis industry.

If you could have a billboard message seen by many, what would it say?

Always keep learning. Learning creates opportunities which lead to a better life.