Recreational affection becomes career path for graduate

Peter Brewer’s fondness for plants runs as deep as a taproot on an unrelenting dandelion.

That affection and its accompanying curiosity about all things green and leafy makes him the ideal candidate for his research associate role at Niagara College’s Horticultural & Environmental Sciences Innovation Centre (HESIC), where he assists on critical industry-advancing projects involving cannabis production.

It also made Brewer the ideal grandson.

Growing up near Ottawa, Brewer could often be found as a teen helping his grandfather, Pedro, in his garden. They grew spinach and other leafy greens in raised beds, using organic methods and forging a deeper connection to each other over every crop they harvested together, to share with family or charity.

“It was a great way to bond with my grandfather before he passed away,” Brewer recalled. “He was a strong believer that organic food was helpful for people with cancer and people transitioning into elderly life, for staying healthy and active.”

It would turn out to be helpful in carving a career path, too. So would experimenting with cannabis in high school.

What started as a foray into recreational cannabis use turned into an eye-opening experience for Brewer. He had trouble sleeping as a youth until he started consuming cannabis. Even his stress management improved.

That experience only solidified Brewer’s love of plants.

As further attestation, he enrolled in biology at the University of Ottawa after graduating high school. He continued honing his gardening skills while studying, this time growing cannabis as a hobby. Unlike edible leafy greens, however, getting a worthwhile cannabis crop proved a bit more of a guessing game.

“I found with cannabis there was so much information and so many opinions on how things should be done,” Brewer said. “There was room for improvement because the industry was so young.”

Brewer saw himself as part of that improvement. He put his biology degree on pause and switched his studies to Niagara College’s Commercial Cannabis Production program.

“It’s great for me, personally, to upgrade my skills and be adaptable for any type of job in the future.”

Brewer graduated in April, having worked part-time during his studies as a research assistant in the CannaResearchBunker on industry-driven projects. He was promoted to full-time research associate soon after graduation.

During his time with HESIC, Brewer has worked on projects testing fertilizer and seeking remedies against the crop-damaging cannabis aphid. His day-to-day work involves tending to plants, documenting findings, and lending his green thumb to all stages of growing and testing crops.

Much like his feelings for his subjects, Brewer is quite fond of his job.

“We find interesting things I wouldn’t have thought would happen,” he said. “It’s really expanded upon my knowledge. (The cannabis aphid) project, in particular, had very interesting results that were very different than I thought they would be. It was interesting to see things I thought were true, or that I thought were true but weren’t what happened.

“It’s great for me, personally, to upgrade my skills and be adaptable for any type of job in the future,” he added.

When he’s not getting his hands dirty at work, Brewer enjoys kicking up mud on hikes and taking in the natural beauty of Niagara. He also recently enrolled in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Of course, there’s growing things in his spare time, too, although not a vegetable garden because he doesn’t have the space. And no cannabis to avoid cross-contamination with plants at work.

Instead, he’s turning his attention toward another type of greenery no less worthy of his care and interest.

“I’ve always liked things you can eat or smoke but I do like flowers, too,” Brewer said. “So, I have a lot of houseplants that have become my hobby now.”