For some in the still-forming legal cannabis space, the plant has been a lifelong passion, where a career almost seemed destined for ages, regardless of its legal status. For many others, marijuana has become part of their career options as laws changed. Agnes Kwasniewska falls into the latter despite appreciating cannabis and cultivation at large. Today, she is an award winning, milestone achieving, cannabis cultivation leader in the Canadian market.
While she had a fondness for cannabis, and consumed recreationally, the agricultural professional had no experience growing it herself. “I knew what I wanted out of my bud, but I never grew it,” recalled Kwasniewska, who earned a master of science in entomology from McGill University in 2009.
That would change in 2016 when the burgeoning cannabis industry would converge with her own blossoming cultivation career. That year, the Quebec-based consumer packaged goods cannabis brand HEXO Corp named Agnes Kwasniewska its Master Grower. She described her thought process when considering if cannabis was for her: “I thought, well, ‘Why not? Why wouldn’t I want to be part of this?’”
The cultivation pro discussed the opportunity presented to her. “This was just a great in, to be able to work with such a unique plant and do it legally.”
Her hiring made headlines for several reasons. Credentials like Kwasniewska’s represented a welcomed expert addition to the cannabis community. That would be true today and was even more so the case in 2016.
That said, her gender made much of the headlines. Unbeknownst to the now-Master Grower, her hiring represented a glass ceiling shattering moment in the Canadian cannabis cultivation space. HEXO’s recruitment of Agnes Kwasniewska made the company the first in the country to hire a female Master Grower.
“I was quite surprised by it,” the Master Grower remembered. Agnes thought that the industry had to have had a female in the role before her. While accepting she’s the first in the legal market, Agnes still believes that the illicit market has seen its share of women in the role.
Agnes Kwasniewska: Breaking The Grass Ceiling
The buzz about her hiring may have been the first time being woman came into work for Agnes. In previous interviews, she recalled her gender never playing a factor in the field. However, the news did give the newly minted Master Grower a sense of pride. Throughout the news cycle, work remained the same as usual, aside from a slight degree of added pressure. “[The milestone] did put a little bit more attention on me,” she said. “But I don’t find it changed the way I worked or the way I went about my day.”
While the occasional media attention didn’t alter her work, Agnes did recognize its importance to her career. “I feel privileged to be able to start in this industry as the first female [Master Grower]. It’s nice to have that acknowledgment moving forward, and feel appreciated for the work that I did.”
Since her 2016 hiring, Kwasniewska has achieved several significant achievements in the field. For her, being part of the HEXO’s scalability has to be one of the most significant moments to date. “When I started, we had only 7,000-square-feet of greenhouse. In the last three years, we’ve exploded to 1.3 million-square-feet of canopy space,” she explained.
With great success often comes pain points, Agnes’ case included. From remaining compliant to changing public perception, she encountered several “growing pains” along the way. However, the Master Grower credits remaining agile as a key to her sustained success to date. “I had to stay very flexible and adaptable to change because everything was moving so fast,” she recalled. “Everything was so new that, sometimes, something could change from week to week.”
Remaining agile and adaptable paid off for Agnes. Both HEXO and cannabis community members took notice, and for much more than her gender. In September of 2019, Agnes was awarded the Master Grower of the Year title at the 2019 Grow Up Awards.
In a press release announcing the news, HEXO CEO and co-founder, Sebastien St-Louis said of her work, “Here at HEXO we all know that Agnes is an exceptional role model and grower and has been instrumental in our success…We are extremely proud to see her great work recognized by her peers in the cannabis industry.”
The recognition and the gravity of her hiring combine to reveal just how much of an impact Kwasniewska makes in the space. The award-winner told High Times, “I’m really happy to have the opportunity to be a role model to people and…show women that they are capable of succeeding in this world and in this industry.”
Those hoping to become successful cultivators like her may want to start by growing their own plants at home. Under its laws, Canadians can grow up to four cannabis plants at home. Kwasniewska believes that giving people the chance to grow is the sensible option and agrees with the regulation. “I think it’s great for people to see how the plant behaves, how it works…I think it’s a vital experience and a fun gardening activity.”
In several American states, like New York, home growing is sticky, legally speaking. So much so that cannabis companies have urged state lawmakers to ban home cultivation.
“I don’t see what the issue is,” said the Master Grower of the matter. In addition to benefitting home growers with a hands-on cultivation experience, Agnes pointed out that expert cultivation know-how is required to create plants on the level of a licensed producer. As such, little to no home growers could rival licensed products.
“I’m not really worried about somebody having a few cannabis plants in their backyard.” She added, “I mean, not everyone out there has a green thumb either.”
When it comes to her work, Agnes and HEXO have several plans underway. That includes the recent release of a value flower brand, Original Stash. The Master Grower is also working on new genetics in the greenhouse, though she couldn’t elaborate much further than that.
While details on new products were sparse, one thing was clear: Agnes Kwasniewska is in her zone. The cultivation expert continues to thrive in a space she never expected to be in just a few shorts years ago. Regardless of gender, her story represents one of a person who has stayed agile and kept learning. In doing so, she’s combined a passion for cultivation with a plant that once only seemed like a hobby.
Now, she’s helping steer the course of the industry. “Keep an eye out for new genetics. It’s coming,” she said with a cheerful chuckle.