After years of activist-led initiatives stemming from the endeavored sacrifices and persistence of medical patients, Canada legalized the use of recreational cannabis in addition to home growing in most provinces in October 2018. Legalization brought with it the ability for citizens to donate, gift, or share their personally grown cannabis with others. As we continue down the path of legalization, many are focusing on the positive facets to be offered by participating and interacting in friendly community building competitions like the 4Plants Cup.

On the commercial side of things, regulations surrounding the production and security of cannabis producers have been onerous in practice and limiting in the scope of agricultural activity; an industry of compliance geared towards pharma that tolerates farming.

In the midst of these transitioning times, the true cannabis community is alive like never before, with grassroots events and projects starting to breathe fire back into the spirit of the cultivation community. We are witnessing the strengthening of ties and genuine connections forming between growers across the nation, through participation in events like the 4Plants Cup.

Read also: Is There Room for Craft Cannabis?

In what is proving to be an increasingly popular trend in both food and cannabis production, cultivators of all backgrounds and skill sets are returning to the beautiful wonders and simplicities of gardening by taking advantage of most provinces’ allowance on home growing. The imperfections of early legislation combined with a lack of quality products and price points has spawned a growing movement of first-timers and veterans alike diving deep into their gardens and graciously sharing the experience with others through online mediums like Twitter.

The 4Plants Cup is one such glimmer of hope when one looks at some of the positive things that have come about from the allowances under The Cannabis Act.

Started as a series of friendly jokes and memes on Twitter in early 2019 leading into Canada’s first legal grow season, 4Plants Cup has brought various growers from diverse geographical and production-based backgrounds together to share in the rewarding experience of home-grown cannabis. In less than a year, the team behind the cup set up a website, obtained sponsorship from prominent ancillary companies like Dutch Nutrients, Remo Brands, and Keystone Labs, while crafting and cementing a community of passion and respect for the plant.

Growers are grouped into different categories based on production style and experience, with the judging process taking place as a blind taste test between all growers in a specific category post curing season.

Run entirely by volunteers, the event neatly fits into the stipulations of The Cannabis Act and celebrates the ability in gifting one’s recreational home-grown cannabis.

Around the same time of the 4Plants Cup inception, lackluster quality product shown through online reviews spurred a response of legacy growers stepping out of the shadows on Twitter and other platforms. This momentum of growers openly showcasing their yield and years of dedication to the craft could be traced back to canna-cultivation personalities like Remo documenting growrooms across Canada, inspiring and motivating others to sow seeds.

The candid first-hand look into these fields and growrooms, and the resulting rock-solid bud being produced, allowed newbie cultivators and passionate consumers an ability to tune into the world of cannabis cultivation. With #4PlantsCup gaining momentum and with more growers showing their talent, dedication, and passion, an actual community-oriented cannabis grow competition was formed and set into motion in the spring of 2019.

Read also: 3 Simple Tricks for Growing Cannabis at Home

I competed in the first 4Plants Cup and found the experience to be intrinsically rewarding for all of those involved. Beyond this, there is nothing better than sampling other growers’ cannabis at the end of curing season. With a move away from the complexities of traditional cups like High Times, which typically rely on a panel of expert judges reviewing a wide range of categories, 4Plants Cup was constructed to pay homage to the spirit of the home grower and the community of charitable sharing running deep in the cannabis space.

An obvious benefit to the participants in 4Plants Cup is getting to assess different terroir and general approaches to growing from like-minded people. Additionally, these events shine a light on local breeding efforts, introducing craft cultivars best suited for specific climatic conditions, and the individual grower’s inputs with which every flower’s flavour is observed. Cannabis growers can have the tendency to get caught up in their specific lines, lines of other local breeders, and their own inner circles. The real treat in being a cannabis enthusiast comes from being exposed to growers from all over the country and watching their process while sharing your own. What can work in an outdoor setting in the Kootenays may not work in Northern Ontario from a genetics and plant culture standpoint, and 4Plants Cup was able to open and broaden the eyes of many cannabis growing communities.

Rules and Categories

In its first iteration, the cup included pro medical, pro indoor, pro outdoor, and pro rosin, in addition to amateur medical, amateur indoor, amateur outdoor, and amateur rosin categories. The original intention of the organizers was to have 28 participants in each category, with each grower participant acting as a future taste tester/judge of their competition.

Participants posted journal updates of plant entries through social media platforms like Twitter, using the #4PlantsCup hashtag. Growers proudly showcased every step in the cultivation cycle from seeding, vegging, flowering, plant maintenance, fertigation, pruning, drying, curing plus a lot more.

Read also: An In-Depth Look at Cannabis Rosin

A basic list of rules was adhered to by all growers through an honour system. This included limiting the use of foliar products of any sort during flowering, not allowing the use of systemic fungicides like Myclobutinol, not allowing the use of artificial plant growth regulators, and ensuring other banned products were not being deployed during plant growth. Participants were also expected to ensure a basic list of requirements related to drying and curing, in addition to general plant care in the production process.

One value most participants took away from the cup, whether experienced in growing or not, was the richness with which online sharing and collaborations took place. A far cry from the competitive, secretively dubious nature of much of the legal commercial cannabis space, growers were happy to teach others their methods, diagnose pest issues, share tactics and techniques for feeding and staking, and more.

Ten years ago, no one could have imagined a first-time grower being able to interact and follow along with esteemed Canadian cannabis growers like Travis Lane of Groundwork Consulting and Matt Rogge, the former head grower at 7Acres.

Beginners, novices, and experienced gardeners were able to benefit from every competing growers’ combined years of trial, error, struggle, and ultimate experience in the cultivation space.

Read also: How to Make Rosin and Dry Sift Out of Your Home-Grown Bud and Trim

Once the season ended, participants sent their best dried cannabis out of their legal grouping of four plants (growers with ACMPR allotments were also permitted to enter a designated recreational plant from their medical garden) to an initial screening and judging panel. The passionate cannabis grower and reviewer PancakeNap graciously offered to step down from the competition in order to be the chief screener, photographer, and to repack and ship judge's collections to participants.

Using an online review, contestants were able to analyze the many qualitative factors of the flower or rosin in question, using two distinct review forms. Growers were asked to reflect on things like flavour, aroma, structural integrity, dry and cure, effect on user, in addition to some other gastronomical qualities of the flower or rosin. Bonus points were also awarded based on the individual judge’s favourite entries. Assigning a point system to these review forms, the volunteer committee was able to tally a reflective score for each category and name the top three growers! With a complex collection of cannabis being grown and shared across the country, there were many unique flavours and aesthetic profiles to celebrate and enjoy observing.

In its infancy and first year of introduction to the community, the 4Plants Cup experienced some hiccups and minor issues along the way, but still culminated in a positive experience rich with community building and strengthening the drive and dedication of growers across the nation. A growers’ outdoor crop was robbed, only later to be gifted a new cutting from someone in the 4Plants community and compete and place third in an indoor category; a true tale of community support overcoming of obstacles. Uneven numbers meant participants and categories needed to be consolidated, causing some confusion but ultimately paving the way for important lessons going into the second season of the cup.

This first iteration of 4Plants Cup proved that the concept is full of potential and will continue to lift spirits and encourage personal home-grown cultivation. The infectious and uplifting nature of these homegrown grass roots events are what is needed as we continue to look at ways of building up the positive sides of legalization. The future of all cannabis growers and users sharing their harvests in an ideal gifting and education-based economy, rests with our collective efforts and energy as a culture. 4Plants Cup shows the cannabis culture that we can either solely focus on the downsides of legalization, or take these observations into account while still appreciating the possibility of not letting perfect get in the way of the good.

For more information on 4Plants Cup, visit www.4plantscup.ca.