“Everyone knows the best cannabis comes out of the smallest grow rooms,” says Michael Strupp, co-founder of Wood Wide Highcraft. Known as “Mendo Mikey,” the legendary cultivator met his business partner Ryan Birchard as childhood friends. As they grew up, the two shared a passion for the plant while living in the heart of California’s Emerald Triangle, the nation’s largest cannabis-producing region. Mendo Mikey and Birchard started cultivating in the late 1990s, creating the Wood Wide brand some years later. They have been responsible for introducing some of the market’s most iconic, acclaimed strains, including the famous Mendo Crumble (a nod to the company’s headquarters in Mendocino County). While other young entrepreneurs were starting to learn about the internet, these enthusiasts logged onto what they call the Wood Wide Web, embarking on a lifetime of innovation and educating the world about cannabis.
Despite or perhaps because of its longevity, Wood Wide has remained a small boutique brand. Those in the know hail its products as among the top in the business, and at this December’s Emerald Cup, they won awards for testing the highest in terpenes of any flower in competition, and other honors for their Mendo Crumble, the latest in a long line of accolades and several years running for that perennial favorite strain. This May, they’ll hit Hall of Flowers Santa Rosa and the 2023 Emerald Cup with all the power that’s in their plants.
Check out the inside tour of Wood Wide Highcraft with Mendo Mikey, DeLisioso and Team Honeysuckle!
Wood Wide Highcraft: Emerald Triangle Craft Cannabis Becomes A Public-Facing Brand
But as Mendo Mikey says, it’s time for Wood Wide to transition from bulk sales behind the scenes into the consumer market as a fully public-facing company. “We’ve been fueling all these other brands for a long time, but they haven’t highlighted the farm because they’ve been building their own brands,” the industry veteran explains. Supplying strains that became popular in the legacy market, watching the cannabis sector evolve and now seeing several longstanding brands in the Emerald Triangle disappear in the wake of legalization, Wood Wide’s founders realized they would need to adapt to a new era. “If you haven’t heard of us before and you happen to stumble across our product, you’re going to have a positive experience. But [it’s hard to] advertise in cannabis… Now we’re on only our third round of our own packaging, so there probably haven’t been many opportunities for people to repeat buy yet. We’re making sure we’re consistent, that we only put the best of the best into our packages so that every single purchase is creating that trust with the client.”
Wood Wide Tour With Mendo Mikey
Following December’s Emerald Cup, Team Honeysuckle captured the highlights as Mendo Mikey welcomed Richard DeLisi – the country’s longest-serving nonviolent cannabis prisoner, now co-founder of the DeLisioso brand – to Wood Wide’s cultivation facility. Pointing out product testing areas, the expert delved into the connection between humanity and nature. The Wood Wide Web, from whence the brand draws its name, is the intrinsic bond between living organisms: plants and mycelium and animals. Birchard, Mendo Mikey and their crew believe in the power of this holistic system to produce the purest cannabis imaginable.
“It’s such a magical plant because it responds to the human touch so much,” the authority asserts with a combination of pride and awe. “Like, you tweak it and this happens. It not only makes you happy, but it just brings so much joy into the world. And even for me personally, if I was growing four or five plants, I’d have enough to share with so many people. It’s such a beautiful, magical herb that just allows you to help people’s dreams come true.”
Legacy operators recognize this as a critical time in cannabis history, especially for the OG cultivators based in the Emerald Triangle. Price and market demand fluctuations have brought many classic brands to what Wood Wide’s team terms “an extinction moment,” but Mendo Mikey knew his farm could survive by focusing on unique cannabinoid profiles and pheno-hunting for strains that would prove the company’s decades of expertise. Honeysuckle and DeLisi visited at the perfect time, just before a harvest, which meant all the most popular offerings were on display.
A substantial part of Wood Wide’s power comes from its impressive Bloom Rooms, the indoor growing sections that are home to seemingly endless plants. Mother plants and clones are generally kept in the same rooms, and thanks to expert cutting methods, clones are precisely identical to the mothers. Activity buzzed throughout the facility, from the core growing areas of the Bloom Rooms to special peat cubes where strains were being curated. Funky Charms, LA Pop Rocks, Viper Cookies, Grumpy Tiger, and the newest strain PleaZure stood out, testaments to their creators’ love.
Wood Wide's Team Talks Craft Cannabis, Sustainability, Terpenes And Surviving The Industry
After the tour, Honeysuckle sat down with Mendo Mikey, Ryan Birchard and Corbin Larson, Wood Wide’s Vice President of Sales and Business Development, to learn the true inner workings of the cannabis industry’s best-kept secret craft cultivator.
HONEYSUCKLE MAGAZINE: If cannabis legalization is bringing about “an extinction moment” for legacy operators, where do you see Wood Wide in that evolution?
CORBIN LARSON: California cannabis is regarded at such a high [standard] by all the consumers in the world. And as legalization has moved from the West Coast to the East, California to New York, it’s been very meaningful. I was fortunate enough to see Housing Works Cannabis Co open as New York City’s first legal dispensary; that was a magical moment and really affected me. And everyone in New York knows the best cannabis comes from the Emerald Triangle. We are facing an extinction where a small farm like ours, even with the accolades from peers, colleagues, competitions in blind tastings, it’s still a grueling uphill battle to get through what the government has put in place for us. Overfunded companies are pushing against us and diluting the market.
It amazes me that Wood Wide, with our own genetic heirloom library of some of the most OG strains that we can put into play, as well as creating and popping our own seeds… this little farm up in Mendocino, when people hear about us they go, “Oh shit, where have you guys been?” And the answer is, we’ve been here forever. Mike is a genetic specialist. His ability to find and hunt the new, new is what people are waking up to. He’s generously shared his genetics with people that have saved some of their farms, because if they relied on the nurseries, they might be reliant on getting subpar strains… And when I say subpar, it’s because we are always searching for perfection.
MICHAEL “MENDO MIKEY” STRUPP: It’s crazy too, because I’ve talked to people and they’re like, “Oh, it’s consolidation.” But it’s not, because people aren’t getting bought up and swallowed. They’re just letting people fade away. Here we are, with under 1300 square feet of canopied farm with 72 lights, and we’re paying $20,000 a year just for a permit. [The state of California] has categories for a 500 square foot indoor permit, the next is like 500-5000 and it’s considered specialty indoor, and the next is 5000-10,000. There’s no secondary permit for something like 2500 square feet. We’re talking a million dollars-plus for one buildout and 3 or 5 million for the next. There’s just no levels in between.
CORBIN: When a farm or a ranch actually has to pay for structural changes, when the price per pound is plummeting and taxation is skyrocketing, it is really difficult for anyone to come out on the other side okay.
MENDO MIKEY: At Wood Wide, we’re holding on. But in other nascent industries, the government wouldn’t tax you as hard in the beginning. We started out with incredibly high taxes that have been slowly softening, but not quick enough to save the industry. As little guys, we need a couple of things to go our way. It feels like there’s so many things stacked against us. Small agriculture of any kind [is] a long hard game and there’s not much money in it. And we are agriculture, but we’re also cannabis and when I think of cannabis, it’s art and music. It’s feeding your body and soul.
Like, we love the plant and the plant loves us too. Is that what you feel?
MENDO MIKEY: Yeah, it’s more than just agriculture. But it’s sad to be from the Emerald Triangle where a lot of our friends are in this industry and they might not make it. We might not make it, but I think everyone has a chance. We believe in what we’re doing. People believe in us, people want our cannabis. We’re really fortunate in the business model that we’ve created. But it’s still hard to watch your friends and peers and community kind of lose their ability to stay in this game.
What do you think that means for the most immediate future of the cannabis industry?
CORBIN: Now we are unifying in ways that I feel are moving the needle back. I feel 2023 is a huge uphill battle for everyone in the cannabis industry. But I’ve been saying for years, if you could reset your table, we’re going to make it. The resistance is going to end and we are going to push through. If we can do it together and not by vertical integration but through partnerships, through the Wood Wide Web, that’s what cannabis is. It's not a gang, it's not a mafia. It is a culture, a family. And if we all treat each other as such, from the politicians all the way through to the reporters, the cultivators, the consumers, it’s going to win. Plant medicine’s going to get out there, the bullshit is going to be thrown away, and the real cream is going to rise to the top.
But let me be crystal clear. A lot of people are losing their homes, their livelihoods, their genetics, and it’s really sad. I’m just so blessed to have met Mike and Ryan who have such an ethos and soul and connection to the culture and the plant. I'm just busting my ass to amplify it because the world needs to know about us, and the world needs to know about many other small farms that are up there right now getting snuffed out.
There’s a lot of focus on sun-grown, outdoor cultivation right now. But Wood Wide implements many sustainable practices through indoor cultivation.
MENDO MIKEY: Yeah, the biggest thing right now is that we use our resources well. We have these Agnetix water-cooled LED lights that allow us to use half of the HVAC power. We’ve cut our power consumption a lot in our style. We’re also working toward becoming fully organic but that’s cost-prohibitive right now… As a little guy, it’s hard to change things before you have a functioning business that can sustain itself. Sometimes it’s hard to play with the big boys that aren’t doing those things.
CORBIN: As a small farm, we made that difficult, conscious choice because we know we will catch up. We’ve gone down the road with Sana [Packaging]; they recycle ocean plastic. We’ve talked to different [brands] and programs about our desire for certain size jars made in a hundred percent recycled glass because that still doesn’t exist. But I would love Wood Wide to be the first closed-loop, zero-emissions indoor grow in Mendocino. There’s some going on in San Francisco because the infrastructure is there, but we have people offering us power cells out of Texas. Once our bandwidth gets past survival, we can move to thrival, and we’ll be less impactful to the environment. And this is not for commercial viability. This is who we are.
As indoor cultivators, you’re doing things that outdoor farmers can’t.
CORBIN: An indoor farmer has 52 weeks of the year to test genetics. The punishment of farmers started to occur on outdoor farming [with the formation of California’s anti-cannabis cultivation task force in 1983]. That’s what led to indoor farming… It wasn’t a choice. Isn’t it interesting that we were inadvertently pushed by the government to create something that’s supposedly detrimental to the environment? But we’re making the choices not to be. On top of it, we can harvest 12 times a year and give an outdoor farmer what would be 12 years of their life. We’re trying to create the whole kit and caboodle here, as holistically as possible and true to the place we’re from. When you're standing on those headlands and seeing that ocean crash and those rainbows occur and walking through the redwoods and foraging for mushrooms, it’s when this stuff disappears.
RYAN BIRCHARD: We’re on PG&E power here. They offered Sonoma Clean Power, which is 90 percent clean energy, not from fossil fuels. So we’re currently in Mendocino with that 90 percent clean power. And they’re also offering 100 percent clean energy, which we’re working toward as well.
Can you talk a bit more about the spiritual side of the Wood Wide Web and your relationship with cannabis?
RYAN: Mammals evolved with the cannabis plant. We have cannabinoid systems in our bodies and that relationship has been going on for hundreds of thousands of years.
CORBIN: We just discovered that in the 90s, and we are just now isolating THCV, THCA, CBD, all these different cannabinoids. This plant is land-raised. It was here before we were; we had to go find it. And the people who found it usually intertwined in their life from medicine or spirituality, both of which are very positive things that get me away from Western medicine and chemicals and keeps my mind clear and my soul recharged. But as we discover all the benefits, I just want it on the menu. Some people like coffee, some people like tea, some people like cannabis. You like edibles. Some people like to smoke.
I’m an asthmatic and I haven’t had an asthma attack since I started consuming cannabis. And reports are coming out from the Mayo Clinic… that [cannabis is] an anti-inflammatory. What’s the number-one thing we’re talking about in our diets? Anti-inflammatories. THCV supposedly helps focus you like an Adderall or Ritalin would. It also suppresses diet like some designer weight loss programs that people are doing through their doctors. It helps fight depression. So all three of those things in one cannabinoid? We’re just getting started.
How does that relate to what you’re doing at Wood Wide every day?
CORBIN: People who smoke Wood Wide flower really feel a difference. I don’t know if that’s the taste, the desire, the actual chemical makeup because we’re still learning the science. I think the machines are catching up to nature. Nature always knows what’s up, and this plant has been here for eons. I think our flower and the practices really lead to a superior product so that when people ingest it in whatever form, they get a different, more positive reaction.
MENDO MIKEY: What they’ve always said is, the best fertilizer is the shadow of the farmer. These plants respond; they are such fast-growing plants. We also saw a long time ago that the way we were going to survive is by having unique strains. If you have a flavor you really like and you can only get it in one place, that puts it on the map. And Corbin was talking about the different cannabinoids, but we’re finding that a lot has to do with terpenes and the smell. If cannabis didn’t smell, I don’t think as humans we’d be attracted to it. There’s a huge thing in terpenes and how that smell and flavor comes across. Terpenes is where it’s at in cannabis right now.
A good friend of ours, Alec Dixon from SC Labs, has a cool way of testing for terpenes. He’s noticed a correlation with all the winners of the Emerald Cup. They’ve seen a typical 10:1 ratio of THC to terpene content, and that’s really common in the winners. So if there’s a strain where THC is at 30 percent and terpenes are at 3, it makes sense that it [performs better than] a strain where THC is at 36 percent and terpenes are at 1.2, and the consumer’s like, “Yeah, that isn’t doing it for me.”
CORBIN: We would love for there to be uniform testing too. Because I guarantee you, when Wood Wide flower is put up against other flower, we will be on the higher level of the terpenes as well as THC. I’m excited to be ahead of the curve on that as part of the Wood Wide family. That’s something we won the Emerald Cup for [in December].
Shout-out to Tim Blake, Taylor Blake, and Victoria Shea at The Emerald Cup for everything they do in this space. And a huge shout-out to Joe Sullivan and David Rubin of Mercy Wellness - they’re our cold-packers and were a major Emerald Cup sponsor as well, and their work is just amazing.
So you would say that cannabis consumers right now would rather have strains that are more terpene-rich than THC-potent.
CORBIN: One hundred percent.
MENDO MIKEY: Well, people in the know.
CORBIN: I was actually shocked how many people in the industry aren’t educated on terpenes.
RYAN: Terpenes are essential oils. If you’ve ever worked with essential oils, you take a big breath of [your favorite] and it relaxes you. It’s the same in cannabis. It’s been proven that in forests, certain trees are releasing certain terpenes, and you can go sit under that tree and get health benefits and relaxation and stress reduction. Cannabis has tons of these terpenes. It’s just this amazing box of tools and each strain has different balances. So we can find these amazing combinations. It’s an ongoing cool thing to explore.
MENDO MIKEY: THC is going to drive [the market] still, but you need to have those high terpenes there.
RYAN: You need a balance.
CORBIN: Picture it like a cruise ship just coming around. The captain is turning it, but you don’t see the movement yet. We’re not a speedboat in terms of moving everyone to terpene-educated consumers, but that’s where people are [going]. I’m glad we’re one of those farms that are on people’s tongue when it comes to those terpene-rich genetics. I want to call out others that are some of the best in the game: Huckleberry Hill Farms, Ridgeline Farms, Greenshock Farms, Canna Country, Savage, Emerald Spirit Botanicals, Happy Day Farms, Higher Heights. These are back to the Earth, legacy permaculture, building-their-soil farmers. A percentage of their farm is cannabis. The other is fruits and vegetables that people clamor for. These are what these people do, and they don’t do it for any other purpose than creating the best food for their children, who are in the dirt with them, and the best cannabis for their children and friends and family and the world that get to partake in what they work so hard to build. And Wood Wide wants to mirror that ethos through our indoor cultivation as best we possibly can.
You’ve said the consumer needs to get to know Wood Wide. What’s the path you see for introducing yourselves?
CORBIN: If you’re a good brand, that means trust. We are trying to build trust. Then I’m not wasting my time telling you all to pay attention to Wood Wide. Once you’ve tried it and it speaks to you in the way I’m confident it will, you will trust me when I say, “I know you like Viper Cookies and Dutch Treat. Now try the Grumpy Tiger that’s coming down the road.” You’ll deviate [with us] for that.
MENDO MIKEY: Trust is hard to gain and easy to lose. So consistency is really big. If someone puts hard-earned money into something and they open it up and it’s not good, or there’s mold or something, you might never get that person back again. They could buy from you ten times and have one bad purchase and you might lose that customer.
CORBIN: The only thing that’s going to allow the small craft farmer to survive is quality. We’ve always been striving to do that, and I feel like now we are just really coming to market. We’ve been here forever. We’ve been bulking out, not getting the recognition we deserve. When you white-label, that’s the name of the game. [But] now we’re in a place where the only way to survive is for people to figure out who is actually growing the cannabis, what that really means. Wood Wide is here, finally going to be on the shelves. And I think the Wood Wide Web, from what I’ve noticed, is growing quite rapidly in the way we want with the people we want. And I just feel so blessed to work with this plant that connects me with all of these wonderful people.
MENDO MIKEY: The best cannabis comes from the smaller rooms. An 8-12 light grow room where someone really gets to tend everything. The connoisseurs know the best weed comes out of there. The bigger you get, you lose a little bit of that super high-end connoisseur grade. Some people are able to scale and keep that pretty well, but it’s rare. We’re lucky in that we’re small - smaller is baller. We’re able to have a good enough size to have production, but stay small enough to focus on the highest end, and that’s it. Having AAA cannabis is everything. Quality wins.
Find the Wood Wide team at Hall of Flowers in Santa Rosa, California May 3-4, and at The Emerald Cup Awards in Richmond, California May 13, 2023. For more about Wood Wide Highcraft and to find available products near you, visit woodwidehighcraft.com.
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Featured image: Wood Wide Highcraft co-founder Michael "Mendo Mikey" Strupp (background) gives Richard DeLisi (foreground) a tour of the farm's Bloom Rooms (C) Sam C. Long / Honeysuckle Media, Inc. @tissuekulture