As California’s cannabis industry saw the price per pound crash in recent years in both the legal and traditional markets, Wood Wide High Craft has used its love of the game and awesome pot to push on as one of Mendocino County’s few success stories.
I first linked up with Wood Wide’s co-founder Michael Strupp at Northern Nights Music Festival in Humboldt County last year. The festival was the first ever to have legal onsite sales and then in 2022 became the first to have a dispensary at every stage. Even with all the weed in the heart of the redwoods, Wood Wide’s flowers held up with the weekend’s best. This was especially the case for their Biscotti, which is among the top renditions of the strain in the state.
Strupp and fellow co-founder Ryan Birchard are as much of an Emerald Triangle origin story as it gets. The pair started growing cannabis in the hills when they were 15. After they graduated high school they left the county to spread their wings.
“So after [kindergarten] through [12th grade] I go off to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and get a degree in systematic biology and then Ryan went off to do some schooling too. We ended up back in Mendocino around 2006,” Strupp told High Times.
While Strupp left the area, he was never far from the game. He worked in the wine industry near northern Santa Barbara, but was also moving product from back home. Kids from Mendo are pretty popular everywhere in that regard because it was very hard for outsiders to get direct access to the hill back then.
As soon as he returned to Mendocino County, he had the chance to go in on a 12-lighter grow where he was the third partner. He was the one doing a lot of the garden’s grunt tasks as they worked to grow the heat.
We asked Strupp how much knowledge a Mendo kid could pick up over the years by just being in Mendo? When it’s time to take the skills inside, how fast do those years of outside growing skills transition?
“I had a lot of people’s minds that I could pick and we kind of knew just what plants liked,” he said. “I had a really good baseline of what it was like, but honestly, I moved back and all my friends that had stayed had been doing it for a while. So I instantly was able to go to my friends for our rooms and collectively pick off like 30 years of knowledge because they’d all been doing it for five or six years while I’d been gone.”
Mendo is also the kind of small community where some of your friends might be 20 years older than you. So even outside of that group of people his own age give or take five or six years, he had others with decades of experience to pull knowledge from.
Strupp felt like despite all that excellent weed in Mendo in the 2000s, the spotlight tended to land north on Humboldt much of the time. We asked Strupp how much he felt that strains like Mendo Purps and Zkittlez started to change the conversation. He noted the biggest factor in starting to get the county more recognition was the passage of Proposition 215 in 1996.
“Growing up people would come like, ‘Oh, Mendocino, Emerald Triangle’ and no one wanted to talk about weed because you got in such trouble for it,” he said.
People moving to Mendo to take part in the cannabis industry was also a huge factor in getting the level of chatter up. Strupp noted that they were a lot more willing to talk about cannabis than the old timers that had lived by the code of not sticking their heads up from the pack.
Strupp said everyone had their own little groups, too. Strupp’s grow, being from the coast, was a very different scene than growers in cities such as Laytonville, Ukiah, or Covelo. While small, those towns are all hubs for the cannabis grown in the hills surrounding them and have been for decades.
Strupp chugged along in that 12-lighter for a couple of years, but eventually suggested to Birchard that they should go in on something together.
“I was like, ‘Dude you should come and see this. I know what I’m doing is pretty good. It’s crushing. We’re having a really good time,” Strupp said. “So we met Ryan’s neighbor and we all went on a bike ride together and smoked a big doobie on the big long dirt mountain bike ride. And he was like, ‘We should grow together.’ We’re like, ‘Whoa! OK.’”
Strupp noted the loose loan rules that led to the financial crisis of 2008 played out in their favor, as they had no problem securing funding. They found a property next to another friend that was already growing in one of the shadier neighborhoods in Fort Bragg.
“It had a little closet hut in it that we turned into a nine-lighter right away,” Strupp said. “We basically took everything that we made from there and put it all back into the house and all back into the property, kind of really built that all up.”
The duo would split with their third partner and eventually go in on a 25-lighter. They wanted commercial power, so they got a permit.
“So we kind of had a mutual benefit agreement but we didn’t really quite understand what that meant,” Strupp said. “We felt like we had some stuff. We were selling some stuff to some clubs. We felt like we had some plausible deniability. We had a way to defend ourselves. We’re like ‘OK, we’re covering our bases a bit here.’ But we really weren’t, we really hadn’t thought that far in advance about like, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna turn this into a cultivation permit and do something with it.’”
That next level of permitting changed after Proposition 64 took effect in 2018. Despite the horror story of what happened with the Mendocino permitting process, Wood Wide was able to secure the fourth annual permit in the state and first in Mendocino County. The vast majority of California operators are operating on provisional licenses to this day and have yet to secure an annual permit.
But when Mendocino County issued the permit, there was a sunset clause. The county said the lot the facility was on was too small. They decided to let them operate for three years while they built out the business and found another building. Next they were able to convince the supervisors to give them an extra two years after it took two years to build out the grow. That pushed the sunset clause to June 2022. NIMBYs (an acronym referring to “not in my backyard,” or those who express opposition to businesses that they find undesirable) were also a factor in not being able to do something about changing the sunset clause.
The new facility has 72 lights. We asked what it was like building against the clock.
“Stressful, it wasn’t as bad in 2017, 2018, 2019 because we own the property and we actually were kind of making some money and it was pretty good,” Strupp said. “When we were building in 2021, the market had dropped out and we were borrowing money to build our new facility. It’s one thing in 2020 selling $2,500 pounds and then another thing in 2021 selling $1,200 pounds.”
Another big factor in their permitting process going smoother than the rest of Mendo was the lack of an environmental impact. Everything happened within the confines of the building. We asked if the outdoor gardeners in their area ever expressed jealousy over how smooth the permitting process went for them.
“No, our county was super supportive and amazed,” Strupp said. “All of our other farmers, yeah there are some people who aren’t very happy when they find out we’re indoor but it allows me to live on the coast, and work on the coast.”
Strupp is excited for his peers as there appears to be reforms on the horizon in Mendo to help struggling outdoor farmers, which includes forgiveness on tax interest.
“I think [tax interest forgiveness is] awesome. But as an indoor farm we’re in the top 1% to 3% of taxpayers in our county and have been from day one,” Strupp said, noting that they are certainly thrilled for everyone else but it won’t really impact the way Wood Wide is doing things.
After all the hoops and hurdles over the years were covered, we asked Strupp when he realized that his cannabis was above average. He replied that he knew right away, but said in the moment that he knew it was one of those things where everyone thinks that they grow the best weed. But it certainly moved. Eventually, he knew they needed a brand as opposed to helping other people build theirs with the quality of the pot.
So where did the name Wood Wide come from?
“Ryan and I are sitting around, we’re trying to think of like, how do we want to be? We’d always been into hunting mushrooms as children and living out here on the coasts and woods, and super big supporters of Paul Stamets,” Strupp said. “And then just seeing how you know that the whole ‘wood wide web’ was just coming to light just seeing how the mycelial network connected all the plants on the face of the earth basically, and how they’re able to communicate and share nutrients who just feel for each other and just sense each other. That was kind of groovy to us.”
Expect to see Wood Wide High Craft all over California in the years ahead as the brand continues to grow.
This article was originally published in the June 2023 issue of High Times Magazine.