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Farm Interview: Healing Wonders Farms, Mendocino County

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@higherorigins Posted on Apr 11, 2023

At Higher Origins, we want to give the farms on our platform a way to express themselves and tell their stories. As part of that commitment, we would like to announce a new series of Farm Interview articles. These articles, of which this is the first of hopefully many, will allow farmers to authentically represent themselves, their farm, and their experiences in the cannabis industry. Would you like to be featured in such an article? All you need to do is be a Higher Origins user and let us know! Without further ado; enjoy!

Recently we sat down with Venus Wheeler and her business partner Francisco Lopez. They run Healing Wonders Farms in Mendocino County. 

Hello! We’re glad to have you on Higher Origins! Let’s start at the beginning- What brought you into this industry, and how long ago was that? 

Venus: I’ve been smoking and growing since I was a teenager, and trimming since back when it was 250 a pound to trim. I’d trim for 4 months, get a lot of cash, put it in envelopes for each month of the year because I had no bank account. I was on my own at 17 and this way I knew I had my rent and money to pay my bills for the rest of the year. An old friend of mine, Geneva, started a grow out the back of the reservation ranch between Willits and Fort Bragg. We had crazy stuff happen, the helicopters would fly over and we’d have to hide ourselves under the leaves. That was in the early 80’s. Back when the small farmer was developing the reputation they have now.

Francisco: I was an arborist for the logging industry, and eventually moved on to start my own small company. Venus invited me to be her business partner to help plant mota and we found out that we worked really well together. This year was really rough, and I had to sell all of my heavy equipment to pay the bills, it was really tough having to let it go. 

Wow! That’s a long time around the plant! We’re sorry to hear you had to sell things to make ends meet, it seems like there’s a lot of people who’ve had to make that move to stay in business in the new system. If you could bring back one element of the industry from when you started, what would it be? 

One of the best things about the old industry was how we were able to build our own economy. Since then, the government and big business have read too much Forbes magazine, LA Times and San Francisco Chronicle, and have become accustomed to taking the value that small farmers have built and paying them on credit. They’re ignoring the Emerald Triangle economics. There’s enough intelligent and experienced farmers here to make successful regulations, since the politicians have no idea what they’re working with and have built infrastructure that is designed to fail. Farmers need a seat at the table to say “This works, this doesn't, let’s try this”. That’s why we’ve lost so many good farms with the best weed in the world, because regulators weren't in alignment with the farms. 

That’s true! There’s definitely a fundamental disconnect between the economic history of the industry and the regulatory decisions being made today. How would you like to see that change?

I had a spiritual realization, if everyone in Mendocino County shared the perception of honor and pride, with a cohesive intention and acknowledgement that the small Emerald Triangle farmers are the heartbeat of the heart of the best weed growing region in the world, wonderful things would happen. Every day weed is federally illegal, there's an opportunity for this state and region to lead the world, and nurture that heart. We have groups like MCA, who have lawyers, media representatives, and brilliant people like Michael Katz and Hannah Nelson who understand the economics and government policies. If we got more people like that into the cannabis departments, they would say “Okay kids! No more splashing, get out of the pool, this ain’t working, let’s try something different!” These are not unreasonable hippies in a smokeout, they’re smart and have the solutions in their hands, today, that work for both farmers AND the state. 

I'm not joining the hate brigade on the board of supervisors and the cannabis department because that’s not something I want on my Karma, but they simply aren’t sharing the right perception of how this industry can survive and thrive. I think they need to be excluded from the decision making at this point, since they’ve clearly not been successful in their approach for the last 6 years.

Mendocino County is the laughing stock of the industry because of our county government. The Sunshine Initiative actually named the county “One of America’s worst in government transparency.” The governor is standing there talking about how good the California cannabis system is. The small legacy farmers created this industry and built its global reputation, and the government is cashing in on it! He’s telling other states: “Let California provide your weed”, and they’re signing intentional documents to try and do that. The problem is we can’t provide that in Mendocino county, with so few licenses approved, and so much money wasted and farmers shut out. We could be the poster child of this industry. 

If public opinion shifted so that outdoor was considered the best and most valuable cannabis, it would be a game changer for the small farmer and the environment. Imagine how this would benefit farms in counties across California struggling to get their products on the shelves & being turned away because it's not mixed light or indoor. Personally I feel outdoor is the healthiest way to consume cannabis.

As a small farmer, you’ve gotta know how to diversify, how to push your brand and network. Who knows who could help? Someone rich and famous? Investors and celebrities can do a lot to change things around, and bring a lot of money into helping industries, but how can they invest if they see a dysfunctional system that doesn’t even embrace facts? Who would want to put their money into that?

The farmers need an incentive to stay in the system and they also need simplicity! We need to design a formula where the legal market farmer is guaranteed a dollar amount that they pay bills and fees with, and still afford to buy clones, nutrients, and soil and anything else that is needed to keep a small farm running. Having a baseline amount the farmer knows they will get for their hard work is a win win for all. I suggest having a payment guideline or subsidy by the state where the buy-in starts at $1,500.00 for a pound, no matter if it's indoor, outdoor, or mixed light. Cap it off at $3,500.00. This might seem extreme but when you add up all the costs a farmer has to encounter to produce excellent products it’s not all that much.

Since planet earth is suffering from global warming, it would be a novel idea to shift indoor growers to be powered by solar. In California, we have the sunlight and the solar companies to make this happen. It would be possible for the DCC to come up with requirements in a reasonable timeframe and offer some kind of grant that gives small indoor farmers assistance with this.That way when it’s summer and everyone is using their air conditioning, no one can say “it's all the indoor grows using up the power grid!” Use what we already have- an abundance of sunlight! 

Not everyone will agree with this, and that's OK, but if general public opinion shifted so that outdoor was considered the best and most valuable cannabis, it would be a game changer for the small farmer and the environment. It's no secret the Governor wants to supply outdoor cannabis for all other states, so imagine how this could impact in a positive way many counties in California struggling to get their products on the shelves & being turned away because it's not mixed light or indoor.  Personally I feel outdoor is the healthiest way to consume cannabis.

If it wasn’t for the farmer…  there would be no cannabis to sell & all the people in the industry making millions who don’t do the cultivation wouldn't even have a business to thrive in.

That is a lot to work with. We definitely agree that those making decisions need to be those who know the realities of cannabis economics and culture. It really is a huge growth opportunity for the State to stabilize and support its cannabis farmers, it’s in their best interests, especially if interstate sales goes through. Subsidies are an interesting proposal, and they definitely seem popular in every other agricultural sector in the country, even tobacco! If the country is subsidizing ag, there’s no reason why cannabis should not be included in that. The energy demands of indoor plants are definitely an issue, and renewable energy is definitely the solution, although if it’s a requirement, it should absolutely come with funding for the changeover.

You seem to approach a lot of your cultivation with a spiritual mindset. For you, what’s the most important element of a successful crop?

100% the spiritual connection. If you choose to hear, you will get guidance, Mother Gaia will tell you which strain you need to grow. When I care for our plants, I approach it spiritually. I give them what feels right with the spirit of Gaia. I bless the crop with herbs as we feed the plants 3 days a week and ask for only what we need for the plants to grow in Gaia. It’s about being within alignment of those plants, not asking for more than our share. 

That really does sound like a special and vital connection, and really fits in with the history of cannabis being part of a spiritual sacrament for so many throughout history. Do you have a signature strain variety or type of genetics you usually focus on?

We always go for Indicas, pungent, purple, something that’s locally acclimatized to the Emerald Triangle, not newly introduced. Genetics that grow in Amsterdam or elsewhere need to be grown in the Triangle for at least a year before a farmer can plant them and see good results. We’re smaller, we need to make money, so we look for yield as well since we have to meet the market to sustain ourselves and our families. We follow the guidance of Gaia and don't get super attached to a strain: we’re stewards of it, so we don’t claim it as our own as a brand or signature. If we became attached we’d lose our blessing to be the stewards. I’m not here to produce because I want to put my name on it, I just want to nurture it to speak for itself and deliver its energy and by extension polish the name of Healing Wonders. Mother Gaia shows us that sustainable nurturing is how things reach their full potential.

We will only grow from tissue culture since that is the most pure approach to getting the cleanest genetics, instead of from a mother plant. Faith and Family farms in Salinas is our preferred nursery because they let us go pick out our clones ourselves. They really are great at maintaining the relationship and connection, I’m 100% their supporter now! 

A frosty bud in bloom at Healing Wonders

The idea of being the steward of a plant is a powerful concept. But it also makes sense that you have to consider your own business needs in order to afford to be an effective steward! What advice would you give to the small farms out there that are struggling at the moment?

At this point I can’t blame struggling farms for going back to what’s worked in the past, the traditional market. The fees are unnatural to the economics of the plant and culture. Traditional sales are not the ideal but it’s what the fee structure is promoting.

Farmers also need to consider their perceptions. If you have a perception of what you would feel like when you’re successful, you have to speak and act in that perception. Gregg Braden and Joe Dispenza have talked about this scientifically as manifestation. If we use perception, science, and a WHOLE LOTTA FAITH, we can work on it. 

Something we’ve done to stabilize our situation is to expand our business into a line of merchandise. The logo and the saying came to me in a dream. The theme is “Partake, Enjoy, and Be Healed” -whether you’ve just had a shitty day or are fighting cancer. Some people like the best things in life and we can grow that. The slogan really captures the energy I try to put into my cannabis. We’re still working on the merch sales, but when I see the shirts, it feels like I'm on the map now!

Healing Wonders Farms hoodies with their new logo

That merch is pretty cool! Speaking of being on the map, how does the location and environment of Healing Wonders make it special? 

I have a synchronistic thing going on between my three farm locations. They’re all on top of the mountains, and they can connect to each other through the gridlines of the universe. In the place with the best cannabis in the world, that connection is especially important. We’re not asking the land to supply all of the world or California, we’re supplying what is the right amount, what is meant for us, not more not less. 

Supplying the right amount seems like it's easier said than done in today's supply chain. What are some problems you’ve encountered as a grower in the legal market?

We had a distributor offer us 25$ a pound! We turned them down on that- we can grow some weed baby! We know what it’s worth, and I’d rather make a bonfire with it than let it go for that price. Distros are part of the problem here, since a lot of them are really designed to fail in the current market. They’re developing a business on the back of struggling farms fronted products, without trying to contribute to the sustainability of the industry.  Many farms in the Emerald Triangle including Healing Wonders operate on a Cash On Delivery basis only. We can’t afford to get caught up in empty distributor promises, either verbal or written. That would put us on the fast track to poverty. 

I would like to remind anyone reading this article of what the small farmer has suffered in the last 5 years. Article after article has been published by Forbes, San Francisco Chronicle, LA Times, etc, in which “small farmer” agrees to terms with the distributor to be paid on a later date. The distributor is so over extended financially with getting their business off the ground and paying investors, loans, creditors, rent, etc, that the farmer is the one not getting paid. By the time anyone notices, the farmer has no left over resources to recover their money back from the distributor through a legal process. This is a huge flaw in the system and the reason why so many craft cultivators have walked away.

Luckily, I was fortunate to sell all of my weed this past year, both this year’s and last year’s crop, even though it was the lowest I’ve ever sold my weed for. I never thought I’d see these prices.

We had another experience where we talked to a nursery to get plants delivered. We met up with them out on the mountain road, and we couldn’t communicate through a language barrier. They expected us to give them 40% down right there, with no plants. We backed out. I won’t do any more of that sight unseen in an alley at night sort of deal for clones! We had another experience with a different nursery, they sent us gorgeous pictures, and then they delivered them small and yellow and we ended up losing all of them, like 2 or 3 thousand clones.

25$ a pound is an insult! We're glad you were still able to find a sale, even at a lower rate. Moving to the other end of the supply chain, have you ever met someone who has bought your product from a dispensary? How did that go?

I have not been able to. That’s my raw truth. I’m one person, I have a proclivity for privacy, and the outreach is hard. We need to be in contact with the consumer, and I think the direct to consumer sales bill that Jim Wood is sponsoring (AB 2691) is exactly what we need.   The state needs to include the transportation permit along with the cultivation permit. It would help keep the farmer safe and protected from scandalous distributors who don’t have fair business practices on their mind- you don’t want those people coming to your ranch. It's unsafe for single farmers to expose their living space-which often includes their grow location, to random strangers, especially when some permit holders lease out their permits to friends who are looking for a way to procure cannabis.

Absolutely, farmer security is a huge priority. Likewise, we have been watching Assembly Member Wood's legislation for a while, it seems promising!

Thank you so much for chatting with us today! We were wondering if you could leave us with some cool stories?

I’ve been around the world, and I always packed some joints hidden in packs of cigarettes with me. Everywhere I go, it creates connections with people. In Polynesia, I saw this guy with a lot of tribal tattoos, smoking the shittiest weed. I of course went over and shared a joint of the good stuff with him,  and he suddenly looked right at me, total attention, and said: “I could smell your pain from a distance before you came over to share your awesome weed with me”. I had recently lost my husband and this guy could sense that. We got higher than a pack of 50 hippies together with my joint weed, and that connection is from cannabis. 

I was on another island, Martinique in the French West Indies, hanging out with a group of French people who smoked hash mixed with tobacco. They knew all about the Triangle, and I had to pull out my pack of joints. I had to teach them though, it’s puff puff pass, not puff puff puff puff puff puff puff! This is what California isn’t taking advantage of, that global cultural impact and connection.

I went to Canada once, and we were stuck waiting in the airport. Naturally, I had my cigarette carton of joints like always. These sniffer dogs came by, and they sat down on our luggage! We had to go and have our luggage searched in the private security room. Luckily, I had this cannabis lip balm in my pocket that my girlfriend made for me, so I pulled that out and gave it to them as a decoy. They gave us the talk, all about how it wasn’t legal et cetera et cetera, then let us go! We got in the van on the way to the Canadian hotel, and everything was just reeking of weed, like no wonder they searched us! We couldn’t figure out what was smelling, since it wasn’t my few joints. Then, my late husband remembered he used an old ziplock we had stored flower in to store his shaving stuff, and sure enough when we pulled that out, that’s what it was. When we got to the hotel I had to definitely take some time to relax after that one! 

We would like to thank Venus and Francisco very much for their time. Keep an eye out for Healing Wonders cannabis and merch, and if you can't find it, ask your local retailer to reach out to Higher Origins to source some!

If you are a licensed cannabis farmer in California, and would like a similar article free of charge, sign up to Higher Origins here, and shoot an email over to [email protected] and let us know!

Thanks for reading, keep an eye out for future articles, and keep growing!

Keeping it real: The views and opinions expressed by those we interview belong to them, and may differ from the views and opinions of Higher Origins. We strive to authentically present interview content, and print what they say. We do not speak for them.

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