Cyril Guthridge has big ideas about staying small.
The farmer and founder of Mendocino County’s Waterdog Herb Farm is a brilliant mind when it comes to the intricacies of sun-grown, craft horticulture. While his farm’s chief export is cannabis, the 160-acre property is covered in a wide array of flora.
While offering a tour of his property one late September morning, he stops for a moment beside a towering collection of cannabis plants — in this case, a Pineapple strain — to offer his guests fresh spilanthes bulbs.
“These are like an herbal toothache remedy,” Guthridge explains before popping one into his mouth.
The effect is instantaneous and borderline overwhelming. The same can be said of touring Waterdog, a vibrant, thriving example of farming done right.
Seemingly every inch of Waterdog Herb Farm — which works in conjunction with California cannabis brand Flow Kana — is rich with biodiversity. Look around and you’ll find succulent apples testing the strength of their branches, dogs rescued by Guthridge and his family dashing across the property, and the faint notes of classical jazz playing softly for the plants’ enjoyment.
On this September morning, one will also see cannabis plants — many, many of them — bursting with buds during the peak of fall harvest season.
Idyllic though it all may seem, the main thing that happens at Waterdog is hard work. In order to comply with the strict and ever-shifting regulations defined by Proposition 64, a ton of effort is required to accurately track and trace each plant on the farm. That means each time a leaf falls off a plant, it must be accounted for as a means of tracking the plant’s weight. The rules cover water use, security, curing conditions, and more.
On top of that, Guthridge runs his farm with a permaculture focus: He doesn’t just want the best soil for his cannabis, he wants his cannabis to help heal his soil. Regenerative agriculture is an exhausting approach to farming at a time when the climate crisis has begun to force farmers’ hands.
Waterdog tries to be as off-the-grid an operation as it can. Solar panels provide power, medicine and food are grown on the property where possible, and rainwater is collected and utilized year-round. In order to keep up with all the latest research in horticulture, Guthridge says he reads constantly. As a hobby, he also likes to study astrophysics.
One of the other ways in which Waterdog sets itself apart is Guthridge’s willingness to experiment. He’s planted a variety of things in proximity to some cannabis plants in the interest of seeing whether a terpene-rich culture can have an effect.
“This is qinghao,” he says, pointing to some stalks of flowering wormwood. “As a plant, it’s used to treat malaria.”
Despite the fact that qinghao is regarded by some as having an unpleasant taste or odor, Guthridge is hopeful that some of the terpenes — aromatic molecules that can affect the high, smell, and other aspects of cannabis — will find their way into the soil and eventually enrich nearby cannabis plants. The richer the terpenes, regardless of their fragrance, the better.
Guthridge isn’t against being practical, but he feels that experimentation is a crucial piece of the larger puzzle he’s trying to solve: how to ensure craft farming isn’t decimated under the foot of Big Agriculture.
To that end, Waterdog is interested in long-term sustainability, not short-term profits.
“A quarterly yield,” Guthridge says, “is not the point for multi-generational farms.”
Instead, Waterdog is looking at how craft farmers — especially in the relatively remote landscape of Mendocino — can eliminate imports (food, farming supplies, household needs) and focus solely on exports. That’s the guiding principle for Guthridge, who is steadfast in his belief that regenerative, sun-grown craft farming is the future.
There is no separation between business and pleasure when you’re a farmer. Everything becomes tangled together, leading to an understandable spiritual connection to the life growing everywhere around you.
Guthridge won’t tend to his cannabis plants if he’s in a sour mood.He prioritizes nothing on his farm over the health and happiness of his crops. If they’re ignored, they react. TLC may not be quantifiable, but for Guthridge, it’s a vital component of cultivating quality THC.
“Farmers have a saying,” he recalls, “which is that the thing cannabis plants want most of all is to feel your footsteps every day. I believe that’s true.”