Cannabis

The Kure Mendocino Invitational: A Cannabis Contest with a Mission

The following is a press release issued by Kure Mendocino. In the interest of full disclosure, Kure Mendocino is one of MendoFever’s advertisers:

A cannabis farmer admires the developing flower on their sun-grown plant. This farmer’s cannabis, as well as 27 others, will be featured in the Kure Mendocino Invitational Box that will include 28 grams of cannabis, each from a different farm in Mendocino County [All photographs provided by Kure Mendocino]

Mendocino County cannabis farmers are largely credited for birthing what is now a multi-billion-dollar, global industry- one that began in the hills and ridgetops of three Emerald Triangle counties. Despite Mendo’s reputation for growing superlative weed and creating some of the world’s most sought-after genetics, the majority of California’s cannabis consumers have never sampled the flower that “started it all.” One person is making it his business to change that. 

Kure Mendocino’s owner Russ Green

Russ Green is a fifth-generation Mendocino County native- the grandson of Mendo farmers and business owners in Laytonville, Willits and Covelo. He is arguably the county’s only dispensary owner who can legitimately claim native-son status as the sole owner of the Kure Mendocino family of dispensaries- two in Ukiah and one in his hometown of Willits.  Though Kure has grown exponentially since he opened his flagship store in 2015, access to locally grown, legal cannabis has not.  

In the five years since state legalization, there have been numerous efforts to market “Mendo’s finest,” but at the end of the day, says Green, an infinitesimal fraction of Mendo-grown cannabis makes it to dispensary shelves in other parts of California.

“I recently took a trip to Southern California and toured a large number of dispensaries,” explains Leslie Gravier, Russell’s mother and Kure’s interim CAO. “I was shocked. There was virtually no Mendocino cannabis available at any of the dispensaries I visited. What I did see was an endless supply of factory-farmed weed from Central California, which might as well be from another planet, compared to the quality and care our local farms put into their plants.”

“I have two farms,” says Green. “Back in 2014, my original plan was to utilize my dispensary as an outlet for my cannabis. I quickly realized I had to retool my business plan and expand my inventory. From the farm perspective, I’m restricted to 5,000 square feet at one site and 10,000 square feet at the other, while other counties allow acres for cultivation. There are legal and illegal operations that grow over 100 times the output of the majority of our county’s farms, not to mention the challenges of hot hemp fields, Delta-8 and synthetic cannabinoids. Without access to Kure’s dispensaries, I don’t think there would be a profitable outlet for my own flower,” Green continues.

Russ, Leslie and Kure publicist Carole Brodsky began talking after attending a Laytonville cannabis farmer’s market organized by the Mendocino Producers Guild. “We felt like there must be a way Kure could help struggling farms,” says Gravier. 

“Last summer, we were asked by the Producer’s Guild and Karen Byers, organizer of the Kind Bud Festival if Kure could act as the retailer for those events. We agreed, but because of the pandemic, both events got cancelled. But it got us thinking that Kure has a wealth of resources that farmers do not: three locations, a distribution license, knowledgeable staff, a delivery route, a first-rate manufacturing team, a large, loyal customer base and our purchasing power,” says Green.

After a few meetings, a plan emerged. 

“We decided to create a customer-driven cannabis contest we’re calling the Kure Mendocino Invitational, or KMI. The contest is a fun, different way to introduce Mendocino County cannabis to California.” Green invited cultivators to Kure’s dispensary on Lake Mendocino Drive for a “KMI Farmer’s Supper.” The standing-room only event resulted in 57 licensed farms signing up for the Invitational. “Frankly, we were pretty shocked at the positive response we received.”

“There were people at the supper who were in tears. I receive emails almost daily from farmers thanking us for providing another lifeboat to help them stay afloat for another season. Cultivators deserve most of the credit for the exponential growth of this industry, yet they are practically invisible from the consumer side of the equation,” says Brodsky. “We are going to change that.” 

The Kure Mendocino Invitational box designed to hold 28 one-gram samples from 28 individual farms

Kure’s manufacturing team designed an Invitational box containing slots for 28 one-gram samples from 28 individual farms, to comply with California’s daily cannabis purchase limit of one ounce per consumer.

“Every customer who purchases a box can be a KMI judge,” says Kure COO Greg Phines, who heads up the company’s manufacturing department. “Our judging portal will go live in February 2022. For that entire month, customers can vote for their favorite entries in five separate categories.”

Green is sprucing up his homestead- the location for an elegant awards dinner for all 28 KMI entrants.

“We really want to change the emphasis with the KMI. We’re sensitive to the pandemic and had concerns about a cannabis festival. We wanted the people to be the judges. For prizes for the winners, we’re shopping 100 % local- supporting our county with purchases like a weekend on the coast. In my opinion, everyone who makes it into that box is already a winner.  You’ve proven you are a superior cannabis farmer.” 

A Mendocino County farm popping with color and life demonstrating the beauty of Mendocino County’s sun-grown cannabis

To augment the focus on farms, Brodsky, a long-time freelance journalist for the Ukiah Daily Journal and many other publications is conducting interviews and taking photos of the 28 contestants, creating a cultivator portfolio for customers to peruse. She credits Thanksgiving Coffee CEO Paul Katzeff for creating this ethical, person-to-person marketing technique. 

“Paul was one of the first people in the country to employ this strategy. You only have to walk into any grocery store or gift shop to see how important it is to consumers to feel a connection to the person making their products. We don’t have mega-farms in Mendo. We have small-scale, individual farms that are producing unparalleled cannabis, and their stories deserve to be heard.”

Kure is assuming the cost of testing and processing the entries, as well as designing, producing, marketing and selling the KMI boxes. “The only cost we are asking farms to assume is if their entry fails testing, in which case we are requesting they pay testing and destruction fees,” says Phines. 

One of the sun-grown cannabis plants that will be included in the Kure Mendocino Invitational box providing a sampling of 28 different farms around Mendocino County

“Kure is assuming a degree of risk putting on the KMI, but it has become very clear to me that no one else in this county is going to stand up for farmers, and the clock is ticking for how long they can hold on,” Green continues. And, says Green, the KMI is not just about creating more reliable access to retailers. The industry, he says, has been hampered repeatedly by one stymying regulatory debacle after another, resulting in a business climate as unforgiving as the drought-stricken region farmers reside in. 

“I was an active proponent for legalized cannabis from day one. Yet I have been struggling with county regulators for ten years, going back to the 9.31 ordinance. I believe people like myself and many farms we work with have been victims of botched legislation, intimidation and rampant unprofessionalism,” says Green. “To paraphrase what our former Ag Commissioner Tony Linegar said in a gaveled-in State hearing a couple years ago: ‘if all agribusinesses had to follow the same rules as the cannabis industry, there would be no agriculture in California.’ Permitting in California is a nightmare, and for cannabis, it’s a system that’s realistically almost impossible to comply with completely.”

Kure’s drive-through was shut down by county officials during the pandemic. “This is the kind of daily challenge we face as an industry,” says Green.

A nugget of sun-grown bud similar to what will be featured in the Kure Mendocino Invitational Box

“This shutdown happened, despite the fact that like all dispensaries, we were deemed an essential service- one serving immunocompromised customers who deserve safe access to cannabis medicine. Despite the fact I complied with Planning and Building’s request to design a new route for vehicular traffic. Despite the Department of Cannabis Control having no problem with a drive-through.”

“Most of the KMI farmers have fought or are fighting battles just to grow their crop, sell it, maintain licenses and feed their families. The overhead to maintain licenses is the same, regardless of farm size, putting small farms at an impossible disadvantage. Cultivation taxes being a set number instead of a percentage is also a huge problem that really shouldn’t exist at all. We needed to come together, support one another and reflect the good, honest, work we do. By launching the KMI, Kure is proudly holding up cannabis cultivators as an integral, essential part of Mendocino County- a part that deserves recognition and praise for their incredible skill, and oh yeah- the millions of dollars they put right back into our county,” Green concludes. 

According to Phines, exceptional cannabis flower entries are being submitted to the KMI. Kure is receiving strains that are proprietary, unusual and clearly grown by consummate professionals.

“We asked cultivators to submit a single, special strain- something that really stands out from the hundreds or thousands of pounds they produced this season,” says Phines. “Based on the entries thus far, customers who purchase the KMI boxes are going to be in for quite a ride,” he smiles.

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