California’s Wave Rider Nursery finds the perfect swell off the coast of Monterey Bay
Cannabis cultivation doesn’t always pair well with saving the environment, but for somebody who loves the ocean and beaches as much as Winston Carson does, it’s easy to see why his massive greenhouse complex is constantly pushing to be cleaner, greener and less wasteful.
Carson’s love for the California coastline stems from his surfing heritage and is evident everywhere at Wave Rider Nursery — from the like-minded friends and family who helped him start the state-licensed cultivation business to the company name, logo and identity.
Most of the employees share Carson’s passions.
“A lot of people just sit around and watch television,” he says. “We’re not those people.”
Mourning of the Earth
Located just off the coast of Monterey Bay, Wave Rider Nursery has grown from a backyard, family grow into a 231,000-square-foot commercial farm.
Despite the size of the production facility, the company has never strayed from its philosophy of putting the environment first. Carson says Wave Rider’s 20 employees have a shared belief as medical providers, cannabis producers and surfers that sustainable and responsible growth have to be staples for the company — even when this means opting for methods that may cost more.
“At times we’ve been penalized by it because we’re trying to do everything by the book,” he says. “But we try to be forward-thinking and do everything the right way.”
Rather than using chemical pesticides, Wave Rider employs integrated pest management (IPM) and a fanatical approach to keeping contaminants out of the greenhouse. That becomes evident once a visitor walks through the facility’s vacuum-sealed doors and is presented with head-to-toe smocks and a chemical foot bath to kill any pathogens that could harm the crops. Ventilation at the facility is sealed with mesh screens to prevent pests from entering the grow rooms.
Wave Rider’s green practices aren’t limited to pest mitigation. The company also recycles its used soil by steaming it at 160 degrees for four to five hours and then having it tested at a lab to ensure that pathogens are not introduced back into the greenhouse.
The company’s eco-friendly philosophy is designed as a counter-measure to the state’s bad actors, as many cannabis companies have relied on harmful pesticides that can be detrimental to both consumers and the environment. News reports show nearly 20% of cannabis products tested in California have failed to meet standards for potency and purity since the state began requiring third-party testing in July.
Clean cannabis has always been a priority for Carson, who has been growing since 1972. Like many, he joined California’s medical program early on and for years felt comradery with the longtime growers from Northern California. However, those sentiments have turned sour over the past few years, as black market cartels have displaced the hippie growers of the past, destroying forests and national parks in the process.
Carson now advocates for his tax dollars to be spent on eradicating the bad actors who are trashing the environment and using illegal, toxic pesticides to grow cannabis.
“We’re trying to police some of the things that are happening in the industry,” Carson says.
While other companies have relied heavily on outside investors, Wave Rider’s capital “has been generated essentially out of pocket,” Carson says.
“We don’t have a large corporation behind us with endless pockets like some of these guys out here who can really promote themselves,” he adds. “But we’re getting there. We see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
The catalyst for Wave Rider’s rapid expansion came when Carson scouted an available greenhouse operation in the Salinas Valley. As a former greenhouse sales rep, he says the old structures were perfect to separate into 5,000-square-foot growing rooms.
The acquisition allowed the company to grow from about 10,000 square feet of cultivation space to more than five acres, while the abundance of natural light and the moderate climate year-round save the business from expensive heating, cooling and supplemental lighting costs. On top of the climate advantages, the central California location is the perfect distribution hub for a cannabis producer to reach the state’s massive population of consumers.
“We’re right in the middle of the largest markets in the world with San Francisco to the north and Los Angeles to the south of us,” Carson says. “And Monterey Bay is one of the best places in the world for surfing.”
The Wave Rider Nursery operates on a perpetual harvest schedule, with each room currently producing between 150 and 200 pounds of cannabis per week.
Although the company can easily harvest substantially more, Carson watched what happened in states like Oregon and Washington, where overproduction decimated the value of flower, and opted to let the market dictate Wave Rider’s production.
“That gives us some leverage so we’re not flooding the market,” Carson says. “We’re not pulling down 2,000 pounds at a time or something ridiculous right now. The product stays very fresh; it’s not staying on a shelf before it goes to market.”
Prior to October, when Wave Rider received its distribution license, the company operated primarily as a nursery, selling clones and ready-to-flower plants to other license holders. With most cannabis farms paying a premium for rent, producers often recoil at the thought of reducing their flowering canopy to make room for a nursery. Because of Wave Rider’s size, Carson says it only made sense to continue supplying other growers with clones and ready-to flower plants.
Now with its distribution license, Wave Rider Nursery will slowly increase its ratio of flower sales.
Meanwhile, the company is continuing to expand by building another acre of greenhouse space to supply nearby producers with clones.
On top of plant sales and flower, Wave Rider has lines of distillate, oils and pre-rolls. The farm is also working on proprietary strains with the intention of releasing a new line of genetics every quarter.
The Next Generation
Carson wanted to ensure Wave Rider would be in good hands after he retires. It took a little effort, but he convinced his son Drew to join the team.
“He wasn’t that interested at first,” Carson says, “but he decided that he liked it and he was good at it.”
After joining the company, Drew went to work building a team of professionals, including brand ambassador Adam Replogle, a Santa Cruz native and former pro surfer, and greenhouse manager Brandon Barnes, an IPM specialist originally from the strawberry industry.
Instead of eliminating pests outright, Barnes developed Wave Rider’s IPM strategy to utilize predator mites and other beneficials, in addition to taking measures to prevent pests from getting into the facility in the first place. Each grow room has a row of cover crops that promote a micro-ecosystem where “the good bugs eat the bad bugs,” Carson explains.
“We really can’t eradicate (pests) because everything we spray is OMRI certified, which is a control mechanism,” Carson says.
Carson says having Barnes on staff also gives the nursery side of Wave Rider’s business added value as he troubleshoots any integration issues with the plants the company sells to its clients.
Next on the Wave Rider agenda is reducing the use of plastics and finding an eco-friendly packaging solution.
“We’ve got to stop kicking it down the road,” Carson says of environmental responsibility. “The generation that I am coming out of left a lot of waste. We try not to participate in that here.”
It’s just another way to protect the ocean that Wave Rider’s team of surfers love.
“I am sick and tired about seeing all the plastics going into the oceans, so we want to step away from that,” Carson says. “That collection site is as large as Texas. It’s ridiculous what we’re doing to the planet.”