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Dancing Dog Ranch: Farming, Family And Finding Your Way

Union Electric has partnered with leading greenhouse growers to provide premium cannabis at affordable prices.

Proper and Union Electric have teamed up for this farm-focused series that tells the stories behind your bud, and the third farm we’re highlighting sits high in the hills of Mendocino County. Dancing Dog Ranch provides some stellar products and memorable highs aimed at helping their consumers be more resilient in their day-to-day lives. Let’s dig in to learn about their property, people, process and purpose.


It can be easy to paint the cannabis industry with a broad brush, but the more you get into it, the more you see how unique each brand really is. That’s no different for Dancing Dog Ranch. A full-blown, off-the-grid, family business founded by two sisters, this hidden gem in the Emerald Triangle is quickly becoming a flower-filled treasure trove.

This hidden gem in the Emerald Triangle is quickly becoming a flower-filled treasure trove.

Originally growing up in rural New York, the rich and wild landscape of NorCal made it easy to call it a second home. But the state of the world lately has been a different and difficult story, and while they make it to the site as much as possible, it's not currently quite as much as they'd like. Mackenzie is three thousand miles away with a three year old, and Madeline is in Sacramento, leaving both of them to run things from afar. Mackenzie was in the process of moving her family just 45 minutes away from the farm when Covid hit. 

They’d packed, enrolled their three year old in school and BAM, just like the rest of us, the new normal sank in. Thankfully, their property allows them to have the majority of their grow team living on site. At the farm they have Keith, their head grower, Brooklynn, a full-time female cultivator, Michael, their handyman extraordinaire, and Jacob, the jack of all trades. On top of the team keeping the farm humming, throughout all of this uncertainty they’ve been fortunate to have partners like Union Electric to help ensure that there's no downtime in their distribution.

Like everyone else in the California cannabis market, they’ve been lucky enough to have been labeled an essential business. This has allowed them to stay afloat, but more importantly, they can continue to provide their flower and concentrates to those who need them most. Closing down a cultivation site is far different than a dispensary shutting its doors for a few weeks. The amount of moving parts, planning and resources it would require would be akin to trying to stop a tsunami with a house of cards, and it would be just as difficult to reassemble on the other side. With a little luck and a lot of hard work from their team and family, they’re currently thriving, and are on track to turn their facility twice in a growing year for the first time.

It’s a family business through and through, and it stands for more than just cultivating cannabis.

Mackenzie and Madeline may be the only members of the family with formal roles, but they come by their entrepreneurial spirit honestly, and everyone else has carved out their own corner. Be it their sixty-one-year-old mother, the hardworking badass who pulls more hours and puts in more effort than damn near anyone, their father, who taught them the value of helping others succeed, or Mackenzie’s husband, a farm favorite who can often be found cooking up a creative feast for everyone around—it’s a family business through and through, and it stands for more than just cultivating cannabis. It was founded on the belief that the plant is life changing, legitimate and worth far more than money alone. Something Madeline discovered long before her sister ever lit up.

You might have initially thought that these two were the stoner sisters in high school. With cannabis-filled aspirations that went as sky high as they were, but that wasn’t exactly the case. Madeline found her way to weed many years prior to Mackenzie showing interest. Though she wasn’t the usual stoner kid who just liked to smoke before Harold and Kumar movies, she was passionate about the plant and fighting for people to understand the positive impact it can have from day one. She was driven to champion its beneficial qualities before she could even drive, and she fundamentally didn't understand why something that affected her and her friends so positively could be viewed so negatively.

Madeline

But the route that brought her to this reefer-filled reality hasn’t been a straight line. She’s lived multiple lives in her short time on earth, and has taken what she calls a, “Hard Knock University approach to life.” She went to school for a year before quickly realizing that she’s an empirical learner, and getting out into the world and getting her hands dirty was the way to go. 

She’s always been an entrepreneur, and whether it’s been selling jewelry in Nashville or cultivating cannabis in California, she’s always all in. Nothing is more of a nod to this than the trip that brought her out west in the first place. She crossed the country on a bike when she hadn’t even ridden one in years, and she called the adventure Tripping Hardcore (THC). So I guess you could say that her background is in being a creative badass who believes in herself, loves cannabis, and well, just gets shit done.

Mackenzie, the yang to Madeline’s yin, provides a different and balancing perspective to their overall equation. One of the great and unique aspects of cannabis is the wide variety of individuals that find themselves in the space. Those who benefit from using the plant come from all walks of life, and those who cultivate it are no different. Mackenzie’s background is in positive organizational psychology, which is essentially researching how to fix issues from a positive, thriving and effective standpoint, rather than focusing on a traditional deficit approach. She looks at what’s working well and figures out how to amplify it, which is something the cannabis industry greatly needs.

Mackenzie

Instead of simply meeting yields and making things work, individuals with fringe skillsets like hers can raise the bar and change the game for everyone's benefit. Put on top of that her experience in running an import export business in the alcohol space, and you have a true ace in the hole. Many of the skills she acquired have been directly transferable, such as operating in a regulated industry, navigating a fragmented market and dealing with the regular headaches that arise from the distribution of consumer packaged goods. They’ve made the same mistakes as everyone else just getting into the game, but their balanced and complementary skillsets have allowed them to rebound with ease time and time again. Between Madeleine's passion and creativity and Mackenzie’s crunching the numbers and helping them stay ahead of the curve, they have the tools and work ethic to go the distance.

Farms  like theirs, with a constant drive to improve their site and the surrounding area, will only move the entire community forward over time. 

Speaking of staying ahead of the curve, while they did inherit much of the existing infrastructure upon purchasing the property, they also reassess their site regularly. Be it employing new technologies to up efficiency or installing features to make their staff’s day to day easier, they’re always looking to improve. From raised beds, supplemental lighting and upgraded irrigation to dehumidifiers, water drip lines and working to go fully solar, they’re fine tuning everything possible to push their plants and people to their greatest potential. 

Not only were the more important things like their greenhouses already in place, but set in the floor at the entryway to the farmhouse is a stamped-brass seal bearing the name Dancing Dog Ranch. Just like a shelter dog, they decided to make its life better, not fundamentally and drastically different. They kept the identity and improved the facility, forgoing any notion of change for the sake of it, but sparing no expense when necessary.

These ideals comes through again and again in their commitment to sustainability and social equity, and are inherent in everything they do. Not only are they a fully self-sustained, off-the-grid operation, they ask forward-thinking questions like, "Why are we still utilizing single-use plastic tags for the thousands of plants we get every single harvest?" Mackenzie pointed out that perhaps the most likely substitute would come from the plant the tags are attached to. Hemp would not only be sustainable and biodegradable, it would easily hold up through the cycle of a single harvest. Farms like theirs, with a constant drive to improve their site and the surrounding area, will only move the entire community forward over time. 

Just as important as environmental sustainability is creating a sustainable industry through inclusion, and they’re doing their best to contribute every way they can. They’re entirely aware that they wouldn't have the privilege or opportunity to build their brand if it weren't for all of the other people that have been protecting and growing this plant for generations, and the last thing they'll do is use those who have been disproportionately negatively affected for years as stepping stones. 

They actively seek out, join and interact with organizations that are paving the way for more inclusive days ahead. They’re proud to be some of the first cultivators to join the Cannabis for Black Lives coalition, and they're also members of the Mendocino Cannabis Alliance, which advocates for, and helps support, other growers in the Emerald Triangle. So be it giving a shot to those who never got one, or keeping in business those who deserve to be, they’re constantly doing their part to grow the industry in a responsible, refreshing and downright necessary way. 

While staying true to the site, themselves and their mission, they’ve continued to put out products that have won awards and kept people coming back for more. At this point, Dancing Dog only feels comfortable continuing with one collaboration out of the many they’ve tried. It only takes getting burned once to make you incredibly guarded, and as of writing this article, they’re still awaiting payment for a substantial amount of fresh frozen product. But Kalya Extracts has been their shining light through the shadiness. Their ideals mirror those of Dancing Dog, and the transparent and straightforward way they do business makes such a partnership worthwhile. They want to see each other succeed as much as they want it for themselves. Together they took 3rd place at the Emerald Cup with their solventless product, and we really can’t wait to see what they put out next.

They're currently cultivating with a combination of cuts from their own mothers, a Papaya strain that was involved in their 3rd place winner, and acquiring clones from partners within the Emerald Triangle. They have an informal principle to deal within the immediate area as much as possible—which not only supplies those around them with some of the best bud, but also helps the community create jobs. They’re currently using the sea of green model, which means they’re filling their whole site with as few strains as possible and flipping quickly. This year they went all in on hybridized cake strains, as many have, and their yields and quality have never been higher.

If there’s one thing Dancing Dog hopes their cannabis can do for others, it's to make them more resilient through positive emotion. Which is to say, when people experience regular moments of joy, inspiration, awe or positivity, their cognitive landscape expands. And anyone with an open mind is more likely to try new things, which can lead to discovery and endless opportunity. Be it a lifelong happiness through the mastery of something you already love or the discovery and development of something brand new—unlike the anti-drug commercials like to tell us, cannabis promotes growth. It helps you meet new people and forge deep social bonds. Those are all examples of durable resources that people can tap into to overcome obstacles and promote resilience. And if there was ever a time that we need to be building resilience, it’s now.

At the time of conducting this interview and putting the story together, the 2020 Presidential Election was but days away. Mackenzie pointed out the important role cannabis can play for many of us in these stressful and uncertain situations. We said earlier that as kids, Madeline was taking puffs while Mackenzie decided to pass, but she actually hadn’t ever consumed cannabis until after she started this venture. Smoking reinvigorated a part of her brain that, for many of us, has gone dormant or on autopilot since the days of our youth.

Dancing Dog’s strains are crafted for moments of equal parts introspection and exploration.

Getting older teaches us to give in and go with the flow. Weed can help us remember how healthy it is to still ask why for the sake of it. To rejuvenate that untouched creative and inquisitive side that is so easy to quiet in our day-to-day lives. That doesn't mean you need to become a full-on dreadlocked, Che Guevara t-shirt wearing conspiracy theorist, but a healthy amount of skepticism is warranted, especially in a world rife with misinformation. Dancing Dog’s strains are crafted for just such moments of equal parts introspection and exploration. They allow you to once again see the world through green-colored glasses in a time where putting up blinders simply isn't an option.

Cannabis is an industry where everyone both claims and wants to be the best. To have the best flower, create the best clones, elevate the edibles game, etc. Having so many vying for the crown only results in a higher number of high quality products for consumers, but it will be the farms like Dancing Dog that go the extra mile that will end up on top. And somewhere out there is a farm whose next strain could be the best of the best for but a brief moment. And why not from Mendocino, why not Dancing Dog? 


About the Author

Head of Content, ex-chef and avid creative—if Scott's not playing pool in one of his favorite dive bars, you’ll find him packing up his camera and some pre-rolls to explore the Northern California wilderness.

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