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Area 101 with Tim Blake

By Amanda Ferron

If you’ve seen a gigantic alien billboard in Northern California off Highway 101, then you have driven right past an infamous piece of land known as Area 101. Many don’t realize it, but this beautiful property in the Emerald Triangle is steeped in Cannabis history. I sat down with Area 101 owner/Emerald Cup Founder, Tim Blake, and strolled down memory lane with him as we discussed this random piece of land turned magical sanctuary. 

Tim Blake needs no introduction when it comes to people who’ve been in the Cannabis space for awhile. But for those of you who don’t know, Tim is the founder of the prestigious Emerald Cup Awards, and is basically an absolute legend. I was lucky enough to connect with Tim a little over a year ago via LinkedIn. Since our virtual friendship began, he has been so incredibly supportive of my career… And has proven to be a wonderful ally to women in the Cannabis industry.

I was beyond excited to finally get to meet him in person at the 2023 Emerald Cup Awards in Richmond, CA. Our in-person meeting was a quick hug and hello, but let me tell you, Tim simply beams with truly amazing energy… And you feel it the moment you see that big smile in person.  

Which made it no surprise to me when PayRio Founder, Aubrey Amatelli, described how incredible her time was at Area 101. Aubrey got invited to a gathering there late September of this year. She packed up her little blue RV, dubbed the “Blue Dream”, and grabbed a girlfriend to join her. Together, they made the drive up north for an evening of friends, food, music, and some of that aforementioned amazing energy.

Cleaning House

Tim had already started to plant roots in the Emerald Triangle, purchasing a piece of property in Willits, CA in 1979. He would go on to purchase the property across the road from the future Area 101 as well, and turn that piece of land into a Cannabis grow. A few years later, the property across from Tims grow became available to buy.

“No one wanted to buy the property, because there were gas tanks on it that had MTBE in them and needed to be removed. People thought it was going to be a total disaster when it came to clean up. I meditated and prayed on it, and was told it was going to be ok. So I spent $40k, knowing that if the property was bad, I was going to lose all my money. 

That’s why I got the property so cheap, and it ended up being one of the cleanest sites in California. It was a contaminated source that everyone thought was going to be ruined, and it was perfectly clean. Magically, it was clean. But then I had to run all the ‘crankers’ out and spend about $30k in dump fees to remove all the garbage they had piled up… Because they had been trading dump space for crank, and it was just crazy… They’d had a bombing, assaults, attempted murders… So we had to run them all out. Took it over, cleaned it up… And that’s how it all started.”

Area 101

What started as basically a crack-heads dump-site, was about to morph into something serene and beautiful. Tim thought back on this period and smiled as he recalled these initial moments on the property…

I’ve always been interested in Aliens. I had my first experience with ETs when I was 7 years old, and continued to have them in the following years… When I bought this land, I knew I wanted to name it. It kind of felt like Area 51, ya know? And there is still an argument over who actually came up with the name ‘Area 101’… My old friend Michael swears it was him, but I know it was Bill and Wendy who came up with that name. 

Wendy was sitting there, very funny gal, and she said ‘Why don’t you call it Area 101? That’s what you are…’ and I was like ‘Ok… That’s it. I mean, it IS Area 101.’ Then we had the billboard made with the UFO that was a little bit cartoony… The one we have now is really beautiful. The original was really good too though, and people were blown away to see that on the highway.

I had been going to some parties with Nikki (Lastreto), and I noticed they had these alters… But they were always Hindu or Buddhist and I thought ‘Why aren’t all the other types of religions or spiritual faces represented?’ So that’s where the idea of Area 101 came, having all the religions coming together in peace and harmony, recognizing the one God. So Nikki helped bring in the sculptures, she found the Ganesha and the Shiva in the back, I found the Buddah and I had the Christ made.”

Dancing in the Moonlight

“We started throwing little parties, little trance and electronic parties. I had never danced… Until we threw one in the back, in the dark… We did some psychedelics and I was able to dance around in the dark all night and I realized ‘…I really like that…’ Like, it was my passion! After having two left feet and my wife thinking I couldn’t dance… I realized ‘Oh I like this stuff…'”

At this point, things started happening on the property very quickly. “We jumped in there, and we just started creating. We had money rolling in from the grow across the street, we were finding the statues, throwing parties all the time and hosting these underground shows… It was really cool.” 

Today, as you walk among the trees next to babbling brooks, you will come upon these statues placed in different spots on the property. Meant to inspire deeper thought, and help you connect with whatever higher power you choose… It’s a space where you can use whatever methods you like in order to really plug into nature, and a higher energy. Thus connecting you with an elevated version of yourself.

Aubrey and her friend found a lovely spot by a little creek. She expressed to Tim and I that she had a wave of calmness wash over her as she sat in the shadows of the tall trees, listening to the water flow. “I could have stayed there the entire time…” She said, with a big smile on her face and a light in her eyes; The space clearly holding special meaning for her now.

Ahead of the Times

Tim has been known as a Cannabis plant advocate for many, many years. Though some other legacy farmers may not have agreed with his tactics, his ultimate goal has always been to lift the Cannabis community up. Sometimes, this meant trying to figure out a way to have the community work with law enforcement, in the hopes of not getting raided over and over again. 

Pebbles (Trippet) came to me, and asked me if I would sponsor the Sheriffs debates at Area 101. Because my family is full of cops, lawyers, and Priests and stuff, I was like ‘Fine…’. We had 500 people there to hear the 4 (Sheriff) candidates. And it went so well, we held the runoff there, and Tom Allman got elected. And then the District Attorney candidates loved it so much, they asked if they could hold their debates there too. So in the course of like 3 months, we had 4 gatherings of people for the first time in the country, in the world really, of law enforcement and the Cannabis community coming together. It was really incredible.”

This was the part some people took issue with. For obvious reasons, there is a deep distrust in the Cannabis community of anyone having to do with law enforcement. We have, after all, historically been harshly persecuted for the use of our beloved Herb, so the trust issues are understandable… But I have always said that the best way to move past any issue with someone, is to start productive dialogs. Communication and education are KEY. But this was long before any kind of Cannabis legalization started passing, and parts of the community just didn’t agree with Tims moves.

“I got death threats because people thought I was going to ruin the industry… But after Tom Allman got elected, that led to the 9.13 program, which was the first in the country. You could grow 99 plants with a permit. I was the 2nd guy in the program.”

Emerald Roots

During this time period, Tim and the Area 101 crew were holding other events on the property as well. 

People loved them! You have the fire-pit in the back, and you could come in and stay the whole weekend. And while we are doing these events, we are growing 500lbs of Cannabis a year across the street. So we were growing all summer, and then every 4 weeks we’d throw a 3 day party, blow it all out… and then go back to work.”

Out of these gatherings, the Emerald Cup was born. “My old girlfriend at the time and I were sitting with a bunch of other people in 2004, and we were talking about how much I enjoy the county fair… Going and seeing the sights and smells, and the friendly competitions… And why couldn’t we do that (with Cannabis)? So we disguised it as a birthday party for her and our friend Desmond (who was one of Bob Marleys best friends in life). We had no poster for that 1st Emerald Cup… Because it was all underground and by word of mouth. We were afraid we were gonna get busted.”

The guests were 90% local Mendo people during the first year. Tim started giggling, remembering the story about infamous breeder Ringo (Lawrence) trying to come to that first Emerald Cup. Ringo had become well known for his work with CBD strains. “Ringo came down to try to sell some seeds. And my partner threw him out, because we weren’t going to have vendors there. And at that time, you could go to jail for 10 years for seeds. So my partner told him, ‘You can’t bring those in here, we’re all gonna go to prison!.’ And when I found out I was like ‘YOU THREW OUT RINGO!?!? What do you mean??’ So next year I made sure Ringo got in…” He said with a chuckle.

This underground Emerald Cup grew bigger and bigger over the years… But a couple years after that first event, Cannabis grows started getting shut down, and the Area 101 events came to an end. Tim and his crew “went into hiding.” 

“That’s when Colorado and Washington became legal… But we were ahead of all of that. Little Mendocino County was lightyears ahead of anybody. We were sitting there with the Sheriffs, talking about how to live together in 2005. It’s really amazing stuff when I look back on it. That’s why I plan on building a little Area 101 museum on the site. To share the history that has happened here.”

Burned into History

The stories we heard from Tim could fill a few books, and that was just the tip of the iceberg. You will be able to read all of them soon, as Tim has written a book! No spoilers here, but it is being pursued by a few publishers, and I cannot WAIT to see it on the shelves. The Emerald Cup is now one of the most reputable events in Cannabis. The awards themselves are held in high esteem by growers, extractors, and connoisseurs alike. And none of it would be happening, if not for the initial gatherings at Area 101.

“I’m an old outlaw… I don’t drive fancy cars, I don’t talk much about myself. Before the Emerald Cup went to Santa Rosa, people did not know who I was, because I didn’t put my name on anything.” 

Today, people definitely know his name. Tim is a staple in the Cannabis Community. And those Santa Rosa Emerald Cups ended up being formative in my own Cannabis career as well… I started in the legal Cannabis space working for an extract company called Guild Extracts. I worked in the packaging room back then, but when the Emerald Cup came around, I got to work the event booths as well. Handing out dabs, and connecting with others in a way I had never experienced before. 

I started using Cannabis at the age of 15. And I always had to hide it. Even though it was the first medicine I had ever found that calmed my anxiety, eased my stomach issues, and allowed me to function like a normal human being, it was still “the devils lettuce”. And it’s use had to be hidden.

To now be working somewhere like the Emerald Cup, where everyone was consuming Cannabis, and no one was being judged for it… It was the first time I had ever experienced anything like that, and it was life changing. I remember thinking “This is what I am meant to do. This is the industry I’m meant to be in. These are the people I am meant to work with.

I wouldn’t have had that experience without Tim and his development of the enchanting space that is Area 101. I am personally so incredibly grateful to Tim, and everyone he has worked with over the years to make such an incredible thing happen. He has brought people together in a way that no one had before. I truly consider myself lucky to call him my friend.