All photos courtesy of Nikki Lastreto and Swami Chaitanya
What happens when a "trimmigrant" — the colloquial name for temporary hired hands during cannabis harvest season — actually scores a job in The Emerald Triangle? Last time we discussed the plight of the migrant worker coming to Nor-Cal in the fall, and how they hang around (often in the streets) while looking for job opportunities. After innumerable hours of waiting with a sign out and many nights of sleeping in the bushes, anyone would be ready to jump at a paid gig offering. But, as many veterans of the Triangle know, some jobs are significantly more lucrative and appealing than others.
If a trimmigrant is lucky, he or she will find themselves ensconced in a mellow trim scene, surrounded by sweet smelling buds and friendly folks. I'd like to think that's the majority of farm households up here at this time of year. They'll have a warm bed, good food, and plenty of work to keep them busy. They may work grueling 12-hour days at the height of harvest, but with the money they make they will travel and live for the rest of the year. In other words, if you can land a good trim gig, it is definitely worth the hassle.
Farmers in the Triangle have a theory about hired help: as long as your trimmers are happy, your buds are happy. It's great when a camaraderie forms between the snippers, because the vibe around the trim table projects onto the flowers. Some trimmers listen to Audiobooks together and then discuss them, anxious to get back to work and hear the next chapter. Music is enjoyed and played by various folks, and that always keeps things lively. It's also nice to know you'll have a warm meal at some point, when you can finally put down your scissors and grub. It can be difficult to stop clipping once you get going, though. It's almost hypnotic… just one more bud… just one more bud…
Not all scenes are so cool, though. A young woman from San Francisco, who had some connections in Humboldt County, recently told us she felt lucky that she found a job so quickly. But when she arrived to the farm, she discovered it wasn't so good after all. She was the only woman on the crew, and the guys were basically a bunch of misogynist a-holes. After about five days she was over at our place, crying and wondering how the job turned out so sour. Even her pitbull wasn't enough to make her feel safe. She was lucky and wise to get out fast. The international trimmigrants, far away from home, don't have the option to just go back to the city if a harvesting job goes from good to god-awful.
There are many middle-aged and older farmers in the backwoods who grow fantastic cannabis in the Triangle. They've been doing it for years, but they are lonely after living a hermit's life and are not always socially adept. Farming is hard work and, with many notable exceptions, most of the remote farmers are male. Let's face it, other than occasional trips to the health food store to flirt with the checkout girl, harvest is the one time of year a grower might actually meet a woman, or anyone for that matter, to talk to. For the most part, these sequestered growers are harmless, but it is a good idea for new trimmers to travel with friends. In a place where people have been operating illegal businesses for years, it never hurts to have a partner join you for protection and safety. That said, there are often consensual and healthy romances among trimmers and year-round help. Eccentric farmers talk of running naked through the plants at full moon in the autumn, joined by their excited, short-term teams. Songs and stories are written about trim season love affairs. While there's a lot of work to be done, no one in NorCal is immune to romance.
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Emma Merkel, from western Pennsylvania, has worked as a trimmigrant for the past three years. She admits the first year wasn't so easy, when she had to "kind of fake my way through it." You either have it or you don't when it comes to trimming, and luckily Emma had it. By her second year it was second nature. On the other hand, there are also the trimmers who come absolutely unprepared and have even less talent. The smart farmer will return them to town once it becomes clear they are mangling the buds.
"I know I'm gonna work really hard for a couple months, and then get to travel and play the rest of the year," says Emma. That sounds pretty good to us. "I've made some great friends being a trimmer. It always seems to work out."
Isn't that the way in the cannabis community? Except for a few bad buds in the bunch, everyone does tend to look after one another. Take this intense year for example, with southern Mendocino County farms being devastated by the raging fires. There have already been fundraisers and donation centers to aid the cannabis farmers that got hit. Some trimmigrants are back on the street looking for work because the farms where they were working burnt down or the crops were destroyed by toxic smoke. They say the fires may have killed millions of dollars of cannabis, though it's not as bad is it could have been. But the community has come together to help one another nonetheless; we are all in this together.
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In the coming days of legal cannabis, hired help will be required to be fingerprinted, pay taxes, wear badges, hairnets, and gloves on the job. Part-time trimmers will only be able to work in commercially-permitted buildings. Gone will be the days of cozy trim rooms in farmers' homes, filled with accents from around the world. We'll miss the trimmigrants.
For more on Nikki and Swami's life in the Emerald Triangle, visit their website here and stay tuned for their next column.