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“… and when you see that microbial diversity dancing around under the microscope, it just gets me so excited,” exclaimed Adam to the reporter, who honestly looked completely lost by what he was being told. Regardless, the young farmer’s passion was tangible as he animatedly chatted.
While Swami and I never had children together, we felt about as proud as parents can feel when we listened to Adam explain the intricate technicalities of living soil to the journalist. Now 32, we’ve known Adam since he was a curious 22-year-old. We were introduced to him via friends when we reached out looking for a helper on the ranch after Swami broke his arm. We instantaneously recognized the young buck as one of our tribe.
Traditionally, here in The Emerald Triangle, finding workers to help with the cannabis crops has been a word-of-mouth affair. While some farmers dare to pick up strangers in town and bring them to their gardens during harvest season, we always preferred a closer, longer-term relationship. After all, you are taking these people into your private residence to live, eat, sleep, and assist with your livelihood. Considering that the majority of cannabis farms in the hills of Mendocino, where we live, are down long and bumpy dirt roads in the middle of nowhere, it’s wise to have workers you enjoy being around and absolutely trust. This is not your regular 9-5 job.
Family and family friends are naturally our first choices for extra hands, and we are fortunate to have lots of each. Every long-time grower can regale you with stories about their buddies who came to help during harvest, sleeping in any space they could find. Weed was hung everywhere to dry, and trim tables were folded up at night to make space for mattresses on the floor. You’d awake in the morning to an upside-down forest of fragrant green branches hanging above your head. Conditions were simple and definitely not up to OSHA standards, but it was a true “cottage industry,” and an underground one at that. Everyone survived just fine.
Clearly, this was a far cry from where we are today in California’s new world of weed. The current rules and regulations require commercially-permitted buildings for processing the crops. Ranches off the grid in the deep forests of Northern California generally do not include large, commercially-permitted buildings, so trimming and packaging can’t happen at home on the farm any longer. We are also learning about disability requirements, such as wheelchair access, and Standard Operating Procedures — welcome to the “legal” world of cannabis cultivation.
Today, to be legally employed by a “hands-on” cannabis farm or processing center in Northern California, you need to be 21 years of age, a California resident, and be willing to get Live Scan fingerprinted. You may also have to wear gloves, hair nets, and name badges. While you no longer can smoke joints all day with your fellow workers like in the old days, a trimmer or farmer can now rest assured that he or she has workman’s compensation and a regular paycheck.
Life on a farm is a full-time job, and that’s not just the labor required in the cannabis garden. For several years, we found young people from all over the world on various work-trade website programs to help us with the chores. To pick the right candidates, we went through a simple vetting process online, sometimes followed by a phone call. Soon, some new twenty-somethings would arrive out here at our secluded ranch. They’d be eager to participate in everything from planting vegetables to helping us build temples. Sometimes, the newcomers would be surprised (and elated) to discover our cannabis garden, as they didn’t come to our farm to work with weed in specific. Getting immersed in cannabis culture, and receiving a NorCal education, has always been one of the perks of helping out at Turtle Creek Ranch.
There have only been a handful of times when some real weirdos came to work for us — like the guy who got off on hacking at trees in the forest with an axe… or the girl who had a real phobia for condiments. Seriously: ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, etc. She wouldn’t go near the stuff! Gentle diplomacy was the best tactic to help urge them on their way. Most, however, were really wonderful, and some even became like family and stuck around for quite a while. But few had a true green thumb for growing cannabis, and took to cultivation with the enthusiasm we pride ourselves in.
Adam was an exception, and he has spent a good part of the past decade working with us. Over that time, we have gotten to know and love his biological family, as well as his large circle of friends, including Colin, who shares the gardening chores with Adam. Together, they are a dedicated and talented team. It is thanks to our “open gate” policy that they found their way to our farm, and we’ve been blessed to have them.
Curiously, in the final years of bringing on extraneous helpers before legalization kicked in, a trend became apparent. Over a three year period, we had at least five twenty-somethings arrive at our ranch just a few days after kicking opiates. After a couple of weeks here, when they felt safe, they told us their stories. Each of them had a heartbreaking tale of how, after a serious injury or battle with mental health issues, they had gotten hooked on opiates prescribed by a doctor and then graduated to street drugs when the scripts ran out. The ones who landed here had the strength of character to know there are other ways to medicate safely. As if instinctively, they knew to come to the land of cannabis to heal themselves. The combination of smoking unlimited quantities of the finest flower and good hard work, along with healthy organic food, has worked wonders for the folks who came here while detoxing.
It takes a unique sort of person to work on a cannabis farm. Devotion to the plants, combined with a constant sense of responsibility for one’s well-being, is necessary to truly be a great cannabis farmer. When I first moved to Mendo, we used to call it “Ganja Boot Camp,” as it’s back-breaking work and the most fun you’ll ever have — as long as you are tuned into the plants and their growth cycle. A real farmer grows at the same time as the girls in the garden!
Our farmers and helpers around the ranch are vital to what we do. It becomes a community project when you live in the country, off the grid, with no cell service. Communal living and a dedication to maintaining a positive ethos has been so valuable for our farm and relationship here in The Emerald Triangle. As ganja “grandparents,” we feel proud of the next generation, and confident that folks like Adam and Colin will mindfully carry the torch into the future.
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