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What It’s Like to Be a ‘Trim Bitch’ on an Illegal Weed Farm

The new girls got in late last night and are all up at seven, being led around the dusty grounds of the property in the early morning sun. They are still dressed in their city clothes—tight jeans and cute shoes—and as they shuffle across the dirt and dry gravel they talk excitedly to one another, shielding their eyes as the bright sun slides slowly over the mountain, already coming up to punish us.

This time of year, new girls are constantly coming to the property. It’s mid-July in southern Humboldt County, and the first round of the year’s marijuana harvest—all one thousand pounds of it—is hanging in the sheds or newly dried in contractor bags and cardboard boxes, ready for us to start trimming into perfect, salable little nuggets. From now until Christmas, we’ll trim 16 hours a day, every day. We’ll sit the whole time, break sparingly for food, and only get up to the go to the bathroom when we absolutely must. We’ll smoke constantly and increasingly. Even with 30 of us, we’ll be pushing to get it all done before the end of the year.

The new girls are new; they don’t know any of this yet. But I’ve worked in enough of these scenes to know that as far as trimming weed goes, this place is as good as it gets.

I call our place the Farm, though it isn’t ours: It’s Jim’s*. Jim’s farm is two hours from the nearest city, 90 minutes from a gas station or a grocery store, at the end of a long logging road high in the coastal mountain range of Northern California. It’s hard to get to; there isn’t much local traffic save for the occasional work rig running bags of soil up the gravel road to one of the dozens of other grows in our little neighborhood. No highway patrol cars would bother to cruise in this far, which is a relief because Jim grows his weed illegally. There’s no phone service and no internet. Most nights the only sounds you can hear are wind, coyotes, and the white noise of generators.

Down on the county road, or way out on the freeway, dozens of other newcomers are flooding Northern California looking for a place just like ours: travelers; hitch-hikers; retirees; packs of grease-dark, train-hopping kids; hippie couples holding cardboard signs with only a pair of scissors drawn on them. “Trimmigrants,” the locals grumble.

I feel lucky to be here, even if I am breaking the law.

Regardless of the fact that the majority of growers in Humboldt County are operating illegally, thousands of seasonal workers come from all over the world to work in the marijuana capital of the US during harvest season, risking jail time and felony charges to build a little nest-egg with untaxed, unregulated income. Even to me, the risk seems worth it. I feel lucky to be here, even if I am breaking the law.

I see the new girls turning now, walking up the dirt hill toward me in a little cluster; they’re still shielding their eyes from the bright morning sky. From up on the deck, I watch them taking in the water tanks and the four-wheelers, the massive pile of our garbage set away to rot in a little clearing of trees. I remember being new, and trying to understand. When they look up at me, I smile and wave.

Photo by Jason Fiske

Even though I was born and raised in Humboldt County, I never thought I would end up trimming weed. When I graduated from college in 2008 the American economy had just collapsed, and I became part of the first wave of students to enter a recession-impacted workforce. Funding for arts, education, and the environment disappeared. Unable to find a job with my environmental sustainability degree, I asked a friend from high school if he knew of any farm work I could pick up—”farm” being code, in many parts of Northern California, for cannabis.

He offered me a job at the property he was working at in southern Humboldt County, a remote region with a dry Mediterranean climate famous for its weed production. He explained that I’d get to stay out there for free and make 20 bucks an hour under the table, just watering and transplanting the crops. When the weed was harvested, I could stay on and trim if I wanted to. “Everyone does it out here,” he assured me. “It’s no big deal.” I was sold. The next week, I packed my life into my car and headed north, telling myself I’d only stay until I could figure out what was next.

The job was a dream in many ways; I worked long days outside, slept in a cabin, and had plenty of time to read and write. I met Jim there; he was just someone’s boyfriend then, setting up another farm a few miles down the road. My friend was right: Everyone did seem to grow out there. Even still, there was a general uneasiness in the valley, a feeling of mild danger that permeated an otherwise peaceful lifestyle.

Photo by Evan Dalen via Stocksy

Back then, legalization wasn’t as imminent as it is now; federal raids were real and constant threats. Though some growers had the medical paperwork to legitimize their plants in California, it wasn’t uncommon, or illegal, for the Feds to bust them. Because of this, lots of growers wouldn’t even bother getting permits; they just took their chances, like Jim did. While we were remote enough that I felt relatively safe, we still froze whenever a black helicopter would fly low through the valley. Jim carried a pistol in his belt at all times. “If shit goes down,” he would tell me, “just start running.” I nodded, trying not to think about the fact that I had no place to run to.

After a month of this, the paranoia wore me down. I wasn’t able to tell my friends or family where I was, or much about what I was doing, for fear of being judged, punished, or reported. My parents considered me a lost cause. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was endangering myself by staying there—that eventually I’d be arrested, or worse. Mostly, though, I was 22 years old and haunted by a desire to find work that was meaningful. I was alone in the mountains, outside of society, drinking, smoking and never reading the news. I stayed at the property a few more weeks and then took my cash to Portland, hoping to get back on track, and hoping that the job market had improved a little in my absence.

It hadn’t. If anything, it seemed like there were fewer jobs when I left the Farm. I spent the next winter and spring barely making my rent—scraping together babysitting gigs, doing stints at shitty restaurants, and sending out hundreds of applications that were never answered. When early summer rolled around, just as I was debating having to move back home, I got a text from Jim: “u lookin for work?”

I went to Jim’s new farm to trim that season, and I’ve returned to Humboldt County to trim nearly every season since. Every year I tell myself it’s not worth it: It’s too remote; it’s too dangerous; it interferes with my ability to further my education or start a career. But there are aspects of the job that I like; I can remember them when spring rolls around. I remember the smell of the hot woods, the satisfying ache of manual labor, and how good it feels to be handed a thick roll of bills when the job is done. I remember that I actually love it, or at least the freedom it gives me. As a trimmer, I can make enough money in a few months to supplement my income for the rest of the year. It’s the only way I’ve been able to support my music or art projects, and the only reason I have a savings account at all.

Still, being a trimmer carries a certain amount of stigma along with it. The media portrayal of the marijuana industry showcases social reform, progressive activism, and female empowerment, but out on the farms things feel much different. The gender roles are distinct and historic: Men grow, women trim. While the men are fixtures—usually property owners—the women are interchangeable, expendable labor. Locals will regularly refer to the girlfriends of weed farmers as “grow hoes” or “potstitutes,” two widely-acknowledged rural archetypes suggesting that women in the weed industry do nothing but receive unearned benefits from their male partners. But even women who work experience blatant sexism; I’ve frequently heard my co-workers referred to dismissively as “trim bitches,” and more than once was offered an extra 50 bucks a pound to trim topless—a practice that, while not quite the norm, is certainly more prevalent than it should be.

As a weed trimmer—a position almost always filled by women—I can earn $3000 a week. But the sexism and stigma on marijuana farms have always made me wonder if it's worth it.

HIRING CANNABIS DISPENSARY STAFF- ALL POSITIONS (ARCATA)

HIRING CANNABIS DISPENSARY STAFF- ALL POSITIONS (ARCATA)

We are a brand new cannabis dispensary opening this month in the City of Arcata. We are hiring for all front of the house positions:

Industry experience is a plus, but not necessary. Part time and full time positions available, additional hours available to the right person.

Looking for eager and flexible individuals who desire a job in a professional, fun working environment! Please send a resume and a brief intro for consideration.

Must be 21 years or older. Must have evening and weekend availability. Must be able to sit and stand for long periods of time.

We encourage students from Humboldt State University to apply.

420 jobs, cannabis jobs, weed, marijuana, retail, dispensary

We are a brand new cannabis dispensary opening this month in the City of Arcata We are hiring for all front of the house positions (2019-12-05)