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May 4, 2014 | by  | in Features |
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A Stoner’s Sojourn Into the Emerald Triangle

Vic student Leigh Barr spent a summer harvesting in the States. She travelled to the Emerald Triangle in search of an illegal marijuana plantation to work on. In this feature, she writes about her experience trimming and preparing dak in California.

After eight months on the road in America and having invested every last penny into the psychedelic melting pot that was Burning Man, I was culturally enriched and financially broke. But being a seasoned traveller with a whole new insight into the American ‘game’, I was ready to hustle my way out of monetary woes. My solution? Get that Kush Cash.

The standard rate is US$200 per pound of trimmed marijuana. With my eyes set on the green gold, I bustled out of the Nevada Desert in search of the Emerald Triangle: Mendocino, Trinity and Humboldt – three northern California counties famous for their marijuana production. With luck on my side, I ended up trimming some of the finest herb I’ve ever had the pleasure to handle in exchange for stone(d) cold cash.

I had heard the stories and fantasised about this dream job. Getting paid to sit in the sun all day trimming (or ‘cleaning’) weed was something I thought I was born for. Why my careers advisor never picked this up at school, I don’t know. I also didn’t know how easy or hard it would be to find work. I thought being a single white female from New Zealand would help my cause, but could also get me into trouble. Stories circulated of women getting paid more money if they trimmed topless, or incidents where drugs and alcohol were used to lure women away from the trimming fields and into the bedroom. I wasn’t prepared to sacrifice my dignity or safety for money, but where is the fun without a little gamble?

I was WWOOFing my way down the West Coast, learning about organic methods for growing and harvesting fruit and vegetables. Learning to cultivate cannabis seemed like a natural addition to my newfound insights. Although medicinal marijuana is legal in California, farming for recreational use is still a felony. Needless to say, my job-hunting would be through the black market. I risked getting kicked out of the country if caught by the feds, but desperate times called for desperate measures.

My experience was pretty chilled in comparison to articles I’d read: Mexican drug lords pistol-whipping and robbing growers; trimmers living in basements, crammed in 20-deep, cellphones taken off them and blindfolded so they had no clue exactly where in the rolling hills they were heading to work. I learnt through other travellers not to go east of Redding; where the real redneck growers operate. The closer you are to Highway 101, the safer you are. Problem is, most operations are at least an hour out from any place resembling a small township.

People go about finding work in all sorts of ways, and there is a noticeable influx of vagabonds into northern California during harvest season. Steampunks would sit on the side of the road with cardboard signs reading “will work for weed” or a simple outline of a pair of scissors. I knew there would be a surplus of willing workers, so decided to look outside of the regular towns and headed to a small haven with a population of roughly 200 people. I found a gig through a fellow traveller and went to work on a small homestead with an elderly couple that used to live with Janis Joplin back in their San Francisco heyday.

They had a small mom-and-pop operation with ten plants, but couldn’t afford to pay me to trim for them. The woman in her late 70s would hang her weed in the bedroom and then later sit at the kitchen table and trim away. Having dinner and lighting up the pipe with two of the original ‘60s hippies confirmed the old adage ‘truth is stranger than fiction’. After a couple of weeks on their paradisal homestead, I had met enough locals to be proven trustworthy and was led to the green mine.

The first camp I went to, I was lucky enough to have a New Zealand cohort with me; together we slept outside under the stars and woke in the morning to smoothies and scrambled eggs. We thought we had hit the jackpot. ‘Steve’ was a small-town thug and new to the game. His operation of 80 plants was laughable compared to what I saw later in my trimming career, but it was a good start and his stuff was easy to work with. I finally understood those ‘dank’ and ‘juicy’ references in hip-hop songs. Together we mused how “we were like the righteous gatekeepers to good ganja, man”. However, the initial pleasure of trimming up a decent-sized bud soon passed and the novelty of swimming in marijuana wore off. It would take approximately eight hours per pound to get the $200 cash. Although experienced trimmers can make three pounds in 16 hours, my male co-worker struggled to make the daily pound. As our boss said: “girls can’t skate and men can’t trim weed.”

Humboldt County makes no effort to disguise its booming illegal economy. The local store had a notably large array of scissors, sharpeners, trimming trays and clear plastic turkey bags (which are filled with the produce). Even the local radio station KMUD played trimming-themed music. They had special Citizens’ Watch announcements, which would frequently be played intermittently alongside legalise-it songs.

“This is KMUD with a Citizens’ Watch Report. There are three police trucks with ATVs on the back heading up Goose Creek Road. Okay? Repeat: Citizens’ Watch has just got a call from a concerned citizen. They said police were heading up Goose Creek Road about three minutes ago.”

Each time helicopters flew overhead, everyone would stop and look at each other. They would continue on their flight path and we would all get back to work. The adrenaline the sound of the propellers gave you was addictive. Every plane and helicopter became the feds in our paranoid minds. While we trimmed, we talked about escape plans into the redwoods and the depths of the King Range. I figured if the police came and I didn’t have time to run, I would simply claim ignorance. If that failed, I could always claim victimisation – but fortunately, the moment never arrived. My co-workers at the next camp I worked at assured me that when big stings happen, they don’t bother with the trimmers and just want to catch the drug lords of the operation. I didn’t know if they were making shit up or not, but it comforted me somewhat.

I felt relatively comfortable and treated it like any other seasonal harvest job. Like orchard picking in Hawke’s Bay, but with better pay and perks. Smoking while working was always an option, and you could definitely take advantage of the “one for you, one for me” mentality. Yet the more you smoked, the less you trimmed, and I quickly realised I wanted the cash more than the high. The biggest unforeseen problem was the quality of the weed. That changes everything. If you’re stuck with big leafy stems, it takes longer to find the actual buds. On the other hand, if you’re working with dry weed, it just crumbles and you struggle to put any of it in your turkey bag.

The ‘Blueberry Farm’ that I went to next was of a higher calibre and had been in the business for years. This place had a medicinal licence for 99 plants and then a cheeky hidden field, which yielded another 500 plants. They actually did have blueberries, but I question the attention they were given. Here, there were roughly ten trimmers: a few Americans, a German, a couple of Portuguese girls and an Israeli. Conversations were limited to your star sign, travel stories in Mexico, and what you thought your dream the night prior meant about your current identity complex. The Israeli didn’t utter more than five sentences. He was slamming out three-pounds minimum a day. The rest of us were lucky to nag one pound with the dry stuff we were working with.

Only ten days into my lucrative career, I decided to call it quits. My romantic notion of bathing in marijuana had ended, and although I was stacking cash quickly, my mental health was being compromised. I couldn’t stand to sit down for another eight-to-ten-hour day in a creaky chair for a measly $200. I had made enough money to keep me going for at least another month, and figured I had better quit while I was ahead.

Looking back at my time on the weed farms, perhaps I would go back with a group of friends to keep me sane. But at the same time, I realise how lucky I was to come out of that experience unscathed. Visiting a gangster’s paradise was a novel experience, and one I was dead set on. But I would prefer to enjoy smoking weed in a relaxed setting with friends than selling my soul to sit all day and trim it.

Jah Bless.

As originally published at www.lostravellers.co.nz

 

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