The Weed Grower’s View
A Peek Into The Drama Of Northern California’s Booming Cannabis Economy
by Josh Chmberlain
[Editor’s Note: Sometime around early-to-mid 2011 Josh became harder to find in the neighborhood of Ocean Beach, San Diego. It was about this time that he hooked up with a merry band of Burners (Burning Man hipsters) that were part of a weed grooming crew employed by Northern California cannabis farmers. This is his story.
Josh is in his mid-thirties, about 6-foot-four, 280 pounds or so, and has shown he knows how to handle himself in a fight against more than one skinhead at a time. Don’t try this at home.]
When I went to Northern California it was to trim weed. A twelve-hour drive for two months of well-paid work while camping in the woods during the wet and cold season. Trim camps vary in the way they do things, take care of you, and hopefully, pay you at the end. I was about to endure a few extreme examples of this but first let me tell you a bit about myself before changing the names of the persons involved.
I was born in 1981 as the middle child in a family of five consisting of my dad, my mom, an older and a younger brother, both three years apart from me. For the most part I was grown in Ocean Beach. I learned to surf as soon as I could walk but didn’t jive with the aggressively territorial nature of most of the other locals so I grew weary as soon as I was old enough to understand such things. I sold psychedelics at school, mainly acid and pot, until I was kicked out and then eventually I was given the boot from my home as well. After various R.T.F.’s (residential treatment facilities) and stays and juvenile hall, I tried my hand at freight train riding and squatting for the next few years. I mainly stayed on the West Coast with the exception of Arizona. A lot of my friends rode out to the East Coast and hopped around out there but I don’t regret not following them. From what I understand it was just more of the same. Nope, I stayed out here and developed a nice little opiate habit along the way. This phase took a while to get over. I still struggle with the drug part. It wasn’t till I found Burning Man that I would snap out of it.
The Burning of The Man and other desert parties became (and still is) a surprisingly healthy way of life for me. It embodies a very strong sense of community made up of active, loving, creative people. In this dark time of my life, it was just the right spark of self-worth and love of beauty that I needed to get me out of my funk. I was doing very well for a few years until my father passed away very suddenly. When I relapsed I had a huge circle of very supportive friends who got me a gig up north and out of the city, away from all things familiar, to do some soul-searching and to make a lot of much needed money.
This brings me back to our short story I’m writing of weed and solitude. I didn’t know where I was going or what I was doing the day we headed out. All I knew was that my friend, let’s call him Joe for the sake of anonymity, grew weed and that my other friend, let’s call him Pig-Fucker, and I were going up to help.
At this point in my life, despite having sold weed for five years or so, I had no idea that the harvest of weed in Nor-Cal, the trimming part in particular, put so many people to work every year. So much so that it’s become a way of life for quite a few people –hopping from one trim scene to the next as long as they’re well connected enough to do so. All of these tiny little mountain communities would be essentially ghost towns all year until October first when people from all walks of life would flood into them. A lot of people come up without knowing anyone and end up standing on the corner with a pair of Fisker© brand pruning shears tied around their necks looking for work. Every park and parking lot filled with people camping … it’s out of control. It’s hard to make an accurate estimate because of how heavily forested it is there but if I had to I’d say the amount of people who show up for just one season ranges in the tens of thousands. And to think just about every one of them will find work. It really boggles the mind.
On a typical trim scene people manicure at least a pound a day because the average pay rate is $200 a pound and as long as your not slacking off, trimming a pound shouldn’t be a problem. Everyone stays for about two to three months, trimming every day, and some people go on to other trim scenes and keep working for the next several months. Enough weed is grown up there that as long as you are good at networking you can keep this up indefinitely. People only really stop because the work is very tedious and after a few months most really need a break, especially because you’re camping the whole time.
This industry brings a solid economy to otherwise desolate mountain towns. Lots of mom’n’pop restaurants and retail stores have plenty of business all year long because of all the growers that live there. All the locals know this and that’s why even the most right-wing conservative nut jobs shut the fuck up and let people grow. Shit, a lot of these farmers are conservative themselves. You’d think our government would want in on this wouldn’t you? I digress.
So Joe drives us from San Diego up to a property he co-owns just outside of Redding. We got there around midnight, set up camp, and went to sleep. The next couple days blew. This was my first day waking up without opiates in almost a year. I won’t gross you out with too many details but let’s just say I had the flu times ten. This normally lasts anywhere from two weeks to two months depending on the severity of your habit but for some reason (I have theories) when you’re in the middle of nowhere, away from everything you know, you don’t get as sick and you recover faster. I think this is because without any chance of getting more opiates the mental part of withdrawal, which translates largely into the physical, ceases to be. I have experienced this several other times while in jail. Between other addicts I have talked to and my own experience, I have concluded that this is in facts a thing, although no one really seems to know why.
Anyway, it takes about three to four days to get out of bed and start work. The landscape is very beautiful. The dirt a rich blood orange color speckled with sparking quartz crystal. Deep red Manzinita contrasted by their forest green leaves. White oak stood here and there adorned with minty green Usnea moss. A myriad of caterpillars wriggled and swung in the breeze from silk with a rainbow shimmer from the morning sun. Juxtaposed in the center of all this nature was the fence — a crude mesh of chicken wire and chain link with a barbed wire crown-keeping rodents, deer, and human alike at bay so the beautiful green and purple ladies within could grow undisturbed.
The cute, fat, little caterpillars were a huge problem for the grow. They would swing down on their rainbow filaments like little cat burglars from the oak trees right onto the ganja plants and burrow their way to the center of a kola — the main buds on the top of each branch — and feast. Even though they were big enough to be visible, they would go unnoticed initially because they were inside the kola which could be anywhere from three to ten inches in diameter. Once they’re inside and start to eat it’s too late because everything above them dies. Some of these kola’s are over an ounce so losing even one can be very expensive.
To remedy this problem, we’d have to go to each individual kola and, very thoroughly, go through them bending and examining each one from every angle, making sure that the camouflaged little fuckers weren’t hiding out, filling their tiny bellies with our cannabis. This garden, like many others, was home to ninety-nine plants. Most weed gardens have no more than ninety-nine plants because that is the maximum number a collective can grow. According to federal law, anything over ninety-nine will get you a mandatory five years in federal prison. So everyone just grows ninety-nine. No more, sometimes less. That many plants at an average of twenty-five to thirty kola’s a plant, made this work extremely monotonous and it took forever.
When we weren’t doing this for hours at a time we were shaking rain water off of all the plants to make sure none of the limbs broke. This would also cut down on mold. Because of the size and weight of the kolas, a little extra rain water would be just enough to make them break and when they did, it usually meant a few hundred dollars. That little extra moister could cause the inside of the bigger koalas to mold as well. So, we’d shake them after and during the rain and when there was too much weight in weed on these flimsy branches, we’d tie them up with string or green tape. I know I’m repeating myself but just to reiterate, this all take lots of time and the work is all very tedious and intricate.
This goes on for about two weeks. Then one night the person Joe co-owned the property with (lots of southern-Cali residents would describe him as a “bro”: lots of dumb tattoos, SRH brand clothing, probably listens to nothing but Sublime, homophobic, racist, calls people “bro”, ect.) comes down to write up an agreement which he and Joe co-signed. The next morning me, Joe’s brother, Pig-Fucker, and I were making breakfast while Joe was shitting in the woods. We were just serving ourselves when the co-owner of the land comes down looking for Joe. We told him Joe was currently indisposed and that we’d let him know upon his return from his morning shit in the woods. The bro-looking man seemed satisfied and returned to the house. When Joe returned we informed him that the bro-lookin’ guy was looking for him. So Joe goes up to the house to see what’s up.
We’re all enjoying a delicious breakfast of soy-rizo, cheese and eggs when we hear yelling and screaming. Joe’s brother, let’s call him Nate, and I grab three-foot pieces of re-bar and Pig-fucker decides to go unarmed as we start charging up to the house when we see Joe walking out from behind the house, standing from what must have been a slump, just in time to get his hat thrown at him by these yet-to-be-seen assailants. Me and Nate start sprinting toward him right when two cars pull up and seven bro-ish looking men with guns get out, have a group discussion out of ear reach, then all start walking toward us, maybe half pulling guns out. We slow down to a walk and drop our re-bar. We meet them half way up the hill and they tell us we have ten minutes to be out. None of us were down to be shot over weed so we started packing.
We knew that getting out in ten minutes wasn’t going to happen after building structures to stay dry for the next month or two but we decided not to try explaining this and rather just get to work.
We later heard what all the hubbub was about. Apparently Joe’s partner — the bro-ish figure — was married and his wife had just never come outside. This woman was eating breakfast one morning and looked out the window just in time to see Joe’s brother Nate taking a shit in the woods. With no restroom, defecating outside was necessary but doing it so close to the house was not. They were also upset because as they were already behind on their power bill, having yet another drain (us) on it was too much for them to bear apparently. So, instead of talking about it like anyone else might do, they jumped Joe to get out of the contract he had written and made him and us, his workers, leave at gun-point. This of course was devastating to Joe because half the crop was his and we didn’t even begin to harvest it. Even though he had lost his investment, he still tried to pay us for the two weeks of work we had done. I only accepted part of this because I really needed it but let him save most of it. Unlike me, Joe did have a wife and kid to support.
So we left that evening and started driving north-west. Luckily, Joe was from Trinity county so he was relatively well-connected. So when we left that evening we actually had somewhere to go. We drove up very windy, dangerous roads for about two hours till we got to his friend’s house. Joe left us in the driveway while he went to make sure it was cool for us to come in. Of course, he got stoned and forgot we were waiting. After waiting for about an hour we got out and walked up to the house to see what was up. I was pleasantly surprised to have three friends already there working for the rest of the season. I wasn’t sure if they would let me stay and work though and all I knew was that if I couldn’t find work there was no reason for me to be there freezing my ass off. The property owners at this place said we could stay and camp for a week to sort things out. Little did I know, this new beautiful property would become a home away from home for the next few years.
To be continued…
keywerdz: cannabis marijuana weed pot