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.
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.
I feel lucky to be here, even if I am breaking the law.
At every trim scene I've been to, the majority of trimmers I've met and worked with have been women. I've heard men justify this separation of labor by saying things like, "your fingers move faster than ours" or "you're better at sitting still." In reality, trimming is tedious, difficult, boring, and absolutely necessary work. While the growers don't want to do this work, they still need their buds trimmed in order to sell their product. This, I believe, is why a term like "trim bitch" could exist in the first place. It's a way to devalue a woman's labor, even as it's actively depended upon. It's also a reminder that if you aren't pulling your weight, there are countless other girls who can take your place."Hay que cortarlos como asi," Flor* explains, holding an untrimmed bud of marijuana between two chipped turquoise fingernails. Flor is Jim's wife, a beautiful 24-year-old Colombian girl whose job is to break the new girls in. In her right hand Flor holds a pair of garden shears, rotating the bud gently as she snips away the dried water leaves that cling to the nug. "Eso, eso, eso, eso, y ya," she says as she holds the finished trimmed bud in front of a girl's face; the girl nods solemnly. Flor flings the bud into the brown grocery bag in front of them and moves down the folding table with her scissors to show the next girl.
More than once was offered an extra 50 bucks a pound to trim topless.
"It's not uncommon to hear stories of a summer's worth of work gone unpaid, with no legal recourse for the victim," Linda Stansberry writes in the North Coast Journal. Stansberry is a journalist from Humboldt County who has advocated for better treatment of women in the marijuana industry. Because non-medical cannabis cultivation is still illegal, the culture surrounding these scenes tends to be insular and secretive. As Stansberry puts it, the culture "functions due to the unspoken agreement that nobody narcs, ever," even if you've been seriously wronged. For trimmers who have uprooted their lives to come work—to make money for their children or families often because they aren't able to find better work elsewhere—this kind of exploitation is devastating.
Jim pays me $200 for every trimmed pound of weed I produce. On good days, if the buds are big, I can trim three or four pounds.
Now, as marijuana legalization becomes more of a reality across the country, I see activist organizations forming to empower women who work with cannabis—to help give them more of a stake in a booming industry. Talk of trimming unions has become more commonplace, even as local growers continue to threaten to get machines to do their processing. (Personally, I think the buds look better trimmed by hand.)While farms like Jim's—big, remote, underground operations—will likely still exist when cannabis is legalized, they won't be the only option for women who want to trim. And while many people in Humboldt County are already lamenting the end of the industry as we know it—namely, a dangerous and endless fountain of money—the promise of safer communities and workplaces is invaluable.When I'm at home in Portland during the off-season, where weed is legal, I can walk into a dispensary and buy whatever I want with just a driver's license. I can even buy four marijuana starts and plant them in my own yard, no documentation required. I can water them, feed them chicken shit, and check them tenderly for spider mites. When they bud I can cut them down, hang them to dry, and then trim the buds to smoke for the rest of the year. I won't be paid to do this, but I'll be working on my own terms.
*Names have been changed