A week on a pot farm

Some frequently asked questions

Trimming bud for fun and profit.

Trimming bud for fun and profit.

I graduated cum laude from my university. I read the Utne Reader and the Economist. I know the difference between Miles Davis and John Coltrane. I speak three languages. I’ve never gotten a speeding ticket.

Incidentally, I also love smoking pot, but I’m not what anyone would call a criminal. Nor do I have a criminal nature, by any means.

Despite the risk, I decided to work at a pot farm for a week this fall because I’ve been an out-of-work journalist for more than a year and it paid good money. Everyone I’ve told about my experience has asked tons of questions. Here are a few of the most frequently asked:

How did you get the job?

My dad’s best friend, Bernie, had been a forest ranger in Northern California; he moved to Mendocino County in the late 1980s, bought a plot of land and became immersed in the whole growing culture. Because my father died 10 years ago, I never actually knew his best friend very well, but he had apparently run a pretty efficient operation that involved being off the grid (no electricity, no running water, accessible only through private roads), growing some indoor and outdoor pot strains, hydroponic technology and pretty intense partying. We were re-introduced about a year ago, which is when he invited me to work on his property.

It would probably last a few weeks, he said, and I’d probably have to camp out, but it paid good money: $200 per pound of pot trimmed.

I live in the city; from my third-floor apartment, I can hear sirens going nonstop. On my block, there are taco trucks, 24-hour liquor stores, garbage everywhere. Working at a pot farm would pay me under the table. That meant I could collect unemployment, pay my rent and have enough money left over for groceries this month!

I was in. Later on, I’d find out that Bernie’s farm was raided last year and I should’ve been more afraid than I was. But at the time the idea of working in the remote woods, powered only by gasoline and the sun, being away from the city—to work with pot—seemed so Hunter S. Thompson, I couldn’t pass it up.

What exactly does “scissor work” involve?

Scissor work is the euphemism used for cutting buds from marijuana stalks and trimming leaves to reveal the bud and shape it into a smokeable product. Usually, the marijuana stalk has one giant bud at the tip of the stalk and baby buds all throughout the stem. The task was to trim all the water leaves and make sure their stems didn’t show up. It helped if you were a marijuana enthusiast because even as beginners you knew what bud was supposed to look like: You had to trim it until it resembled a Christmas tree.

The dried marijuana stalks came in giant plastic bins; each was labeled with the name of the strain: “OG Kush” or “Train Wreck.” We’d take a bunch of stalks, bring them to our trays and start trimming.

The tools of the trade varied: We worked with long rectangular trays, six pairs of scissors, cups of alcohol and oil, and lots and lots of paper towels. The mantra was to “keep your tray and scissors clean”—the only real activity other than trimming was cleaning your scissors. We’d soak them in a glass of alcohol, wipe them off, then soak them in vegetable oil so they wouldn’t gunk up from the THC. Clean scissors, I learned, were key to an efficient trim scene.

There were all kinds of techniques: I was taught to trim the bud, save the trim in a bag so it could be used to make bubble hash (waste not, want not!), then toss the manicured buds into a paper bag. We labeled the bags with the strain and our name.

It was grueling work—we were hunched over trays and dusty bins of pot for 12 to 15 hours a day. Seasoned pros trimmed an average of two pounds a day. For beginners, a pound a day was average. After the first day, I was dreaming of trimming buds. I’d see a tree, a bush, a plant—and I’d feel like cutting the leaves off to turn it into a perfect Christmas-tree-shaped bud.

What does the pot farm look like?

You could say it was rustic fabulous. The property we were on was beautiful—there were redwood trees everywhere. Usually, October and November are pretty cold months, so we were prepared to be self-contained. I had a tent, plenty of warm clothes, a sleeping bag. Then it turned out to be 70 degrees and sunny every day I was there. There was no electricity, which meant no computers, no cell phones, no running water.

Do you play Bob Marley at work?

Bernie needed a generator to dry the pot 24/7. That meant we could play music from speakers all day. It also meant that I heard most of Bob Marley’s catalog, and possibly every other reggae album made, during the week I trimmed weed.

What did you eat?

Bernie took care of everyone’s food. It may just have been because we were stoned all the time, but I never ate so well while camping in my life. We had spaghetti, garlic bread, salads made with organic vegetables, gourmet sandwiches, mochas.

Did you sample the goods?

Of course! That was the big draw of the job. But apparently pot needs time to cure, so I didn’t get super-stoned by smoking freshly trimmed bud.

What were your co-workers like?

Really, the trim scene depends on who you’re working with. I was lucky that I worked with only chill people. Everyone was serious and worked all day. But it could very easily have been a nightmare of a workplace; usually there are a lot of other drugs, and a lot of alcohol. Everyone did, however, really like pot and smoked a lot of it.

If you can deal with the anxiety of possibly getting arrested, being “off the grid” and unavailable to friends and family for long periods of time and the tension of camping for a week with no electricity, it’s a good job for you. I learned there’s a “trim and travel” scene—people make enough money to travel the world after spending months trimming pot. One guy I worked with had just come back from Asia; another had spent months in Amsterdam.

How did you get paid?

I made $1,600 trimming pot for a week, but I left the farm three weeks ago, and I still haven’t gotten paid. Bernie’s supposed to wire me the money as a direct deposit this week. He’s an old friend of the family, so there’s no way he can cheat me. He can’t afford to; I know where he lives, what he does and where he works.