Welcome to Trim Camp, an isolated, fend-for-yourself excursion into the wilderness, where cellphone service fails, where drama brews, and where an average 13-hour work day is the norm. Trimming is one of the most challenging jobs in the cannabis industry, but nonetheless attracts tens of thousands of “trimmigrants” to remote areas of Northern California every summer. The work is monotonous and tedious. You spend more than half your waking hours seated, wearing gloves, and pruning buds with a pair of scissors to make sure they look neat and leafless before ending up on dispensary shelves.
While cannabis itself has emerged as an aboveground, state-legal industry, trim work still falls within a black market economy. Growers usually pay their trimmers in cash, or else in bud — about two ounces for trimming a pound of weed. But more typically, the average pay is $200 a pound, says one trimmer who we’ll call Star.* “If they’re offering $150 a pound, don’t take the job, that pay rate is too low and we need to incentivize the $200 a pound job,” she says. Star’s been trimming for nearly five years throughout Humboldt, Mendocino, and Nevada City, California. Averaging a pound or two every day, sometimes all week long, Star makes good money trimming, but at a high price. “You have to be emotionally grounded to survive at a trim scene,” she says.
Growers may harvest three to four times a year, but the major trim season falls between August and November. Trimmers often straggle in from Burning Man, but those who are extra motivated to get an early start will skip the festival altogether. At trim camp, the workers live in yurts near the farm, or else stake out bedrooms in a house on the property. The growers themselves almost never live on their own farmland, but will head over in the mornings for work.
Every situation is different, says Star. Some places will provide meals, while other times she’s had to go into town to buy groceries and stock up a cooler. “It’s very rough living,” she says, mentioning times she’d eaten wild huckleberries off the land, or had to dig a hole in the ground when the toilet was broken, if there was a toilet at all. “But I honestly quite enjoyed being isolated in the woods because it’s very serene and peaceful,” she says.
The job itself is difficult, though. Contrary to what some may think, hardly anyone spends their days getting high. Star says that since she began trimming, she actually smokes much less weed than before. The majority of trimmers are hard working coffee drinkers, trying to get as much work done as possible, she says.
“Trimming is hard in the sense that you have to sit in a chair for that long. You have to do things to keep your body moving, or else you get really sore,” Star says. “It requires a lot of endurance and patience to get through it, but by the end you’re kind of a meditation master.”
Some trimmers like to listen to music or podcasts. Star says she takes the time to process everything that’s going on in her life. “You learn how to be in your mind and be peaceful with yourself and your surroundings,” she says. “In my opinion, it’s a really valuable way to build up self awareness.”
And at Trim Camp, you need a great deal of self awareness and groundedness to get through it. As a woman, especially, Star says she’s faced a lot of sexism. “Because most of the farmers that I’ve interacted with are male and they’re very lonely throughout the year, they specifically only hire women,” she says. “Sometimes they think we’re more trustworthy, or they just simply want to look at us hoping they can get laid. Often they succeed.”
Star describes the “pussy pass” as a derogatory term men have used toward her and other female trimmers to express jealousy, since women tend to get more trim jobs. Yet, in co-ed trim camps, too, Star says she’s seen men get promoted more often than women. The growers will take the men to work in the garden or to make concentrates or do other jobs that are higher paying, leaving the women to keep on trimming, she says. There’s also frequent drama among the trimmers themselves when things get romantic — for that reason, growers sometimes have single-gender trim camps.
There’s an unspoken code among trimmers, too, about ways of acting. “There’s a no ‘cherry picking’ policy,” says Star. “If you’re caught picking the buds out of the bin to make more weight for yourselves, since there aren’t that many big buds, you won’t survive.” Once the bud’s been harvested, the trimmers pick buds from a bin to trim the leaves off. Picking the heavier buds all for yourself will be a sure way to get on everyone’s bad side. “The trimmers regulate it among themselves, but sometimes the growers do things to prevent that drama of cherry picking.”
While some growers try mainly to hire Americans, many trim camps have a high population of international travelers. Daniel,* a Bay Area tech consultant, who trimmed on a farm in Mendocino, says the majority of his co-workers were in California on travel visas. He described a community vibe, but with tensions around the issue of smoking on the job. But Daniel also says he often felt paranoid about the farm getting busted.
“It always felt very safe,” he says. “Sometimes we’d see helicopters, but we knew they were just busting cartel grows.” Rarely, growers will check if their trimmers have medical marijuana recommendations, though now with the passage of Prop 64, any adult can have up to an ounce and six plants. That said, most trimmers don’t have growing permits, themselves, and are at risk or arrest if the farm gets busted. In California, trimmers could get charged with misdemeanor cultivation and misdemeanor possession for sale. They could get at least five years in prison for working on a farm with 100 plants, and 10 years to life for conspiracy to grow 1,000 or more plants. Until January 2019, a California trimmer only needs to have a medical recommendation and to be involved in a nonprofit to have a defense, though after that date, they need a license to comply with state law.
Some growers will have an emergency plan if they’re careful, but others give their trimmers no instructions on what to do in case law enforcement raids the farm or swoops down with helicopters.
Farms are almost always at least a mile up a dirt road amidst gigantic redwoods, behind padlocked gates, and entry codes that even the trimmers don’t always get to know. “There’s always a gate, it’s always locked, there’s always a protocol going through the gate, and dogs are always around,” says Star. “I’ve never been to a farm without pitbulls or rottweilers. I’ve been working in the wild west, it’s like cowboys, totally wild.”
*Names have been changed to protect the trimmers’ identities.