Unless you have a thing for seedy brown schwag, every bud that you have ever smoked has most likely been “trimmed” somewhere along the way from the farm to your prescription bottle. This work of finishing the bud – pruning the leaves and removing the large stems- is performed by a subset of underground workers called “trimmers,” young, mostly female vagabonds who follow the harvest and travel with the herb. Identifiable by sticky green fingers, a verdant aroma and stray buds caught in their hair, trimmers are an integral part of West Coast weed culture.
I headed up to Northern California this fall for “Trim Camp,” an extended stay in the forested mountains to chop some plants, smoke some fatties and make a gang of cash. Driving into the Humboldt hinterlands and up onto “the Hill,” the air is fresh and green and heady with the smell of Cannabis sativa. These mountains aren’t for hiking; set off across a dense swath of trees and you will quickly come across fences, guns and dogs. These are growing hills and they are full of marijuana farms, legal and otherwise- and trespassers are not taken lightly.
Arriving at the weed farm, trim camp is like a 9th grader’s wet dream: row after row of tall, leafy marijuana plants sparkle in the morning air, their buds heavy with literal mountain dew. I count the plants in rows of five: twenty-five, fifty, one hundred, more… Looking across the valley, clouds lay low on the mountain, like the exhaled smoke of a giant stoner who is sleeping amongst the trees. It is chilly, but the air is full of celebration: harvest time is here.
Next to the rows of beautiful marijuana plants, as elegant as empresses, a few of the unused 3’ x 3’ boxes are planted with fruits and vegetables. Crisp kale, young strawberries and several types of leaf lettuce stick their heads up proudly, shaded slightly by the nearby garden of weeds. To one side, the cliff drops away; to the other is the RV used for kitchen prep along with a small table containing a coffeemaker and stack of cold bagels.
The camp is little more than the collection of RVs and makeshift shelters from people who have been there almost six weeks guarding the green, along with a room devoted solely to drying and storing the buds that is marked with a sign that says: “GROWERS ONLY!!!” You can hear the whirring of the “de-hum” (dehumidifier) when you walk by on your way down to the camp’s compost toilet via a set of mud stairs cut into the side of the mountain.
I stay in a leaky, two-room tent with two other trimmers and their belongings. Trimmers are mostly young females because of our smaller hands, which are able to cut buds quickly, and our bigger breasts, which are easy on the eyes of the mostly male growers, some that have been living in the mountains for months. At night, the only sounds are singing insects, the crackling campfire and the low laughter of new friends, backed up always by the gentle hum of the generator, affectionately knows as “the Genny.”
Besides the fire pit, which gets raging hot at night, the only real place to chill at this camp is the exactly where the farm boss wants you to be: the depot, or the trim room.
Several tables are crammed into this small room whose walls are clear and flapping plastic; it is kept very warm with a propane heater- gotta keep those fingers limber for trimming. The depot is an extension of a larger dry room, where dozens and dozens of fresh-cut marijuana stalks hung upside down while they dry. Chairs line the rickety plastic tables, which are littered with a collection of clipping pans, bud bowls, pipes, bongs, jars of candy, bottles of wine, glasses of whiskey, ashtrays, trimming sheers and the makeshift jars of oil and alcohol in which they are soaked to remove the buildup of resin. A laptop and speakers is set up in the corner and for use when the generator isn’t otherwise occupied.
Marijuana is brought in by the grocery-bag load, still on the stalks. Each trimmer takes a bag and begins to “buck,” or slice the buds from their larger stems. Bucking not only preps the buds for trimming, it also helps them to dry out. Though the plants have dried for many hours, often the bud (or the Humboldt weather) is still moist. This is an unfavorable condition for cutting, as it gums up the blades quicker and slows down the trimming process. It can take up to fifteen minutes, but a properly bucked bag can shave time off your trim and set you up for an easy flow. It is at this stage that experienced trimmers will leave behind the smaller buds for discard.
Trimmers work quickly and quietly. Talk erupts now and then between the music but largely chitchat just slows the work down as the leaves are snipped away from each bud, revealing the fuzzy orange hairs and glistening crystals below. Anything smaller than a bong load gets pushed to the side with the stalks, smoked, kept to make into weed food or discarded – these tiny buds aren’t worth the trimmers’ attention.
In the corner are boxes full of discarded stems and a giant trash can for the trimmed leaves, and at any time one could search through either of these containers and come out with an ounce of weed in a matter of minutes. The trimmers, however, have greater concerns than saving stray buds: time is money, and one pound of trimmed buds, or 454 grams, equals 200 cold hard ones. My first full day I trimmed 449 grams, not bad for a noob. Some claim to cut up to 3 pounds a day, but I would guess that they have the pick of the choicest, fattest, densest buds, a pair of very sharp clippers, and some really good stimulants.
Every type of weed is unique, with various properties of stickiness, size and density, and therefore every strain trims differently. As you shave the bud free of any unwanted leaves and stems, your fingers become a deep, dark, sticky green. This would no doubt make you high if you weren’t already completely blasted from smoking every single minute of every day. In fact, it becomes almost hard to get stoned, although God knows we try, with joints the size of a fat man’s thumb, bubblers full of the freshest trim and bong loads that never, ever end. We light cigarettes and do shots just for some variety.
The trimmers could all smoke constantly, all day long, and not make a dent in the amount of weed on the farm. Besides this farm’s crop, we are trimming other varieties that come in from the mountains, whose farms aren’t set up with the necessities of trim camp such as mountain toilets and cut rooms. Our days of work are punctuated by breaks for lunches and dinners that are cooked for us, hot and very welcome. Like any farm, work largely stops at night, only to resume as soon as the sun is up and the coffee is ready.
We crawl into town occasionally, to catch an electronic show at the Arcata Theatre or to check email in Eureka for the first time in a week. Our fragrant aroma and green fingers blend in to the region’s greater wash of neohippies, all reeking of weed, stoned as hell and slightly colored green as well. But the town holds no interests greater than those of the Hill, and soon we have driven the long, winding road back to the mountain where we sit and trim and smoke and laugh and try our very best to get high again for hours on end. Like thousands of humans before us, we gather together to reap the harvest, to work hard during the fruitful last days of autumn and process all the marijuana in Humboldt for your smoking pleasure.
So the next time you load a bud into your bowl, take a closer look – because it was trimmed by a green-fingered harvest worker, a steazy fairy who has turned a leafy, stemmy weed plant into a glorious, glistening bud – and smoke one for the trimmers.