What It's Like to Be a Professional Marijuana Trimmer
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How many people who obtain perfectly manicured buds from a dispensary consider the steps involved in its preparation? They may give some thought to the role of the grower, but who thinks about the trim crew?
People come from all over the world to trim cannabis during the harvest season in California. Between early October and mid-November they swell the population of Mendocino, Humboldt, and other counties. Many others work on indoor grows year round, all over the state.
There are young adults —high school drop-outs and college graduates— looking for work. There are local moms clipping to help pay the bills. There are Mexican families who come every year from down south. Trimmers come from all walks of life. You find yourself taking part in interesting conversations —a good fringe benefit.
Cultivators generally want workers they are acquainted with, who have trimmed before, and are trustworthy. Training someone new takes time, and the novices tend to work slowly at first.
The amenities of a trim job for an outdoor harvest are varied. Sometimes the trimming is done deep in the woods. A person will be sleeping in a tent with an outdoor toilet. Other times there are more plush accommodations, with guest houses, electricity and plumbing. Growers generally pay for the trimmers’ food and caffeine. They want a productive workforce.
A trimmer will usually be tight-lipped about the details of their employment. In October, my friends simply know that I am “up north.”
During the last month or so of a plant’s development, growers remove the big “fan leaves” as they begin turning yellow. This exposes the lower buds to the sunlight.
When the grower decides plants are ready to harvest —usually when the white hairs on the buds are turning red— they are cut down and either branches are lopped off to be trimmed immediately, or the whole plant is hung upside-down to dry in a cool, dark space for a week or so of curing.
As the plant dries, the remaining leaves wrap themselves around the buds and cling to the resinous trichomes. It is the trimmer’s job to cut these small leaves away with a small, sharp scissors —exposing the flowering top, which is covered with the beautiful crystals we know and love.
Strains are trimmed in different ways, depending on the structure of the colas and the intentions of the grower. For example, the Afgooey strain is very leafy, but the leaves are generally covered in crystals. If the product is intended for the medical market, the trimming technique needs to be altered to keep some of the larger, crystallized leaves.
The idea is to retain as much of the flower as possible. “Mowing” the weed makes trimming faster but is wasteful because it cuts off trichome-rich parts of the flower. Mowing also makes the buds look too uniform.
Wet and Dry Trimming
There are two methods of trimming: wet and dry. When you trim dried flowers, you are generally paid by the weight of finished product. The going rate in the fall of 2010 was $200 per pound.
A few years ago, when growers could sell a pound of manicured, high-grade sinsemilla for $4,000, trimmers were typically paid $250/lb. or more. Our labor was in such high demand that growers hired caterers and massage therapists to enhance the working conditions.
Increased cannabis cultivation in recent years has cut the wholesale price of pounds sold in California by about 50 percent, and most growers cite this as grounds for cutting the wages of trimmers.