The boom of the Green Rush has drawn people from all over the world to legalized states, hoping to strike it green. The result? An influx of a new class of immigrant: the trimmigrant. These modern-day nomads come from the four corners of the world, pairing with growers to help tackle the mass amount of processing now required for an excess of cannabis crop, especially in California. I spoke to some trimmigrants and cannabis farmers to gain an insider’s perspective of this new—and sometimes illegal—occupation that has many returning season after season in mass migration.
Why the need for such a workforce? Simply put: hand-trimmed cannabis is considered superior to machine-trimmed. Even farms that utilize the latest in trimming technology still have someone performing manual quality control. Cannabis is a delicate plant, and a solid trimming process is the final step in achieving top-shelf flower. When the so-called Green Rush began, the demand for nimble fingers and sharp eyes skyrocketed.
Trimmigrants come from all over. They need places to sfood to eat—and jobs. Trimming is the new ‘traveling with your favorite band’; trimmigrants follow jobs wherever they may be, living a nomadic lifestyle reminiscent of 1960s summers. This freedom has tempted many to follow the green gold, but at what cost? Communities that usually harbor small, rural populations are being inundated with world travelers, big city escapees and vagabond nationals looking for a thrill.
One trimmigrant I spoke with hailed from South America, and explained how she began her now yearly pilgrimage to Humboldt County: “I came to California because, among these many [trimmigrant] trips, we met a grower in Brazil who invited me [and] my friend to come. I think he trusted us, and he simply likes us. I liked the idea that it was a quick-cash job for me, and of course it has to do with the weed.” She went on to tell me she was paid well, and I gleaned from others that trimmigrants make around $150 per pound of completed work.
She said also that her experiences were largely positive. “In my seasons I have not seen anything unethical,” she recalled, “but I know that they do not have good hygienic conditions, few foods, or cases of trimmers [in] which they are not paid.” Currently she’s getting ready to come back for her fifth season, and seems excited and optimistic. It could be said she’s been very lucky with her experiences, as many other trimmigrant stories detail poor working conditions, unethical farmers, poverty and even sexual assault. It’s heartening to hear her hopeful and positive words, but certainly not a typical experience, or reason believe being a trimmigrant is a wholly safe occupation.
I also spoke with a grower from Northern California who has employed trimmigrants for years. A laid back, genuine man, he seemed guarded (after all, this is grey-area city), but happy to share what he could with me. He had some darker experiences to share regarding the safety of trimmigrants, unfortunately. When the topic of sexual assault came up, his voice dropped to serious tone: “It [has come] to light more lately, and I hear stories from friends of mine that are gals, and it’s like, ‘wow that really happened?’” Hearing even such a vague comment makes my skin crawl.
I asked about his decision to employ trimmigrants, as the job seems to come with a good deal of risk. “I’ve found it so much easier to deal with them,” he told me, “because for one they’re used to travelling and camping, and for two they have a way better cleanliness, and they seem to drink way less than Americans. Also, because they’re here specifically for trimming.” His farm has high safety standards, he mentions, with limited alcohol and a strict ‘no drugs’ policy. He’s confident that knowing your employees well is the most effective tool in preventing dangerous activities.
It was during his years at university, the grower told me, that he travelled internationally and met a group of people he then invited to spend some time trimming with him. “My brother did the same, and his long-time girlfriend and all her friends started coming; it was basically word of mouth, and we would have thirty to forty people for two months.” Soon they had trimmers from Canada, Spain, the UK, Italy, Argentina, Ecuador, Mexico, Morocco, Thailand, Chile, the Czech Republic, France and Finland, among others.
And that’s just one farm. The hills of Northern California have been flooded with trimmigrants, and unlike the aforementioned travelers, some come without a plan and eventually end up on the streets searching for work. This vulnerable position often leads them more susceptible to an increased risk of crime, drug abuse or sexual assault; many are working illegally, in a country they’re unfamiliar with, and it’s unfortunately all too common to be preyed upon.
There’s also the strain put on small communities that balloon by the thousands each summer, with no means of predicting what resources will be needed to manage the influx of residents. And it isn’t slowing down anytime soon. With the passage of Prop 64 in California, cannabis production will continue to increase, and with it, amass continued international visibility. With new work continually available, trimmigrants are arriving in droves, and as one farmer told me, they are still the preference of local producers.
We haven’t seen the last of the trimmigrant. This underground migration is a creature all its own, and continues to grow in both size and complexity. Communities will need to pull together, both the farmers and trimmers, to keep everyone as safe and legal as possible. After speaking with both groups, I feel hopeful. There’s a lot of love there. The more established trimmigrants are like family to their cannabis cohorts.
The cannabis industry is known for its inclusive and accepting nature; everyone just wants to enjoy the medicine, meet new people and make some money while they’re at it. “The beautiful stories are the moments shared, smoking, beautiful places, meeting friends,” one trimmigrant tells me. “I would like to do it again, whenever I can.” I hope that spirit of adventure and camaraderie can help the trimmigrant trend become a more stable, legal and thriving new branch of the international cannabis community.
(This article was written from a handful of interviews with trimmigrants. It is not meant to depict the overall trimmigrant experience, culture surrounding trimming or any specific grows.)