Editor’s Note: Marijuana Empire is a Press Democrat blog about the booming business opportunities and evolving medical marijuana culture in Northern California. PD Staff writer Julie Johnson covers evolving laws, policies and business ventures, while blogger Chris Hanson takes a look at the weekly news, people and culture of medical marijuana. 

Have you’ve noticed an influx of hitchhikers heading along 101 lately—the ones with frame backpacks, dreads and cardboard signs that say “North” or “Mendocino”? Let us put the pieces together, in case you haven’t: It’s trimming season.

Between mid-October and late November, mostly 20-somethings from all over the country flock to Northern California in hopes of getting a job trimming recently-harvested marijuana plants.

Most are headed into the Emerald Triangle, considered the largest marijuana-growing region in the world. Made up of Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity County, it’s more than 10 thousand square miles of sparsely populated forests and hills with an estimated annual cash crop of $1 billion.

It isn’t quite as easy as just showing up. This is a word of mouth type of job as most growers are weary of strangers, and 215 (medical marijuana card) is also required to get on the property—let alone  trim on any legitimate grow. Being a trimmigrant means weeks of manicuring marijuana buds to eliminate leaves and stems with hand clippers. The prettier the buds, the better they sell to dispensaries, who will purchase bulk to last as much of the year as possible.

So what is it like trimming on a remote mountain somewhere in Northern California? We talked with a few career trimmers to give you an idea of what it can be like…

The money: Going rate for trimming is usually by the pound, which ranges from around $100-150 per pounds for finished product that has been pre-manicured by a machine (more or less depending on amount of pre-trim) to $200 per pound for all hand-trimmed work.  An experienced and fast trimmer can trim up to two pounds a day (10+hrs.), doing it all by hand. it works out to be the same money for pre-manicured. Depending on the size of the farm and the size of the trimming crew, some trimmers will have work until late December.

The accommodations:  It really varies quite a bit from place to place. Some have cabins, RV’s or houses, some you bring your own tent.  Some you get fed 2-3 meals a day and some places you are responsible to bring  food and cook for yourself.  The worst experience a buddy told me about was working 11 hour days, living in a tent rain or shine, and eating a lot of nutritional bars, hot dogs and ramen. Usually it’s not that bad. Sleeping arrangements are usually a blow up mattress in a bedroom with a few others, or you throw a blow up mattress in the back of your car if you are easily bothered by others. 

The food: Most farmers like quality food and they feel their workers work better with good food and a good night’s rest. Usually meals are simple but good, Mate and coffee are also occasionally supplied.

The hours: Be ready to sit for a long, long time. Trimmers do repetitive cutting for 8-11 (sometimes more) hours a day, in a room full of people doing hte same thing. Not everyone smells great (showers are a luxury), and inhaling weed trim isn’t as fun as it sounds. Sure you can sample the product, just don’t let it affect your work or you won’t be asked back.

The paranoia: Laws vary from county to county on how much can be grown legally, and there are still a lot of grey areas, so you may or may not be on a property that is covered under the law (here is some good info about that). That, and growers protect their property. This isn’t for the faint of heart.

Is a trimming job all it is glorified to be? Not hardly. Yes, if you are good at it you could make a decent living doing that, but be prepared to spend a lot of time away from home, in remote areas, doing a really repetitive job.