Field Days

A reflection on cannabis harvests past and present

I’ve lived through 36 marijuana harvests and have written about them since 1980. Thirty-six might sound like a lot, though friends who grew pot in the Summer of Love and who are still growing would likely disagree.

During the harvest of 1981, my first, I knew everyone in my neck of the woods who was growing. Now, nearly everyone is growing and it’s not possible to know all of them. Back then, no one had a trimming machine, though helicopters flew overhead daily during the harvest and farmers never knew if they’d get busted or not. In 2017, only the guys growing an acre or more will be busted, unless they do something stupid like offend their law-and-order neighbors. A lot of the outlaw mentality has gone up in smoke, along with old-fashioned joints. Today, no one is getting $4,000 a pound, as they did, say, 20 years ago, unless they’re driving weed to West Virginia. Still, some things haven’t changed.

Farmers old and young talk about harvests continually. There’s nothing like them. No farmer has an attachment to any crop as intense as a pot farmer has to his crop of choice. Some of that is financial. The other day, with a couple of thousand marijuana plants blooming all around him, the foreman at a local, organic farm dreamed about “Benjamin Franklins.”

The man who invented the Franklin stove and bifocals and whose face graces $100 bills probably would love the outdoor California marijuana harvest that begins in August and runs until November, weather, cops, mold and thieves permitting. At the start of August, the foreman, who was already counting his Franklins, had started to carry a rifle, though he’s a peaceful fellow.

The CEO of the company that owns the land, and who was short of cash, borrowed $100,000 at 20 percent interest to get through the season from a man who specialized in under-the-table loans to pot farmers. The crew—a group of guys who smoke marijuana and cigarettes, and who have wives, girlfriends and kids—began to worry about the harvest two months before it started.

“When would it begin?” “How long would it last?”

The foreman and his assistant—who knows nearly everything about cultivation—told the crew they had no answers. Until the harvest is over, the crop cured, trimmed and processed, there are few if any guarantees. The investor might lose his money and the whole crew might go to jail. They were gamblers who went home every afternoon and came back the next morning ready for the next throw of the dice. The foreman, his assistant and a watchdog slept on the property and kept a close eye on the crop.

Month after month, the guys watered and fertilized and staked the plants so the branches wouldn’t break under the weight of the flowers. Often up at 5am, they sometimes worked 12 hours a day, six days a week. You might call them pot proletarians or agrarian outlaws. I just call them “guys.” They kept their time cards up to date and collected their wages in cash on Fridays after 5pm from a man I call Mr. Tattoo who showed up in a tiny car with his uncommonly attractive and very savvy girlfriend and then dispensed free dabs. Mr. Tattoo estimated that it cost $296 to grow a pound of marijuana and that it would sell for $1,000. The price was falling rapidly. Some would be happy with $700.

The guys wanted to follow the solar eclipse and couldn’t because the sky was overcast. They watched the Mayweather/McGregor fight on pay per view, ate pizza they made in a pizza oven, smoked dabs and drank Lagunitas IPA that they complained was inferior now that Heineken owned the company.

The foreman’s girlfriend also watched the fight: one woman among six guys. The assistant told a story about a friend who fronted 30 pounds to a dealer who wrecked the vehicle in which he was transporting the weed, then borrowed a truck from a hunter in the woods, retrieved the pot and fled. Most, though not all, grower stories have happy endings. One crewmember lamented the heroin epidemic on the North Coast and the “low-life people that the industry attracted these days.”

Near the end of summer, the CEO drew up plans for the harvest. Last year, he had no plan; it was chaotic in the field and in the warehouse where trimming took place. It also rained and ruined much of the crop, though as of Sept. 1, the CEO had 600 pounds from 2016. Pot-rich and land-rich, he didn’t have money in the bank. He survived a decade without a business account.

The guys knew about police raids and confiscated crops that helped to reduce supply and jack up the price per pound. It was hard not to think about the worst, though everyone, from the foreman down to the newest, youngest field worker, slept well at night, thanks in part to the marijuana they smoked. On the night of the last day of summer, someone stole six plants. From then on, the crew was hyper-vigilant.

“I hope we all have the luck of the devil,” said one of the guys wearing a Stephen Curry T-shirt.

I looked at him and at the plants in the ground. Then I thought about the Benjamin Franklins and the tons of weed, grown all over northern California that would travel across the Golden Gate Bridge and then around the world, even as dreamers and adventurers from Europe, Asia and Latin America still rushed in to grow a crop and make a fortune.

Jonah Raskin is the author of ‘Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War.’

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