Many urban residents who spend their entire lives shopping in supermarkets never have the opportunity or need to consider where their food comes from. Similarly, many cannabis smokers don’t appreciate the massive amounts of labor involved in preparing tasty and potent bud for sale. Cultivating the perfect crop of Hashberry or Lemon Kush plants is no easy task -- food and science journalist Michael Pollan has called the cannabis farmers of the late 20th century “the best gardeners of my generation.”
Work on a farm, medical or recreational, involves a slew of different jobs. Depending on the size of the operation, some tasks may be assigned to a single person. For introductory purposes, though, it is beneficial to explore some of the individual specializations one by one. Here is a look at some of the jobs available on a typical cannabis farm, and the duties -- and ideal qualities -- associated with each.
As many enthusiastic first-time growers have discovered the hard way, cannabis is notoriously difficult to grow. Considerations like soil, sunlight, temperature, acidity, and moisture all come into play to yield quality flowers. The expertise of a very experienced grower, often one with a degree in botany or horticulture, is needed to main a successful, commercial-scale cannabis facility. Master growers run the show in a garden. One of the primary duties involves devising a strategy for product output -- weighing novelty and feasibility in deciding which strains to grow or crossbreed. Master growers must also maintain optimal growth conditions by monitoring all variables, and developing training procedures for staff that may not be as experienced with growing. Given all these responsibilities, a diplomatic attitude and a talent for management and delegation are huge assets in this role.
Before elevating to the rank of Master Grower, a gardener may join an operation as an Assistant. As with Master Grower positions, an assistant will ideally have academic experience in botany or horticulture, although the ability to demonstrate a wealth of successful growing experience otherwise couldn't hurt. Assistants shadow a Master and may perform tasks like growing clones from existing plants, soil mixing, and planting before making more executive growing decisions. Because of the constant sensitivity of cannabis plants, weekend work is often required. Assistants may also be responsible for the management of organic waste like trimmed leaves -- some local officials in popular growing areas have shown concern for the amount of damaging waste that cannabis farms can leave behind; one creative recycling solution involves using plant matter as livestock feed. In all, assistants should expect a good amount of manual labor.
The shape of cannabis leaves is almost instantly recognizable, even to those who don’t partake. All those leaves can get in the way of the bud itself, though. When cannabis plants reach the flowering stage, depending on the strain and growing conditions, there are large volumes of fan leaves that growers need to work around. At harvest time – usually from late summer through late fall -- a farm may hire freelance trimmers to carefully cut the mature, resinous buds away from the leaves with small scissors. Trimmers are paid hourly and can fetch between $12 and $15 per hour for their labor. Trimming can also be a first step towards gaining the experience necessary for more intensive gardening jobs like Assistant or Master Grower. Working efficiently, a trimmer can even work for multiple farms at a time. Trimmers who gravitate to West Coast farms during harvest season have earned a (not entirely affectionate) nickname -- trimmigrants.
Because there’s so much technology involved in indoor or outdoor cultivation, a large growing operation with expendable resources may hire or contract out a facilities manager. This emerging role is responsible for upkeep of gear like grow lights, sensors, temperature controls, and filters. If hired before a commercial farm even opens, a facilities manager may also consult on the best possible size and layout for a growing area. Ideally, a facilities manager who acts as an upfront consultant will provide guidelines on how a commercial operation can automate all these tech functions for a smooth season, they’ll also be on call for immediate repairs or solutions, as minute changes in growing conditions can drastically affect the end product. Although experience with horticulture technology is a plus, a good facilities expert can easily adapt to specialize their services for a cannabis client. Responsiveness and attention to detail are crucial.
In an increasingly competitive job market, business-minded candidates (whether or not they hold an MBA) may want to look into opportunities managing the operations of a cannabis growing facility. A cannabis Production Manager oversees the financial strategy of a farm, deciding along with a Master Grower how to reap the greatest possible profit from successful crops. Further down the supply chain, Production Managers will set up and maintain strategic business-to-business relationships with clients like dispensaries or producers of specialty edibles. As the U.S. federal government edges closer to monitoring the cannabis seed-to-sale process, a Production Manager will also need to keep meticulous records to document a nursery’s finances, as well as the provenance of specific strains. Depending on the size of the operation, a Production Manager may also be in charge of marketing, helping their goods to stand out in a very crowded field.
With very expensive products being cultivated at any given time, large grow operations are especially vulnerable to theft. There's a budding security industry around recreational dispensaries doing business in cash; that scrutiny applies to cannabis agriculture as well. A commercial or government-sanctioned medical cannabis farm may hire a professional security firm to install secure and automated locks, sensors and cameras. For some added peace of mind, personal surveillance is also an option in the form of part-time or 24-hour security guards on premises. As with dispensaries, the security industry for cannabis farms has drawn many former law enforcement and military personnel -- an ironic twist, considering cannabis is still federally illegal. Source: Pollan, Michael. The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-eye View of the World. New York: Random House, 2001. pg. 129.