With the hemp farm looking like this:
And the CBD flower looking like this:
It was time for harvest.
During the months of September and October, the Rogue Valley of southern Oregon is infamous for its odor of cannabis and influx of temporary farm workers. The pungent smell of hemp flower permeates everything. The first thing that hit my nostrils every morning when I’d step outside in the dawning hours to put my work boots on, was hemp. Its dominant musk was an item of contention for many old-timers in the area.
The local farming community has mixed feelings about the new cannabis industry that’s overtaken the valley. It’s brought in a lot of outsiders with foreign money and interests that have nothing to do with the community or stewardship of the land, but everything to do with making a quick buck.
That said, many small local farms, in Oregon and across the United States, have turned to growing cannabis – especially hemp – as a cash crop. It’s hard to make a good living selling organic kale and farm fresh eggs traveling to and from various farmers markets. Small farmers continue to farm because they’re passionate about farming itself, passionate about the land, and being good stewards of it. A good example of a small farm doing it right is Wild Fox Farms and Wild Fox Provisions in Barto, Pennsylvania. You’ll hear more about them later.
Needless to say, Trato Diablo Farms was the antithesis of Wild Fox Farms. There was no elevated consciousness here. This was about one thing and one thing only: Money. At the end of the day, that’s what this thing was about – no matter what these guys claimed: medicine, cannabinoid wellness, alternative health, bologna. It was about stacks.
With harvest right around the corner, we had to hire more staff. Dick the CEO was bringing in some friends from California and some family from Florida. Billy’s brother was coming up from Florida. Brett was bringing his family from Florida. Dick asked if I had any friends who might want to make a bunch of money in a month’s time, possibly longer. I told him I might know somebody.
“They can stay in one of the rooms in the production facility,” Dick said. “There’s a kitchen, fridge, bathroom, shower, everything they need. As long as they keep things clean they can stay here for free. If things work out this could turn into full-time employment after harvest.”
I called my buddy Andrew in Arkansas and pitched him the idea. Andrew is a gifted photographer and at the time was deep in The Struggle. Newly married, he was managing a pizza joint in Harrison and I knew they were both ready for a little adventure. It didn’t take long to convince them. When we hung up the phone, he was hired and so was his wife Emily. They quit their jobs, moved out of their apartment, put everything in storage, and within a week – one week before harvest – they arrived on the farm.
When I helped them unpack and move into their room in the production facility, I pointed out the white security camera mounted in the corner pointing directly at us.
“Don’t mind that,” I said. “That’s just Dick the CEO monitoring all of our activities from Florida. He has cameras everywhere. He’s probably watching us right now.”
Everyone gave a nervous laugh then the camera suddenly made a static noise.
“Very funny, Nate,” came Dick’s voice through the camera.
I smiled and waved. “Dick, what’s up. These are my friends Andrew and Emily.”
“Welcome to Oregon! Don’t believe anything Nate says. I won’t watch you guys when you’re fucking or anything like that. Just keep it down.”
Insert cringe laughter.
“I’m kidding!” Dick said. “Nate, will you just unplug that camera and put it on my desk, please? Thank you.”
I left Andrew and Emily to themselves. They were planning on pocketing about $5,000 a piece over the next few weeks, and with a grubstake of about $10K and the solid chance of full-time jobs for both of them, we were all confident they were going to do alright and get their new lives in Oregon off to a solid start.
Harvest officially started on 9/11/2019. Here’s Dick the CEO giving the management team the rundown of operations on Day 1:
Dressed in shorts and Nikes, I’d say he’s ready for a long day of hard farm labor. For as vain as Dick was I thought he would have had the good sense to at least dress the part. But as obsessed as he was with “attention to detail,” Dick was always missing critical details himself.
Like the cabbage in his ears.
For as much attention as this guy paid to his appearance, the guy failed to pick the cotton growing out of his ear canals. Anyhow, shouting orders to a bunch of farm workers while dressed like you’re about to hop a flight to The Caribbean is bad optics to say the least, and bad leadership at best. Oh, by the way, Dick did hop that flight to The Caribbean during harvest – bear with me.
As we walked out of the office that morning, I asked Dick, “You think we’ll be done by Halloween?”
“Oh, we’ll be done in six weeks,” he said. “I guarantee you I’ll be done in six weeks.”
Twelve-hour days, six-days a week of hustle commenced right then and there. Harvest was a blur of activity – from clipping kolas to driving mules to working the trimming stations to driving trucks to managing the thirty temporary employees we had on staff – it was a monstrous effort for everybody.
Everyone on board appeared to be in good spirits. Of course, we were paying everybody a good hourly wage and we – myself, Billy, Dick, Brett – were feeling good about the grind because we knew how much money we were going to make in the end. The bonuses at Christmastime were going to be huge and I was definitely going to be getting a big pay raise. I mean, just look at the size of this freaking kola:
It’s the size of my forearm. Imagine snapping kolas this large for weeks on end. Do you know how much money that is? It’s ridiculous. And there we were lopping off thousands of these suckers every day. Yeah, you could say we were motivated.
Which is why the next scene makes absolutely no sense.
Four weeks into harvest, I saw Dick and Billy standing outside the production facility by the septic tank. Dick was on the phone, pacing, kicking dirt and yelling, throwing his arms around. I walked over to see what was going on.
“Can you go get Andrew and Emily for me, please? Thank you,” Dick said.
When the three of us returned, Dick started yelling.
“THE FUCKING SEPTIC TANK IS OVERFLOWING! DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT FUCKING MEANS?”
Andrew was dumbstruck. So was I. The guy was going ballistic over what?
“I HAVE TO PAY FOR THE FUCKING THING TO GET PUMPED NOW!” Dick thrust his finger at Andrew. “AND IT’S COMING OUT OF YOUR FUCKING PAYCHECK!”
“Whoa, whoa—” Andrew said.
“AND I TOLD YOU TO TELL YOUR WIFE TO STOP TAKING SUCH LONG SHOWERS!”
“What the—that has nothing to do—” Andrew said.
“AND FUCKING FLUSHING SO GODDAMN MUCH!”
“Dude, there are over thirty people here using one toilet,” Andrew said. For some mysterious reason, Dick refused to rent a couple Porta-Johns for this harvest cycle.
“I DON’T GIVE A FUCK! IT COSTS $525 TO PUMP THIS FUCKING THING AND I’M TAKING IT OUT OF YOUR FUCKING PAYCHECK!”
Andrew threw down his gloves and clippers and stepped towards Dick, “Over my dead body.”
“WHAT DID YOU SAY?”
“I didn’t stutter.”
“Dick, dude, Dick,” I said. “Septic tanks have to get pumped all the time.”
Dick looked at me stonefaced. I watched his jaw muscles ripple.
“You have one week to move the fuck out,” Dick said to Andrew.
“Hold on,” Andrew said, “we had an agreement.”
“YOU HEARD WHAT I SAID. ONE WEEK OR YOUR FIRED!”
“Well then fuck you, I quit,” Andrew said. He didn’t move a muscle.
“OK. THEN GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!”
Andrew stared him down for a few seconds. I believe the Irish skin on his neck turned so red hot I could’ve cooked bacon on it. Then he walked off.
Dick looked at me and said, “Make sure they’re out today.”
I shot Cornelius a text and briefed him on the situation. I had a faint hope that maybe he’d say something, intervene somehow, but that was quickly squashed. At this point Cornelius hadn’t been to work in over three months and was effectively out of communication with his business partners, completely unaware of day-to-day operations.
Even if Cornelius wasn’t in exile, fact was, Dick was running this entire show. It didn’t matter what Dick said or did, Cornelius just looked the other way and followed along. He blamed his silence on being “non-confrontational” and being “Buddhist” when the truth was, he was along for the ride. Cornelius willingly gave up the reins to Trato Diablo Farms because, as he later confessed to me, “It didn’t matter who was the CEO – myself or Dick – because at the end of the day, as long as we were making money, what the fuck do I care about a title, know what I’m saying?”
I helped Andrew and Emily pack their things, stuff their gray Chevy Impala like a sausage, then we got their final paychecks and they hit the road to Seattle.
The whole matter made me sick to my stomach. I felt like I should have done more to intervene, but I held back because of my own situation at the farm. The ice was getting thin.
It’s not that Dick gave me any shit, for whatever reason the guy was respectful to me, but the fact was I kept observing Dick treat people like utter garbage and laughing about it the whole time and it was getting to me. I was beginning to think my future with this place would be short, the money be damned. I was going to either quit on principle or finally give this douchebag the spanking his parents never did.
By this time, there was another situation that was jeopardizing mine. Cornelius had asked me to keep him posted about things from time to time, since his business partners weren’t communicating with him whatsoever. One day he shot me a text and asked me to swing by after work.
“They’re trying to starve me out,” Cornelius said at his smoking table. He explained how Dick hadn’t paid him for three months. “Dick even removed me from the fucking board. They’re not even paying me quarterly earnings.”
“Removed you from the board? Does May Hampton know?” I asked.
“I actually talked to her last week. She’s just as pissed off at Dick as I am.”
“Is she going to do something?”
“She told me that even if I don’t work, I still own 20% of the company. I don’t have to work ever again and I’m still due 20% of the earnings, know what I’m saying? That’s how ownership works. I told Dick that.”
“What’d he say?”
“He told my I’m not a Hampton.”
“Does Brett know?”
“Of course he does. Fuck him and all that ‘we’re brothers’ bullshit, know what I’m saying? He said we were family.”
“So you’re not receiving any income from your business at all whatsoever?”
“I’m pretty sure this shit’s illegal,” Cornelius said.
“You’re damn right it is.”
“And now it’s fucking up my healthcare. Thank God May Hampton offered to pay for my COBRA. This shit’s already getting expensive and they’re trying to strip the company from me,” he said. “They’re trying to bury me.”
“I’ll help you fight back, bro,” I said. “I’ll keep you posted on anything I see or hear. This farm is your investment, I’ll help you protect it.”
In the old days, Cornelius and I would have handled things a bit differently, to say the least. We would have quit our jobs, beat the shit out of Dick, then burnt the entire place down. But we were grown-ass men now. We had a lot at stake.
“I’ll be your eyes and ears on the ground,” I said.
I started taking more pictures and video clips of operations and reporting to Cornelius on the daily. For all the busy-ness and yelling going on at the farm, it was obvious we were beginning to have some production concerns. Six weeks into harvest and we weren’t even halfway done. We were sorely shortstaffed and what staff we did have, well, let’s just say they might have been a distraction.
For instance, take Dick’s friends from San Diego. The two college gals drove up to the farm in a white Dodge Sprinter, doing the whole vanlife thing for the summer. Upon arrival, Dick told them they could park at “his house” at night rather than stay at the farm. Well, that very first night after work Dick invited the gals inside for drinks and a dip in the hot tub. Long story short, according to Billy, the girls blew Dick in the jacuzzi. They were getting hammered during the day, too. Party nights at the house became a regular thing until Brett’s wife and daughter arrived from Florida. The girls left shortly thereafter but it was a bit comical the way it went down.
One of the gals—the tan, dark-haired one—was walking from one greenhouse to another.
“CHOP-CHOP!” Dick yelled.
“Excuse me?” she said.
“MOVE YOUR ASS!”
Her boots skidded in the gravel. “What you just say to me?”
“YOU HEARD WHAT THE FUCK I SAID! I’M NOT PAYING YOU TO BE A LAZY BITCH, NOW MOVE YOUR ASS AND GET TO WORK!”
The gals were packed up and gone in less than fifteen minutes.
This level of commitment and hard work on the farm was inspiring.
It truly was.
“Yo, Nate!” Dick hollered at me one day. “Do me a favor and just stop communicating with Cornelius, OK?”
“I’ve seen you on the phone a lot, taking pictures and stuff, just please do me a favor and stop communicating with Cornelius about what’s going on at the farm, OK? He doesn’t need to be involved, he’s not even working, so it’s not like he can do anything, alright? He’s on so many pain pills and drugs, he can’t even think straight anymore. Just leave him out of it.”
Alright, my ass.
Instead of being done with harvest in six weeks, from the looks of our fields it appeared we were only halfway through. It wasn’t hard to do the math. At this pace we’d still be harvesting for another six weeks. Instead of harvesting kolas, Dick had me put together a crew and we started cutting whole plants and rushing them over to the warehouse in the box truck to try to beat the clock. We were running out of time.
But somebody was done with harvest. Just like he guaranteed me.
On October 25th I saw the following post on Facebook:
Dick had ditched the farm in mid-harvest and flew himself and a fuck buddy to Saint Kitts and Nevis for a week.
That was it. I was done. There was no way I could work for these clowns anymore.
Common sense tells you that if you double the size of your garden, you better plan on doubling the size of your harvest. So if it took you six weeks and thirty people to harvest last year, and this year you doubled the size of your farm, then you had better plan on the harvest being twice the size it was the previous year and hiring twice the staff to get it done in the same timeframe.
Look, I’m not good at math but this isn’t rocket science here.
I wrote a resignation letter right then and there and took it with me to work. I left it in my truck and waited for the right moment to hand it in. Somehow I got through that day, however. . . .
I wrote a new resignation letter every single morning for the next five months. I had those letters signed and ready to go, I just needed the right trigger to finally shove it in Dick’s ear.
When I informed Cornelius about Dick’s “harvest vacation,” he shot the following text to me and Billy:
Hey – I know Dick went on vacation. If you guys need anything please let me know. We really need to get this harvest done. We are running [out] of time in the field. You guys are killing it! Please let me know.
There was nothing Cornelius could do even if he wanted to.
It was clear Dick gave two shits about what anyone thought he was doing with this farm. The truth was he had plans of steering the company in a new direction, competing for a whole different slice of market share pie.
Rather than continue their profitable business model of growing organic, high-potency smokeable CBD flower, Dick wanted to get into extraction. CBD tinctures, oils, distillates, and other similar products were the hottest commodity in the market so to Dick it made sense to up their game. He and Brett recently got their hands on a large warehouse in the industrial area of Medford, just a short drive from the farm. They also got their hands on an enormous CO2 extraction machine which, if Dick’s plans were right, would generate wealth beyond their wildest dreams. The warehouse would be used for post-harvest activities as well as showroom and brokerage for the best CBD biomass in the Rogue Valley.
“Think big, Nate,” Dick told me when he and Brett stole me away from the farm to show me the warehouse.
“Big plans, Nate,” Brett smiled with gleeming veneers. “Big plans.”
Since Dick’s big plan was to transition into the biomass game, another part of his big plan was getting rid of Cornelius. Dick got the idea that the farm didn’t need to have a grower any longer, especially a grower who was demanding a high-salary and was too sick to work.
Besides, Billy could do it.
“It’s a plant, Nate,” Dick said. “You just put the seed in the ground, add sunlight and water, and it figures it out.”
With an attitude like that, it’s no wonder I showed up to the farm the morning of October 30 – five days into Dick’s Caribbean Vacation – and saw this:
Yep, that’s right. Acres upon acres of dry-rotted moldy CBD flower. An utter disaster.
Dick had simply refused to hire more staff.
But that’s because he had a plan.
After a few more weeks of working with my crew of five guys removing whole plants from the fields, Dick finally hired a tractor outfit to come and rake up the rest of the dead and dying crop. The plants were then wrapped in plastic like giant hay bales then loaded onto an 18-wheeler and delivered to the warehouse and finally stored outside on pallets.
“We can still extract it all,” Dick said.
The only problems were he hadn’t hired a chemist or any qualified staff to actually operate the extraction machine nor could he secure the proper permits and licensure from the government to even turn the thing on. Meanwhile the bales stored outside were quickly rotting and what was left of the harvest was being stored inside plastic bins stacked from floor to ceiling. Dick bought an army of fans and four industrial-size dehumidifiers in a weak attempt to stave off a moldy disaster, but it was a wasted effort.
The 2019 crop was a complete failure.