The following morning, Cornelius was ready to leave around 7:45 AM.
“Want a coffee?” he asked. “I’m going to The Human Bean real quick.”
I said sure and thanked him. He went out the door. I was still lacing my boots. Within minutes vehicles started to pull up and park and employees began filing through the metal gate to Trato Diablo Farms. When Cornelius returned with our lattes, we made our way onto the farm as well.
The hemp farm sat on a narrow strip of land in Central Point, Oregon. It was just over fourteen acres and for decades was home to a small dairy operation.
Behind the farmhouse Cornelius lived in was the production facility, where all the post-harvest operations were done like bucking and trimming. It also contained a shipping room and some storage along with a small break room and kitchen area.
Next to the production facility was Cornelius’ and Dick’s office. It was inside an older building the production facility was built around.
Across from their office, separated by a large gravel driveway, were several old horse stalls being used for storage, a couple large shipping containers being used for storage, and a large old red barn. Trucks and tractors and implements and other farm equipment were scattered around.
Down past the barn and stretching over 100 yards were six large greenhouses, brand new. All of these buildings took up about three acres of this fourteen-acre farm. The rest was used for growing hemp. Specifically, organic artisanal high potency smokable CBD flower. Here’s a few shots of the farm I took (click for full res):
However, at the time, I thought Cornelius was growing marijuana. Even though he never alluded to anything different, I just wasn’t getting it. Cornelius was growing some danky CBD flower and blasting his Instagram with pictures likes this (click for full res):
As well, I was a teen in the 90s – I grew up listening to Dr. Dre. In “California Love” there’s the lyric:
We in that sunshine state where that bomb ass HEMP be.
It’s just a hair off, but that’s the way I always heard it. So, I always equated hemp with weed. I wasn’t connecting the dots that CBD was hemp and hemp was different than weed.
“It doesn’t get you high,” Cornelius said.
“Then why smoke it?” I asked.
“That’s what I used to think. But there’s a market for it. We’re actually known as pioneers in developing the CBD flower market,” Cornelius said. “Some people don’t want to get high. CBD calms you down without getting you high, or too high, know what I’m saying?”
I had to do my homework later but it’s important to introduce you to this cannabis industry that is considered to be the new Gold Rush and is already widely known as THE GREEN RUSH. I don’t think there’s been such an explosive generation of instant wealth in the US since 1849.
As more and more states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and the coffers have begun to fill, more legislation will inevitably pass so that all states can benefit from the tax revenue generated from this erupting cannabis market. Of course, along with that comes all kinds of other legislation and red tape, but in the end, there’s a ridiculous amount of money to made. It’s an entirely new industry and everyone has been rushing to cash in.
The floodgates really opened when hemp and CBD products became federally legal with the passage of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018. As of July 2021, Forbes projects the CBD market alone to reach $19.5 billion by the year 2025 and the entire cannabis market to skyrocket to $43 billion that same year, and there’s a lot of people – individuals and corporate and otherwise – who want a slice of the pie.
“How much money did the farm make last year?” I asked.
Cornelius huffed through his nose. “Millions, bro. Millions.”
I followed Cornelius into the production facility. Sitting at a few plastic tables in the front room were about eight people trimming flower. Most wore headphones and ignored our entrance, just kept their heads down and kept trimming.
“Hola, amigos!” Cornelius said. “Buenas dias!” Two of the workers greeted him back. “That’s Mario and Teo. Those guys are great. I bought them some work boots for Christmas, man, they were so happy.”
Behind that room was the shipping area.
“This is Chris and Chad,” Cornelius said. Chad was filling and sealing one-pound bags of flower while Chris was filling boxes with those bags. They were shipping five-pound, ten-pound, 100-pound boxes on the daily.
I followed Cornelius to his office. Inside everything was white and brightly lit. Cornelius and Dick each had a glass desk with white leather office chairs. It was a surprisingly clean and organized office with white boards on the walls and printers and file cabinets and notepads and highlighters and a motivational poster on the wall, something about Tom Brady.
I sat across from Cornelius. We sipped our lattes.
“Not a lot going on right now,” Cornelius said. “Just trimming up the last bit of our flower. In a couple weeks, though, it will be a different story.”
I grabbed one of his business cards off his desk. It read COO / Master Grower.
“Master Grower, huh?”
“it’s just an industry thing,” Cornelius said.
I looked around and noticed another security camera attached to the corner of the room, pointing directly at us.
“OK, so tell me again about all the cameras.” I said.
“Dick put them up so he can monitor operations. And for security reasons, obviously. We got robbed in February. It’s basically why you’re here.”
“Well, after that vacation in Thailand? Our Farm Manager broke in and stole $300,000 worth of product and took off.”
Cornelius explained how the guy did it, how he figured out how to dodge the cameras and alarms. Cornelius filed a report with the Sheriff, but it was likely nothing was going to be done about it.
“It’s like the Wild West, Nate. It’s why I have this,” Cornelius reached around a filing cabinet and brandished what looked like an old Winchester rifle from 1866. “Don’t I look like Pancho Villa?” he asked as he cocked the lever.
“Put that thing away before you kill somebody,” I said. Jesus, that guy with a gun is the last thing I thought I’d ever see.
Cornelius put the rifle back. “Anyhow, Dick put up more cameras and watches them like a hawk now.”
“OK, so where exactly is Dick?”
“Let’s go take a walk,” Cornelius said.
We left their office and started to stroll down the gravel driveway leading to the new greenhouses.
“Just hold on till we get out of sound range of the cameras,” Cornelius said.
Once we were safely out of range, he continued.
“Alright, so it goes like this,” Cornelius said. “Dick is in Florida, know what I’m saying? Tampa Bay. He flies out here about once a month, stays for a week, then goes back to Florida.”
“So, the rest of the time your left here to run things by yourself?”
“Basically,” he said. “But I prefer it that way. He’s such a monstrous asshole we wouldn’t be able to keep this place staffed if he was here all the time.”
“How did you get in with this dude?” I asked.
“He basically works for May Hampton.”
“Who’s May Hampton?”
“Very rich woman in Florida. Like, senator rich, know what I’m saying?” Cornelius said. “I used to consult for her but that’s another story. I’ll tell you later. Anyhow, Dick basically runs shit for May’s only son Brett. Like, he’s Brett’s caretaker and stuff though they refer to each other as best friends.”
“And they all live in Florida?”
“What are they doing trying to run a farm in Oregon?”
“It was initially a research farm,” Cornelius said. “May knew legislation would be passing for the federal legalization of hemp and CBD products long before it finally did, so she was way ahead of the ball before the Farm Bill passed last year. When the bill did pass, she wanted to be ready to jump in the market. And the Rogue Valley is known for its wines and produce. Why not grow hemp here? May knew there was a lot of money to be made. Plus, Brett needed a job.”
“Did he and Dick have any experience in the industry?”
“They had some dispensary stuff going on, but that’s it. Nothing major.”
“So, she buys a farm in Oregon—”
“And she hires a grower and that guy hires a staff and so on. Over the next year the guy apparently doesn’t really know what he’s doing and May didn’t like the numbers that were coming back. So since I had consulted with her about the cannabis industry in the past, and since I was already in California, she asked if I could come up here and see what was going on.”
“What was going on?”
“Well, nothing, really. It was just so new, the guy was overwhelmed converting the place from a dairy operation to an agricultural farm, dealing with irrigation issues and all kinds of logistics. Plus not a lot of growers know how to grow this stuff on an industrial scale,” Cornelius said.
“OK, but neither do you,” I said. “Jesus, man, last I knew you were growing weed in the spare bedroom of the house you were renting in Fresno. You were the neighborhood Weed Guy in the Tower District. You’re no farmer,” I laughed.
“Yeah, well, neither was Dick, know what I’m saying?” he said.
“So, what kind of farm experience does Dick have?” I asked.
“Absolutely zero,” Cornelius said. “At the time, Dick was a salesman for Hyatt Hotels.”
“You mean taking reservations at a call center?”
“Something like that.”
“And he and Brett are best friends. Are they fraternity bros or something?”
“Not at all. Brett didn’t even go to college. Dick has a finance degree from the University of South Florida. They’re not even the same age – Brett is like seven years older than Dick.”
“How old is Dick?” I asked.
“So Brett is in his forties.”
“Yes,” Cornelius said.
“And they met where?”
“At the golf course Brett worked at,” Cornelius said.
“OK, got it.”
“So, May sent Dick out here with me. We were both instructed to evaluate things and report back to her.”
“So, you guys go to the farm—”
“And you’ve never met before,” I said.
“Right, and after we get here and start listening to the guy saying this and that and I’m asking him some basic questions, Dick just fucking explodes on the guy.”
“Dude, about the dumbest shit. Just yelling like, WHAT IS THAT SHOVEL DOING OVER THERE? WHY ISN’T THAT EXTENSION CORD PUT AWAY? WHY IS THERE A HEATER IN THE BATHROOM?”
“What’s the dude doing?”
“He doesn’t know what to do, he’s just totally intimidated by this raging lunatic screaming at him.”
“So what happens?”
“Well, after two days we had a conference call with May and told her what’s up.”
“What was the verdict?”
“That the farm was failing and a financial disaster. Then she basically asked us, ‘Can you two run the farm?’ We looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and said sure. Two weeks later I moved out of my house and moved here. And I had 22,000 starts to get in the ground,” Cornelius said.
“So you go from growing a few plants in your spare room to suddenly growing 22,000?”
“Yeah, and they were like, one week from dying. The greenhouse they were all at, they told me they weren’t going to hold them any longer. So, I had them delivered here and I had no idea what to do,” Cornelius paused and we looked out at the acres of flowering cover crop on the fields.
“That’s when I discovered I was an empath,” Cornelius said.
“An empath,” he repeated. “A lot of growers are empaths, know what I’m saying? They can feel the plant, the energy and stuff. I mean I’m telling you I was so stressed out over these plants, these thousands of dying young plants, that I could literally feel their pain.”
“You sure you just weren’t stressed out over trying to grow 22,000 plants?” I laughed.
“No, man, I’m telling you I felt like I was dying. Just like the plants,” he said. “I’m an empath.”
I didn’t know who he was trying to convince, me or himself. I’ve known Cornelius for almost twenty-five years. An EMPATH he is certainly NOT.
“I had to hire staff right away and we hand-planted every single one of those plants,” Cornelius said. “It almost killed me.”
“Sounds like a lot of work. Where was Dick during all this?”
“He wasn’t out here for any of that. He was supposedly back in Florida taking care of paperwork and stuff, getting the business put together, branding and all that.”
“Where did the name Trato Diablo come from?” I asked.
“That was Dick’s idea, taken from May’s estate in Florida.”
“She has an estate called Trato Diablo?”
“Dude, wait till I tell you about this place.”
“You’ve been out there?”
“Several times,” Cornelius said. “We’re going to the coast tomorrow. I’ll tell you all about May Hampton and Trato Diablo Estate.”
BONUS JOURNAL ENTRY
April 12 
Hit the ground running since I got here. Not much else – just shadowing Cornelius, doing this, going there. . . . Cornelius has his hands full – I can see where I’m needed. With some much needed organization, I can get this place running tiptop.
The surrounding area is gorgeous. The farm is encompassed by hills and peaks, big conifers, lots of farmland, lots of green.
Tomorrow we’ll get to explore a bit.