MY INSANE YEAR AS A HEMP FARMER – PART 6

THE ASSISTANT

I awoke the following morning to blood orange skies and the hum of the oscillating fan in the corner of the room. It was quiet here, much like it was back at my cabin in Arkansas. It was early. I knew Cornelius was still dead asleep on the couch in the living room, so I lay there in bed for a bit.

I was already in love with the climate in the Rogue Valley and how the dynamic weather shifts made the surrounding landscape dramatic and mysterious. Upper Table Rock, an ancient volcanic plateau, hovered over the farm in the nearby distance, it’s character always changing amongst the play of morning fog and light and shadows then rain and cloudy sunsets. Mount McLoughlin, that snow-crowned volcano, would appear and reappear on the horizon reminding everyone of his dominance. 

There were small organic farms throughout the valley and they all had little stores where you could buy fruits and vegetables so fresh they rivaled the best Gilroy and Monterey in California could offer. So the local food was extraordinarily good, and I don’t mean just the swanky places Cornelius had taken me to. Even the truck stops and burger joints were serving rare meats paired with locally grown organic arugula and ancient grain buns prepared by the hands of a blue-collar hipster covered in tats. 

Working here could be good.

And when I wasn’t working? I could certainly get used to spending more time on the coast. I mean, it’s no secret that the Oregon coastline is picturesque. What I saw yesterday was just a peek.

And Crater Lake is just a short drive away. And there’s several mountains I’ll need to check out. And waterfalls. And there’s a lot of lakes and rivers, and the trees . . . Chelsea will absolutely love all the green.

I lay there swirling in thought until the sky turned into a deep blue.

When I finally pulled myself out of bed and showered and dressed, I stepped into the living room and saw Cornelius’ balding head poking above the couch. He was awake.

I flopped into a corner of the sectional and stared at the television along with him. I didn’t know what he had planned or if we would just play things by ear. But it appeared it was going to be another gorgeous day and I still wanted to explore the area.

That said, this was just like old times. I spent many a Sunday on Cornelius’ couch in the past. Many of those days were spent watching football with the sound muted but the stereo cranked up and, most importantly, that’s when Cornelius and I solved all the world’s problems.

I had always respected Cornelius’ intellect and we had similar values. We were both heavily influenced by Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and On the Road by Kerouac, and Jim Morrison of The Doors. We would discuss history from the Howard Zinn perspective. We discussed religion and Christianity at length. Cornelius grew up in a Mexican-Italian family in the San Joaquin Valley. I grew up in an Armenian-Italian family in Fresno. He introduced me to Bob Marley. I introduced him to Eddie Vedder. And we had the same Achilles Heel: We were both self-destructive. We became best-friends, but perhaps the worst kind. Instead of bringing out the best in each other, we brought out the beast in each other.

It was about 11:30 when Cornelius spoke. “Want a coffee?”

I said sure. He bailed off the couch, grabbed the keys to the Porsche-uh and out the door he went. He was back in minutes with a couple vanilla lattes.

“So I was thinking,” Cornelius said, “we should probably discuss a salary.”

“What you got in mind?” I asked.

“Well, you’ll be the Farm Manager and since you have a master’s degree, I’m going to tell the board you need $75 thousand,” he said.

I nodded. Sounded reasonable to me.

“And that’s just starting out,” he added. “There’ll be bonuses. Investment options. And did I tell you? We acquired twelve more acres. Just down the road, there’s two properties. One’s a nine-acre property, the other has three. We’ve basically doubled in size.”

It didn’t take me long to do the math. There was a lot of money to be made, and this business was just getting off the ground. I was coming onto the farm for year three. It was almost hard to believe how much money was being generated in such a short amount of time.

Growing high potency smokeable CBD flower wasn’t the only arm of Trato Diablo Farms’ business model that was generating a lot of cash flow. They were also making money with germination contracts, farm preparation, consulting, distribution, etc. Cornelius had won a few industry awards and the farm had been featured in Oregon Leaf and other industry publications, so demand for their services was rising. It appeared Cornelius had finally gone legit.

“When you get home just send your resume over,” Cornelius said. “I know the board’ll be stoked to have you.”

“And they trust your word,” I said.

“Especially May,” he said. “And we just need somebody we can trust, know what I’m saying? Somebody with some skin in the game.”

“We should look for rental homes,” I said.

“The market’s hot here, dude,” he said. “And expensive. You’ll have to tell Chels to watch out for Sticker Shock.”

A brief look on Google proved he was right. But I was in a good place financially and ready to assume some expense, and some risk.

Or so I thought.

Besides . . . millions.

Right?

Doubled in size.

Right?

How could this fail?

And even if it did, it got us out of Arkansas. I’d been there long enough and was gettin’ itchy.

“Oh shit, we gotta go,” Cornelius said.

“Where?” I asked.

“Airport. We gotta pick up Billy.”

“Who’s Billy?”

“He’s gonna be the Assistant Farm Manager,” Cornelius said.

Billy Johnson was a thirty-year old goofy giant from South Florida, a personal friend of Dick’s. We met him at baggage claim. He gripped our hands with his mitts and we made our introductions with loud nervous laughter. He seemed soft but the guy was a brute. I’d worked with guys like this in the Army. On the drive back to the farm, we talked a bit.

“So, Billy,” I asked, “you, uh, ever work in agriculture before?”

“Nope,” he said. “Banking.”

“Yeah? What’d you do?”

“Investments,” he said.

Some of that was true and some of that wasn’t. I later discovered Billy was a Bank Teller and had never so much as mowed a lawn till he arrived on the farm. He grew up privileged in Florida and was going to college in Tampa when he hooked up with some random chick at a club. Knocked her up in a bathroom stall. Few months later, he did the same thing with another rando at a club. Knocked her up, too. So he had two daughters from two different baby mamas, and they both hated him, and he was up to his ears in late child support payments. Dick hired Billy as a “favor” – with lies of potential ownership in the future – but Dick also knew Billy was vulnerable. Dick would exploit that weakness in Billy in short time. But for this to be successful, Dick had to keep Billy hidden.

We drove past Cornelius’ little red house on Trato Diablo Farms to a gated field about half a mile down the road. Cornelius drove down a long dirt path that led to another overgrown field where a brand-new 32-foot travel-trailer was parked. This was the nine-acre property Dick had just got his hands on, and Billy’s new home.

That was essentially the end of my first trip to the farm. The three of us had dinner that night but conversation didn’t get above banter and for the most part we stared down at our plates and quietly ignored each other while watching one of the many screens at RAM Brewery.

The next day I woke up to an empty house. Cornelius had a doctor’s appointment in Portland and wouldn’t be able to take me to the airport. Billy was going to have to drop me off. Cornelius still had his old Hyundai, so Billy could drive that till he got his Camaro shipped from Florida. Anyhow, my flight didn’t leave till 4 so I had all morning to pack my bag and essentially do nothing but look for rental properties and think about what this opportunity had in store for me and my family.

There was a pounding on the door.

It was Billy.

“Hey, sorry to bother you,” he said, “but I was wondering if you could help me out at the nine-acres real quick.”

It was cold and misting outside. Billy’s boots were caked in mud. It was 9:30 in the morning.

“Well, uh, I got a flight to catch soon,” I said.

“It won’t take long, I promise,” he said. “I just need your help figuring this out.”

I shrugged and headed out the door. We hopped into one of the farms’ blue Kawasaki Mules and sped up Taylor Road. The Mule doesn’t have a windshield so within minutes I was soaked and shivering. On the nine-acre property there was an old mobile home the owner still used for storage. It used to house whatever worker used to manage this field, I supposed. The field had been irrigated via flooding and Dick wanted Billy to rip out all of the old irrigation lines. Billy was attempting to yank out hundreds of yards of 6-inch PVC pipe that was buried in the ground and was just getting nowhere with a shovel and post-hole digger. 

Jimmy's Home

“Get that tow strap and wrap it around that pipe,” I told him. “Now loop both ends on the hitch and step aside.”

I put the Mule in 4-wheel drive and slowly hit the gas. The PVC pipe started lurching out of the ground like a giant white worm.

“Thank you so much, dude!” Jimmy said.

I got back to the farmhouse a complete mess. But I was able to get my clothes dried and my boots cleaned in time for Billy to take me to the airport.

It was a wild trip to Oregon. I had a lot to think about during my flight back to the Ozarks.

BONUS JOURNAL ENTRIES

Journal Entry - April 14, 2019
Journal Entry - April 15, 2019

April 14 [2019]

Sunday. I spent much of the day wondering what we were going to do. The entire morning we just lounged around at Cornelius’ – watching TV and parked on the couch. Talked to Chels and the kids. About 11:30 we went for coffee and then just kept hangin’ out at the house. I’m not used to just straight “do nothing” down time.

Had to pick up one of the farm workers, Billy, from the airport. He’s a close friend of the CEO’s – young guy from Florida. Later, the three of us went to dinner. 

Spent the evening doing much of the same . . . just hanging out. Some things never change. Talked to Cornelius about money in more detail. Spent some time looking at properties for sale and rent (online). A lot to consider.

April 15 [2019]

Cornelius had a doc appointment this morning – gone before I woke up – it’s out of town, so chances are I won’t even see him before I head out to the airport. 

Spent the morning just getting myself and my stuff together, ready to head home.

Billy asked me to give him a hand with an old irrigation line out on one of the old fields, in the rain. Long story short, it didn’t take long to get things done – and get wet and muddy.

It’s almost 2 PM. My clothes are clean and dry and it’s about time to head to the airport. 

Maybe I’ll expound a bit once I’ve checked in for my flight. . . . 

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