‘Trimmigrants’ descend on Nevada County, for better or for worse
October 19, 2017
Each year, around the beginning of September, Shana Maziarz starts to notice people sleeping in cars and hanging out in the parking lot of Nevada City's Three Forks Bakery and Brewing Company, where she is a co-owner.
Around that same time — just after Burning Man ends, she said — she has a difficult time finding employees. She attributes both trends to the marijuana harvest season.
Many of her potential workers would rather trim buds for local farmers during the fall, which can be a relatively high-paying, flexible and tax-free job, than work a restaurant job, she said.
And the Three Forks parking lot turns into a hangout spot when the influx of trimmers from around the world — a group commonly referred to as "trimmigrants" — come to Nevada County, eager to make quick cash.
Maziarz posted signs in the outdoor seating area at Three Forks last month, asking customers to limit their time on the patio to one hour unless they are buying more items.
"People will come and hang out for hours without buying food because they don't have somewhere to be," Maziarz said.
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But Maziarz clarifies she doesn't take issue with the transient lifestyle of some of the young adults who come to Nevada County to work during harvest season. She was once a free-spirited 20-something herself, she said.
She posted the signs — reluctantly, she said — in an effort to maintain a welcoming space for all her customers.
Rita Fuenzalida, co-owner of Java Johns in Nevada City, said the influx of seasonal workers provides an economic boost to her business during what would otherwise be a slow time of the year.
Fuenzalida sometimes asks customers who come in from out of town during the fall to leave their large backpacks outside, she said, but for the most part, she welcomes the transient population. During the fall, languages from all over the world are spoken inside Java Johns.
"The foreign influx is fun," Fuenzalida said.
Like Fuenzalida, other Nevada City business owners have come to appreciate the economic boost provided by trimmers each fall.
At the Haven Theatre, a music venue on Broad Street in Nevada City, business is booming during the fall.
"We look forward to it every year," said Joanna "Anu" Welfley, an employee at the Haven. "It's become an expected part of our business model."
In August — one of the slowest months of the year, according to Welfley — the Haven hosted four events, none of which were particularly well-attended.
For October, the Haven scheduled 15 events. Many of the artists playing this month were booked far in advance.
During trim season, Welfley said, "We get high-caliber performing artists that a small town in the middle of nowhere would never be able to get."
Business is also booming during harvest season at Elixart, a lounge on Broad Street that serves herbal drinks and raw foods.
Bartender Sean Herbert said employees have to change shifts around during the fall to ensure there is enough staff to serve customers at busy times.
Herbert estimates that close to double the amount of customers come into Elixart in the fall compared to the rest of the year.
Cindy Giardina, owner of the Golden Era, a bar on Broad Street, told a similar story.
"Our peak season starts the second week of September," she said, "when the kids come home from festivals."
The Golden Era turns into an "international destination" during the fall, Giardina said. The busy season lasts until the winter.
'A new gold rush'?
Nevada City Mayor Duane Strawser said he's observed a huge increase in the amount of transients hanging out in the downtown historic district this year, a trend which he says has a negative impact on the city.
He said the legalization of recreational cannabis in California has likely attracted more people hoping to capitalize on the budding industry — "a new gold rush," he said.
But Strawser said he's learned from local growers and industry employees that the unfortunate reality for many who come to Nevada County looking for work during harvest season is that work isn't available.
The widespread use of automatic trim machines, which allow growers to hire fewer trimmers, coupled with the drop in value of cannabis — which industry officials say is the result of an oversaturated market — has likely resulted in less employment opportunities for "trimmigrants" this year, some say.
The result, Strawser said, is that more people are hanging out downtown without money or work and are becoming "part of the transient community we're already trying to deal with on the local level."
Nevada City Police Chief Tim Foley said the influx of people who come to Nevada City in the fall results in an increase in calls for service. Mainly, he said, those calls are related to nuisance violations, such as smoking in the downtown historic district or illegal camping in vehicles.
The city instituted a two-hour parking limit in Pioneer Park this year, which Foley said has been helpful in reducing the amount of illegal camping in the park and its parking lots.
Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal said his office also sees an increase in activity he attributes to the influx of seasonal workers.
Grass Valley Police Chief Alex Gammelgard said the same is true for his department, though he doesn't notice a "significant impact."
Mostly, Gammelgard said, residents call the police department asking questions about people playing music downtown or sitting on the curbside — activities that aren't as typical during other times of the year.
Foley said people from out of town who come to Nevada City for a short time during harvest season often "have their way of living, and sometimes it clashes with our community standards."
"This is a small segment of the year when there's this huge influx of people," Foley said. "It's probably the most difficult time of the year for the police department and the community to deal with."
The Nevada City Police Department is working together with the Nevada County Cannabis Alliance, Foley said, to help inform people of the rules in Nevada City — such as the ban on smoking downtown.
The Cannabis Alliance distributed a "Guidelines & Etiquette Primer For Trimmers" pamphlet earlier this month at the Nevada City City Hall and local businesses. The pamphlet provides tips for seasonal workers who come from out of town, such as, "Public restrooms are not to be used for washing or showering," and, "Be considerate when using the benches and public sitting areas. Don't monopolize. Limit your time so others can enjoy our public parks and communal areas."
The pamphlet also provides safety tips for trimmers, such as, "Avoid being employed by someone who will not provide a name and phone number," and, "Maintain a working phone so you may be able to reach out for help if needed."
Diana Gamzon, executive director of the Cannabis Alliance, said travelers from countries as far as Germany, France and Portugal come to Nevada County each year to trim for local farmers.
But as the industry moves into legalization, Gamzon expects the influx of international workers — or, at least, the work available to them — to diminish.
Cannabis farmers complying with state regulations, she said, will require their trimmers — or "processors," as the state calls them — to complete W-2 forms and pay taxes on their wages.
Maggie Lord, a 64-year-old Nevada County resident who trims year-round as her main source of income, said she's eager to work legally as a processor when state regulations take effect next year.
Trimming, Lord said, provides an economic boost to the county by putting more money in circulation and providing jobs.
"We want to contribute with taxes, too," she said. "We want to be in a situation where we can do that."
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Pera, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4231.