Hemp for Employment, a Worker Profile

Published in the Fern Ridge Review, October 2019

Continued from – “The Resurrection of Hemp”

With changing laws comes a shifting perspective around the Cannabis industry. When Mica-Derrington-Via calls on his workers for an emergency weather harvest, the crew that shows up is an eclectic mix of farmers, single mothers, young travelers, and recent college graduates.

Even before legalization, Cannabis provided flexible, lucrative employment for local or seasonal workers. Which also led to a seasonal boost in local economies, as workers ventured out to support nearby businesses. For some of the mothers working at Kaheela Valley Homestead, this work is a crucial source of supplemental income.

“It’s still a lot of the same people who worked with it before,” says Trenton Berrian, 22, ”but the atmosphere has changed just slightly. It’s still catching up in everybody’s head. We have the same feeling as if we’re doing something we’re not supposed to be doing, but it’s totally fine.”

Berrian recently graduated from the University of Oregon with a double major in Anthropology and Biology. “Working with hemp offers me the flexibility as well as the intrigue as a biologist,” he explains while hanging plants in the drying room, dressed colorfully in tie-dyed coveralls and aviator glasses. “As somebody who’s really drawn to plants and biology, it creates a very lucrative work environment that’s oftentimes filled with like-minded people.”

Trenton Berrian inspects plants for the Botrytis fungus.

“I was interested in any kind of farming I could get my hands on. It’s just that we live in Oregon and this is a new and emerging market,” he explains. “The CBD is really what’s making this plant more widespread. I have relatives and friends who have never wanted to be in contact with the plant until hemp and CBD started coming around. Suddenly grandma with a bad back who doesn’t want to get stoned can still get the benefits.”

With a new emerging industry comes new career opportunities. In the case of Berrian, he sees personal potential budding with the troublesome fungus that’s spreading in the crop. He started this year as a farm hand, but with the recent rains, and his studies in fungal interactions, he fell into researching and troubleshooting hemp’s pathogens, or diseases.

“Evolutionarily, plants need to run as fast as they can just to stay in the same place, just to stay alive. We biologists call it the Red Queen Hypotheses,” says Berrian. “Plant pathogens are going to be always on our tail, and can be very unexpected and devastating. So to be immediately on our feet and brainstorming and solving challenges is very interesting to me.”

He explains how with any new plant crop, there will be a need for on-the-ground experimentation, as there aren’t yet set ways of dealing with potential problems. “As climates change and as we engineer plants to be resistant, it’s a constant fight we’ll have.”

Hemp has opened an unexpected door for Berrian. While pathogens pose a potentially devastating blow to farmers, for him, they create an intriguing life path in a new industry. An industry where people like Berrian will be invaluable.

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