Trimming Services: Save Money and Time


In this Growers Spotlight, we interview Susan Chicovsky, owner and CEO of Green Mountain Harvest, about using contract trimming companies to make the process of harvesting and trimming simpler on your team.

Susan Chicovsky

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Trimming Services: Save Money and Time



Harvesting and Curing



Could you explain how the harvesting and curing process works?

I learned to harvest by first cutting down the whole plant and hanging it to dry indoors for a few days. After drying, it should be placed in an opaque glass jar and covered for 10-20 days to cure. After a few weeks, the plant’s flavors have fully developed and the herb is ready.

Now that said, curing in a glass jar isn’t practical for the scale that cannabis is grown on. What most good growers will do instead is place the dried cannabis in a dark room that is temperature and humidity controlled so that it can cure slowly.



What are some pitfalls when it comes to harvesting and curing?

Most of the problems surrounding harvesting and curing come up prior to the harvest:

  1. If buds haven’t finished forming, it takes longer to prepare the plant.
  2. Poorly trained plants take longer to prepare.
  3. Powdery mildew can show up prior to a harvest.

I have had a couple of injuries occur during my seven and a half with Green Mountain Harvest. The big takeaway is to be aware of your surroundings and what’s going on.



What are businesses doing that they shouldn’t be doing?

One of the current problems is that too few growers don’t cure the cannabis long enough. They usually just chop it down and dry it. Customers will notice. The smoke is sharp and harsh. When the product is cured properly, the harsh elements tend to get removed.



Trimming



Take me through the trimming process.

We lay out the buds on our trimming table and cut off sugar leaves that are sticking out of the buds. Depending on clients’ desires, we can cut the leaves really close to the bud, or a little further out.

Dried buds take longer because we have to be more gentle, as they are more likely to flake or break. Wet buds are strong and firm, so we can go at a much faster pace.



What are some of the difficulties of running a harvesting and trimming service?

It’s a tough industry. Turnover is high because of the nature of physical labor and we run very tight profit margins in order to stay compliant.

Illegal trimming companies skip lots of time and money-consuming steps in order to save money and run a better profit margin. This it puts everyone at risk just for profit. And in the end, if we want to have a legal industry, we need to follow the rules like adults.



What are your thoughts about automated trimmers?

The first time I saw automated trimmers in the early 2010s, I thought they were pretty atrocious. We tested a few and saw cannabinoid levels drop by nearly half when we compared before and after.

Nowadays, there are some truly impressive automated trimmers out there. The most effective method for using these trimmers, in my opinion, is to let them do a basic run on the product, and our hand trimmers touch up the final product to make it excellent.



What would be an ideal trimming and harvesting set up?

Just a few things, really:

  1. Clean tables, full stop. I prefer stainless steel tables, but aluminum is also good.
  2. Comfortable chairs
  3. Great lighting
  4. Climate control in hot or cold environments.
  5. A separate table to take weight measurements on


Philosophy



Trimming can be a high turnover business. Is that an issue for you?

The work can be really tough for someone who is new to the industry and doesn’t know what they’re getting into. We do our best to train individuals on different trimming techniques that suit different clients’ needs.



What are some trimming bad behaviors businesses engage in?

The most import one is sanitation. Some of our past clients didn’t have clean tables to work on. We definitely wouldn’t eat on their tables, so why were we preparing “medical” products on them?

There were also some past clients who left open bottles of pesticides laying around the trimming room.



Tell me about your company, Green Mountain Harvest.

We’re one of the oldest compliant hand-trim companies in Colorado. We also assist with gardening, harvesting, packaging, and labeling services. We want to be a one-stop shop. We help growers do what they do best by taking care of the details for them. We bring in our own OSHA-certified tools. Growers don’t need to supply us with anything.

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Harvesting and Curing


Sure! I harvested Colorado native herbs for my patients for many years.

I learned to harvest and cure a medicinal plant by first cutting down the whole plant and hanging it up to dry indoors for a few days. After the plant has dried, it should be placed in a dark-colored or opaque glass jar and covered for 10-20 days to cure. This gives bacteria time to break down the chlorophyll and remove the remaining green on the herb. Chlorophyll are great for a plant’s photosynthesis, but they’re unnecessary for the finished product. After a few weeks in the jar, the plant’s flavors have fully developed and the herb is ready for use.

Ideal storage for curing herbs.

Now that said, curing in a glass jar isn’t practical for the scale that cannabis is grown on. What most good growers will do instead is place the dried cannabis in a dark room that is temperature and humidity controlled so that it can cure slowly. That’s probably the next best solution.


What about flash freezing the product?

Generally speaking, flash freezing is great for processed products such as Kief or BHO. It absolutely works to retain cannabinoids and terpenes, although the product will still be wet when taken out of the freezer, so it may require drying. If the flower is intended to be sold as trimmed buds, then it will still need drying and curing before it’s ready.

In all honesty, most of the problems surrounding harvesting and curing come up prior to the harvest. For example:

  1. If buds haven’t finished forming, it can take longer to harvest and trim the plant.
  2. If the plant is poorly trained, it may take longer to prune and prepare for curing or trimming.
  3. If the plant hasn’t had its fan leaves removed prior to flowering, the harvesting process will take significantly longer.
  4. Powdery mildew can show up prior to a harvest, and growers need to take care to make sure it doesn’t manifest. GMH does not work with cannabis that has powdery mildew on it, as we have had trimmers who got sick from working with affected product in the past.

I have had a couple of injuries occur during my seven and a half with Green Mountain Harvest:

  1. One of our workers was walking through a dark curing room with a forehead light. Unfortunately, there was a hose on the floor that they couldn’t see, and they tripped and bruised a rib. We now make sure to take extra precautions when going through dark rooms.
  2. Back when we assisted with installation of a grow, one of our workers was working on a hill when the ground gave way. They injured their head in the fall, but it wasn’t too bad. We don’t assist with grow installations any more.
Luckily, growers have been getting better at their work in recent years. We haven’t had nearly as many issues this year as when we first started.

For example, a few years ago we were asked to trim for a company whose product was covered in aphids, spider mites, and powdery mildew. It was so bad that you could barely see the plant. When I told the lead grower that we couldn’t trim the product in good conscious, he just said, “We’ll just hash it.” Thankfully, we don’t see that kind of bad behavior any more.

One of the current problems is that too few growers don’t cure the cannabis long enough. They usually just chop it down and dry it. Customers will notice. The smoke is sharp and harsh. When the product is cured properly, the harsh elements tend to get removed.

Not to toot our own horn, but this is where our service can help. When businesses contract with us, we take care of all the HR, workers comp, unemployment benefits, etc. It lets businesses focus on what they do best, and lets us focus on what we do best. Since trimming can be irregular, it makes no sense to hire people who are waiting around half the time, and working like crazy the other half. You can schedule with us when you’re ready.

Trimming


Sure! In our case, trimming is determined based on our clients’ needs. Generally speaking though, we lay out the buds on our trimming table and cut off sugar leaves that are sticking out the buds. Depending on our clients’ desires, we can cut the leaves really close to the bud, or a little further out.

When we’re trimming dried buds, it takes a little bit longer because we have to be more gentle. Dried buds are more likely to flake or break, so we have to move more slowly. Wet buds are strong and firm, so we can go at a much faster pace when we’re trimming wet.

Processing companies generally don’t care much for the product to be trimmed. They’re using virtually everything, so they mainly just want the removal of non-essential parts such as fan leaves.

It’s a tough industry. Turnover is high because of the nature of physical labor, and while there’s never a shortage of work to be done, we run very tight profit margins in order to stay compliant with the Colorado Department of Labor.

Compliance is one of our biggest challenges. In order to stay compliant, we have to do the following:

  1. Register our business with the state.
  2. Maintain a checking account with our business name on the check.
  3. Register all our employees with IRS form W-2.
  4. Provide workers’ compensation to all our employees.
  5. Adhere to all Department of Labor and OSHA regulations.
  6. And, of course, pay taxes.

Illegal trimming companies skip these steps in order to save money and run a better profit margin. The problem with this is it puts everyone at risk: Workers could get injured by not following labor standards, and then would have no compensation to show for it; managers and owners can get sued for liability and indicted for failing to follow regulations; growers can get sued for liability. And in the end, if we want to have a legal industry, we need to follow the rules like adults.

Honestly, hand trimming just takes a lot of time. It’s one of those processes that’s relatively tedious and time consuming. An experienced crew can make all the difference in the world for speed and quality.

Hemp drying in a farmhouse.

Just to plug our services again, Green Mountain Harvest requires its trimmers to do a pound to a pound and a half of dry trim per day. If it’s wet trim, they’re required to do a minimum of 4kg of wet product per day. Obviously if we have to do extra preparation such as removing fan leaves, our rates will go up. We have some really experienced growers that can save a lot of time and money.

The first time I saw automated trimmers in the early 2011s, I thought they were pretty atrocious. We tested a few and saw cannabinoid levels drop by nearly half when we compared before and after.

Nowadays, there are some truly impressive automated trimmers out there. The best trimmers that I’ve personally seen are Greenbroz and Tom’s Tumble Trimmer. If you have large, regular harvests, it absolutely makes sense to use some of these trimmers. The most effective method for using these trimmers, in my opinion, is to let them do a basic run on the product, and our hand trimmers touch up the final product to make it excellent. We can also shuck buds to prepare them for the machine if so desired.

As a side note, Green Mountain Harvest doesn’t currently allow its employees to operate automated trimmers. If we were to operate the automated trimmers, we would need to change our worker’s comp program to cover machine operation, which would put us in a very high price bracket.

Just a few things, really:

  1. Clean tables. I prefer stainless steel tables, but aluminum is also good.
  2. Food-grade butcher paper on all tables.
  3. Comfortable chairs
  4. Great lighting
  5. Climate control in hot or cold environments.
  6. A separate table to take weight measurements on

Philosophy

I have the vision for the company, but I couldn’t do it without my managerial team and my trimmersSusan Chicovsky
We’re always hiring, to be certain. The work can be really tough for someone who is new to the industry and doesn’t know what they’re getting into. We do our best to train individuals on different trimming techniques that suit different clients’ needs.

That said, many of our trimmers have been with us for almost as long as Green Mountain Harvest has existed. We want to reduce turnover, as you simply can’t replace quality employees. I maintain an open-door policy with my employees. They can speak to me about any issues they may have.

The biggest one, at least in my opinion, relates to sanitation. Some of the clients who we worked for in the past didn’t have clean tables to work on. We definitely wouldn’t eat on their tables, so why were we preparing “medical” products on them? I highly emphasize that trimming standards meet food-grade requirements, if not medical-grade requirements.

We had some clients in the past who sent their growers in to trim, and they were smoking and drinking while they were trimming. They were definitely having a good time, but we were about five times faster than they were. On top of that, we don’t allow our workers to be impaired while they work.

It may take the edge off, but it slows down the work.

There were also some clients who I no longer work with who left open bottles of pesticides laying around the trimming room. I refuse to compromise my employees’ safety.

Honestly, the biggest challenge I’ve faced is betrayal. I was burned about a year and a half ago by two former employees, one of whom was a manager. One of these employees inherited some money from a deceased relative, and together they started an illegal trim company. They poached many of our clients and trimmers, ultimately costing us nearly $2 million in lost opportunities. We took them to court and won, but all the money and effort spent on top of the sting of betrayal made me question if I wanted to continue in this line of work.

Integrity can be a difficult-to-find quality in this industry. Two of my trimmers were caught on camera stealing product. I had to report them to the MED and fire them on the spot. When I asked why they did it, they said they simply didn’t think it was a big deal.

Dishonest people can make life hard.

Another issue is compliance. Illegal trim companies pay their trimmers by contract labor, a 1099 form, which is illegal. Illegal trim companies are more competitive because they can undercut compliant companies and drive them out of business. The Department of Labor needs to stringently enforce the rules so that compliant companies can remain compliant.

I’ve been able to travel around the country, speaking at conventions about the issues in the industry that pertain to trimming. I also never thought I’d be this involved in politics, as I’ve spoken with state senators from multiple states about trimming. I was even told by the MED that GMH is setting the role model for a harvest and trim company.

Susan speaking publicly.

I’ve also been able to see my team grow (metaphorically) and succeed. I have the vision for the company, but I couldn’t do it all without my managerial team and my trimmers. One of my trimmers told me about a job offer he received for another job, and I was ecstatic for him. I want to see my people do well.

As far as Green Mountain Harvest goes, I want to see a map of the United States with a GMH office in every state. That’s my ultimate goal. We’re definitely keen on finding partners to help us in this endeavor. Let us know if you’re interested!

Other than that, I’d like to see cannabis treated as a food-grade or medical-grade product. I want medicine to be clean, and everyone involved to be safe.

And maybe personally, I’d like to see some time off. The work never ends!


About Susan and Green Mountain Harvest


I’ve been an entrepreneur and healer since 1973. For most of my adult life, I’ve worked in alternative medicines and counseling services. I went to the University of Dayton and the University of Metaphysics and received my Master’s in metaphysics. I also attended the School of Healing Arts in the ‘80s. I’ve spent most of my healing career looking for newer, better tools that worked. I found that acupressure and acupuncture helped many of my patients, and that counseling was also a great boon for them.

During my time working as a healer, I noticed that most of my patients were using cannabis for its medicinal qualities. I tried it and found that it wasn’t for me, but I saw the good that it could do, as it was definitely helping my patients.

When I was providing counseling and acupressure services, one of my clients in Hawaii encouraged me to start a dispensary. She wanted to invest in me. At the time, it wasn’t legal to do so, but it brought my interest in cannabis to the forefront.

I spoke with a friend in the cannabis industry who suggested starting a harvesting and trimming service because growers always needed those services. I spoke with a lawyer and business advisors about the concept, and they said that it was feasible. I decided to go forward with the idea and start Green Mountain Harvest.

We’re the oldest compliant hand-trim company in Colorado since 2010. We also assist with gardening, harvesting, packaging, and labeling services. We don’t want to just be a staffing company, we want to be a one-stop shop. Our goal is to help growers do what they do best by taking care of the details such as harvesting and trimming. We bring in our own OSHA-certified tools. Growers don’t need to worry about supplying us with anything.

We started in Colorado in 2010, alongside of another company that went under in 2012. Some of our employees have been working with us since the beginning, but we’re always interested in new helpers as well.

  1. Phone: 303-981-4273
  2. Email: [email protected]
  3. Website contact form: http://www.greenmountainharvest.com/contact-us/

We’d be happy to discuss price, scheduling, invoices, services required, and more. We’re here to make your life easier!



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Want to get in touch with Green Mountain Harvest?

You can reach them via the following methods:

  1. Phone: 303-981-4273
  2. Email: [email protected]
  3. Website contact form: http://www.greenmountainharvest.com/contact-us/

Resources:

  1. Want to see how grows design their systems? Check out one of our Grow Op Overviews!
    1. Scaling Up a Boutique Grow Operation
    2. Revolution Cannabis – Chicago, Illinois
    3. MedMen – Los Angeles, California
    4. Reef Dispensaries – Arizona and Nevada
    5. Del-Gro – Coachella, California
  2. Have questions about environmental controls? Ask DryGair!
  3. Want to learn more about insurance in the cannabis industry? Check out our article on cannabis business insurance!

Do you have any questions or comments?

Feel free to post below!


About the Author

Hunter Wilson is a community builder with Growers Network. He graduated from the University of Arizona in 2011 with a Masters in Teaching and in 2007 with a Bachelors in Biology.