Ivan Escobar works in cannabis heaven, or as they say south of the border, Estamos en la gloria. Born in Michoacán, 21-years-old, and fluent in English and Spanish, he’s employed by a commercial cannabis farm in Sonoma Valley. He couldn’t be happier than he has been this summer, though on a recent day he worked from 6am to 11pm. It’s harvest and not a minute to be lost. With his language skills, Ivan plays an essential role. The jefe —the boss—doesn’t speak much Spanish—and the workers—the trabajadores, don’t speak English. Ivan connects them. He also matches the tasks to be done with the skills of each member of the equipo or team.
“Alejandro is good with machines,” Ivan tells me. “Francisco knows computers, Oscar is good with construction and Adrian is a plant expert.” Ivan aims to bring out the best in each one and help them learn new skills. “Down South you can work and work and work and not get anywhere, because wages are so low,” he says. Field workers on cannabis farms typically make $18 an hour, slightly more than at a vineyard. Ivan is learning to use nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. “The plant chemistry is amazing,” he says.
Californians know vegetables and fruits are cultivated and harvested by Latinos and Latinas, but they usually don’t know that Lantinos and Latinas also at the heart of the cannabis industry. Field workers are men; indoor work is often done by women. Ivan wants everyone to work at more or less the same pace, no one faster or faster than everyone else. “The team members all have a great work ethic,” he says. “They learn at an early age.”
Ivan attended school in Mexico and took English classes as a boy, but he learned most of his English after he arrived in the U.S., attended middle school and Sonoma Valley High. “Growing up, I never thought I’d be working in the cannabis industry,” he says.
The cultivation of mota (marijuana) is illegal in Mexico, though many Mexicans, especially in rural areas grow their own from seeds. “Rich as well as the poor, use mota,” Ivan says. “People have used it as medicine for a long, long time.”
After the jefe, Ivan is the coolest on the farm. He’s got more chido than anyone else, but he wears his chido lightly and shares it with the equipo members.