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A high alpine weed grower’s unusual harvest

Rob Trotter’s vision continues to deteriorate as he works on his marijuana farm in Gypsum, Colorado.

 

Rob Trotter’s methods for growing marijuana at 8,200 feet above sea level in the steep mountains near Gypsum, Colorado, are idiosyncratic but regimented. He wakes up every morning before the sun crests the horizon. Then he hikes up the winding, rugged terrain in the dark, unlocks the gate to his farm, Pot Zero, adjusts some equipment and then walks through the plantation to feel and smell the plants. 

For the last 30 years, Trotter has lived with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye condition that causes the retina to deteriorate, leaving him 85 percent blind. And for the last five years, he and his, wife, Linda, have been growing legal marijuana on the farm they’ve owned for 26 years. As his vision worsened, he says his cultivation acumen improved due to what he considers a “sixth sense.”

“Eyes are an overwhelming sense,” says Trotter. “They block out other senses. Once you remove it, the other ones go way up. There’s a lot of benefit there.” 

Trotter can detect slight changes in temperature on his skin within 1 or 2 degrees of accuracy, allowing him to select the best growing strategy. He picks the fan leaves by feel, a routine process that allows light and airflow to reach the plant. To determine the optimum time for harvest, he smells the delicate buds. He drives his four-wheeler buggy, guided by light and shadows and his 26-year familiarity with the land. As he drives, he points out the hydroelectric pump, which he services and maintains using his hearing and what remains of his sight.

The Trotters’ perennial goal on the farm is to leave a zero-carbon footprint. “The better, cleaner the soil is, the better the product is going to be,” Trotter says. The hydroelectric turbine powers the entire facility while the 3,800 marijuana plants are irrigated by mineral-filled snowmelt from the nearby mountains. The Trotters don’t use chemicals or pesticides on their plants — instead, they launch a horde of 100,000 ladybugs to eat aphids and mites. A herd of Scottish highland cows fertilizes the soil. 

Despite all the careful planning that goes into making the operation sustainable, he still gets hit with the unexpected. The grow cycle last summer was threatened by severely below-average snowmelt and the Lake Christine Fire, which burned more than 12,500 acres about seven miles away. As the Trotters watched the smoke plumes approach, they kept their car packed and ready in case of evacuation, thoroughly wetting down their farm to withstand the flames. And weather is always a challenge: During harvest in early October 2017, Trotter became anxious about an approaching storm. He and Linda raced to collect the buds and managed to gather a good crop before 11 inches of snow buried the farm.

But ultimately, Trotter says that the plants, much like people, can thrive in the face of adversity. “They can be tortured by the weather. As long it does not kill them, they are actually just stronger from it,” Trotter says. “They adapt, they cope, and they perform.”

Hear Rob Trotter’s voice and see more of his farm at Leafly. Daniel Brenner is an independent editorial and commercial photographer in Denver. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.