Irene Villanueva, Post-Harvest Director, The Source, Nevada: Breaking through the grass ceiling of the corporate grow op.
Irene Villanueva’s mother brought her to Southern California from Sinaloa, Mexico, as a child.
Her mother was hoping to keep her away from the family business of working with cannabis, as her grandfather and cousins all worked for the cartel within the illicit cannabis market. Her mother’s cousin was best friends with El Chapo, now serving life in prison (plus 30 years) in a U.S. Federal prison for heading up the infamous Sinaloa Cartel.
The plant had been all around her, yet she knew little about growing it – with warnings from her conservative Hispanic family to stay clear of the industry altogether. It’s why her mother brought her to California in the first place, she’d say – and Villanueva obeyed.“I grew up with a vegetable garden,” she shared. “We ate from the garden, and used plants for medicine. We’d put aloe vera in our hair and on our skin. My mother loves to garden. She has two acres now here in Nevada. We used to tease her that she spent more time in the garden than with us kids.
Now I understand why.”It wasn’t until she relocated to Nevada, working her way up the green ladder in grow rooms in Las Vegas, that she finally understood what the fuss was all about. Not just about cannabis, but gardening in general.“I had never smoked cannabis until I had my first job with Las Vegas Cannabis,” she said. “When I was younger I tried it, but always felt it was too strong. Then I began trying different strains at the end of my work day in the industry and found it helped me unwind. I finally understood what everyone was talking about.
I also learned that cannabis was not the negative drug I had been taught about growing up.”The plant also helped her get through a heartbreaking divorce, but she still didn’t realize the plant as medicine.“It’s funny, I was a runner all my life and have knee pain – the plant helps, but I still wasn’t giving it credit for taking the pain away,” she added. “I use tinctures, but edibles are too strong for me in the daytime.
I use them at night and get great sleep. I also medicate before going to the gym to work out – it helps get me into a more focused head space.”The stigma of the plant was firmly in her family’s heritage from Mexico, but she was able to get them on board in the legal market.“It just takes a little education to help people understand – including my family,” she laughed. “They are all behind me now, supporting the work I’m doing.
They see I’m not just sitting home getting high – I have a full-time job that pays well and doesn’t have anything to do with the cartel.”
The Plant is Female
After five years with Las Vegas Cannabis, The Source snatched the intuitive gardener up for its cultivation facility in Las Vegas. Working her way up from a Cultivation Technician to the Post-Harvest Director.
The Source is a multi-operational company with farming facilities and retail locations in Las Vegas, Henderson, Reno, and North Las Vegas. But it was not an easy path in the once male-dominated world of the grow op.“It was intimidating at first, but if you can push through it, it’s worth it,” she said. “Men are starting to realize that women have input – that we aren’t here just for hard labor or trimming. Women bring attention to detail to the table, we always have.
We can see things that the men may overlook.”Traditionally, women involved in the illicit cannabis industry have been in the kitchen making remedies or at the kitchen table trimming – with the men out in the field.One challenge on the job right out the gate was facing an older man with a 20 year history of growing in the illicit market. “He felt women were wrong in my position, that they didn’t belong in the garden,” she said. “He thought that women were distractions. But, that just motivated me more to be there. I had the ‘I’ll show you’ attitude and it worked.
I was the first one in the room in the morning and the last one to leave. As they say, I had to work harder as a woman to prove myself. But, it was a fight I was happy to win.”
Sourcing Positive Encouragement
The Source supported Villanueva in her quest to do more in the space, promising positive encouragement and mutual respect in a safe environment for patients, neighbors and the public.
It’s outreach includes a variety of wellness programs, education and advocacy on the plant, with its Mission Statement touching on affordability and its dedication to helping its patients through the healing process.
The testimonial page reflects promises made, with patients reiterating, “It’s quite simple really, you want the best deal for the best price, this is the place; not to mention, the quality is superb – the worst here is the best in other places.”The patient goes on to say that The Source is a very organized shop, “like a bank – a pot bank. ”
The intuitive farmer
The quality of The Source’s flower is not lost on Villanueva, who has developed a symbiotic relationship with the plants she oversees, closely observing as flowers come into their own.
“There’s not a lot of data compiled to tell you exactly when a flower is ready for harvest,” she explained. “Some cultivars need 56 days, some 12 weeks, but the exact day and time to harvest can be an art – the art of waiting and watching. We can collect data on the same cultivars for three harvests in a row, and attempt to harvest them on the same day and time and the crop will still turn out differently.”Growing cannabis is an organic process. Nothing replaces the look and smell method of harvesting and curing flower.
Like a baker knows by the fragrance from the oven when the bread is baked. Or, better yet, like when an artist knows when they are done painting – or a writer knows when to stop writing. “I watch as the plants grow, familiarizing myself with the different smells, colors and bud from each type of cultivar,” she added. “Once they turn a certain color, you know they are ready – but it’s always different. Knowing when to pull it down is the hard part.
I have to go by my nose, smelling it every day, I can tell when it’s ready.”She likens the process to winemaking.“This experience has given me the opportunity to build my own personal techniques,” she surmised. “It’s a lot like winemaking. My nose tells me when the flower is ready and when it’s curing correctly. What I love most about the work I do is the reward of the final product – and the customers provide instant feedback. The flowers don’t lie. In fact, they are all about truth.”
Published and Written by Sharon Letts in Weed World Magazine Issue 154
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