Landing a job as a head grower in the cannabis industry is a lucky break. To do so, you not only have to have a grasp of high-level industry skills – think cloning, compliance measures, and quality control, for starters – but also a willingness to get your hands dirty. Literally.
Stacey Hitzeman, head grower at Good Earth Meds, has no problem with a little dirt. She’s been working as one of the few female head growers in the industry for the last four years or so, and has used her experience running “straight” plant nurseries – the kind with oleanders and bags of colorful mulch – to master the trade.
“I couldn’t imagine 20 years ago that I would ever be doing this. Because at that time I just smoked weed; I never grew,” Hitzeman said. “I mean, I’ve had lots of friends who have grown in their house, but I never really helped with the growing part.”
She started out working in the store front, and it wasn’t long before GEM owner Bill Delany offered her a spot in the grow. With no formal experience growing pot, Hitzeman had to learn on her feet. She took to the trade like a duck to water, and it wasn’t long before she was working as head grower.
While the cannabis industry is more conducive to women in leadership roles than many others, it’s still pretty uncommon for women to run a grow operation, and the numbers show that men are given managerial roles over women by a large margin. Still, being one of a handful of women growers hasn’t felt much different to Hitzeman.
“I don’t even really think about it, honestly. It’s just something I love doing,” she said. “But I do realize that there aren’t many female growers out there.”
And it makes sense that Hitzeman is a good fit for head grower. She’s always had a knack for plants, even if they weren’t of the sticky-icky kind.
“I was in charge of inventory at a nursery that had 300 greenhouses back in Virginia,” she said. “I’ve always had a green thumb. My mom was always big into vegetables and flowers and stuff.”
Hitzeman said she prefers to work in the cannabis industry over the greenhouses. The cannabis business is a lot of work, she said, and the plants can be a bit finicky, but you learn to roll with the punches.
“Each one definitely has its own unique characteristics and stuff that it needs, or likes, or whatever. Some are way easier and need way less attention. Others are very needy, but you just know what they need and deal with it,” she said.
Cannabis plants will always be demanding. It’s the nature of the beast. And over the years, the compliance regulations for grows have become equally needy.
“When I first started, there was no testing, no state data entry system,” she said. “You just grew pot and transferred it to the store.”
These days, there are health and safety regulations that have to be followed, and copious tests that have to be completed.
“Now there’s someone sitting on your shoulder,” Delany said.
Delany is lucky to have landed Hitzeman. She’s not only great with the plants, but she’s computer savvy, he said, and knows exactly what she needs to do to get things in order.
“A lot of people just think this industry is just, ‘Oh, I’m going to be growing weed, messing with weed,’ but there’s a lot more to it than that,” Hitzeman said. “A lot of people think of it as a fun job, but it’s work. A lot of people can do it, some can’t. And some find out it’s a lot more work than they expected.”
It’s a great industry, Hitzeman said, but it’s one that requires the ability to multi-task, and the job isn’t really conducive to sparking up during the day, either.
“You have to be able to multi-task; it’s a key factor for sure,” she said, laughing. “Sometimes we’re better at it than men. Sometimes.”
To maintain that razor-sharp focus, Hitzeman never smokes at work. She imbibes on her time off, though, and prefers flower to other cannabis products.
“I just prefer bud. It’s just my preference,” she said.
Her top three strains – Bruce Banner, Grape Ape on the indica side, and Great White – are all strains she grows at GEM, and she likes them all for different reasons.
“Some are way more stoney than others; some are a more functional weed,” she said. “I love the flavor of Bruce Banner; it gets beautiful purple flowers on it as it buds.”
Those favorites may have some competition though, right around the time the new strains she’s working on come to fruition.
“We have a couple new strains which I’m excited about. Sour Maui, Irie OG, and Blueberry Headband,” she said.
At the end of the day, though, the draw for Hitzeman isn’t about the new strains or the novelty of being a woman in the industry. It’s about finding the perfect, green-thumbed niche.
“I love it,” Hitzeman said. “I like coming to work everyday. It’s nice to find something you enjoy doing.”