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 points to the sky to indicate a weather change on his ranch near Gypsum, Colorado.

    Daniel Brenner
  • Rob Trotter smells his plants shortly after their germination phase. Because of the high altitude, the farm can experience frost in the summer, and the plants are kept in a container until strong enough to withstand it.

    Daniel Brenner
  • Francoios Nanin, a full-time seasonal head gardener, uses pipe cleaners to hold up plants that cannot support themselves.

    Daniel Brenner
  • While transplanting seedlings into the soil, Rob Trotter cleans an irrigation system filter. His entire ranch is powered by a hydroelectric turbine, which he services and maintains based on hearing.

    Daniel Brenner
  • A temporary worker carries trays of plants. In 2018, the farm grew 3,800 plants.

    Daniel Brenner
  • For 30 years, Rob Trotter has lived with a degenerative eye condition that causes his retinas to deteriorate. In the four seasons he has grown marijuana, he's relied completely on trial and error of his own senses.

    Daniel Brenner
  • Linda and Rob Trotter prepare to transfer their plants into the soil. Snow melt from nearby 12,500 foot mountains collects minerals and nutrients to feed the plants.

    Daniel Brenner
  • A temporary employee and Linda Trotter carefully put plants in the ground and connect an irrigation system.

    Daniel Brenner
  • Rob Trotter quickly jumps out of the way to avoid being hit by one of his Scottish highlanders that got loose.

    Daniel Brenner
  • Thirty-five head of Scottish highlanders fertilize the soil at Trotter's ranch.

    Daniel Brenner
  • Rob Trotter and a temporary employee weigh a plant before harvesting.

    Daniel Brenner
  • Rob Trotter smokes from a pipe after checking on his plants early in the morning.

    Daniel Brenner

 

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 NewTowncarShare News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.

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