Caliber Farms located in the fertile Salinas Valley | Photo by Nick Lovejoy
By Itzel Castro
Having a deep desire to work on a flower farm was how Ana Villalobos stumbled into the cannabis industry.
“Cannabis wasn’t even on my mind until I got a call from a cannabis farm to join as an intern,” said Villalobos, from Soledad who was 23 at the time. “Not the flower I had imagined to work with, but nonetheless a flower, so I said yes.”
After the cannabis boom started in the Salinas Valley in late 2016, when Prop. 64 legalized the sale and use of recreational cannabis in California, Villalobos found herself working in various farms and in different capacities. She has worked her way up from integrated pest management scout to nursery inventory coordinator in an industry where there is a lack of diversity at the top. About 81 percent of cannabis executives are white, and 73 percent are male, according to a survey conducted by Marijuana Business Daily.
“It was difficult when I first started since it was intimidating, as a young Latina, to go up to white male CEOs,” said Villalobos.
She struggled for several years trying to build rapport with her male bosses, but throughout her journey she was lucky enough to find female leaders who were looking out for her.
“Women in the cannabis industry have vouched for me and they have helped me to where I’m at today,” said Villalobos.
Through women networking, she connected with her current boss, Christina DiPaci, co-founder and CEO of Caliber Farms, who also manages the cannabis brand Paradiso Gardens.
“With Christina, everything is done with more compassion and freedom compared to other farms where there was a lot of micromanagement,” said Villalobos. “Where I work now and how Christina runs things … she trusts that you’re going to make a good decision.”
DiPaci, a New York transplant, said she is proud of the mark that Caliber Farms is making on the industry.
“We have a lot of women in management, which is different from our competitors,” said DiPaci. “I’m happy to provide pathways to making more money and gaining more skills.”
In Villalobos’ current position as nursery inventory coordinator, she helps oversee the track and trace of more than 40 cannabis strains and up to 2,000 pounds of flower, the smokable part of the cannabis plant, each month at Caliber Farms, which spans five acres in the Salinas Valley.
“I love working in cannabis because there is always room for growth, you never stop learning and you get to meet amazing people,” said Villalobos.
Now 26, she looks back at her beginnings and wants to be a support system for women who are just starting out in the cannabis industry.
“I support and train a lot of immigrant women who have transitioned from working in la lechuga (lettuce) to cannabis,” said Villalobos. “They’re really fast learners and detail oriented so it’s good.”
Ximena León, from México, recently made the change to work with cannabis after working with lettuce in the Salinas Valley for several years.
“It has been a bit difficult because I did not know how to do many things, I started from scratch, you can say, but as the days go by, you learn a lot, compared to other jobs in the field, it is a little easier…it is not so heavy, with the simple fact of not being in the sun all day,” said León in Spanish. “But I say that the transition has been good and I got used to it, but I have never stopped learning because it covers many more things than I thought.” She is employed as a nursery inventory worker at Caliber Farms.
Villalobos said she hopes to keep encouraging the growth of others in the industry while also continuing to move up in the cannabis ladder.
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