Courtesy Of Jack Nichol. Jack Nichol
Name: Jack Nichol Job: Mobile mechanized hemp processor Town: St. Albans
Jack Nichol had a long career helping others get high — airborne, that is — before he started Canna-Trim, a mechanized bud-trimming business that serves Vermont’s cannabis industry. The 37-year-old San Jose, Calif., native is a retired U.S. Marine who spent five years as an avionics technician, repairing military helicopters. He deployed twice to Iraq as a Marine, in 2003 and 2005, and a third time in 2008 as a civilian contractor.
After his last tour, Nichol decided that deployments were “a young man’s game.” So he returned to college, earned an engineering degree and, in 2009, took a job in Vermont repairing civilian aircraft. But after working a “big-boy desk job” for five years, Nichol still found his work unrewarding.
“I’ve always had the entrepreneurial spirit and wanted to do something on my own,” said Nichol. “I just didn’t know what or where or how.”
In the summer of 2019, as Vermont’s hemp production boomed, he saw an opportunity to “jump into the industry with both feet.” Recognizing that most of Vermont’s small- and medium-size hemp growers trimmed their plants by hand, he took out a business loan and invested in bud-trimming equipment. The machines mechanically separate the plant’s buds, or “flowers,” from its leaves and stems.
Just weeks before harvest season began, Nichol emailed every hemp farm in Vermont — more than 560 of them — and invited them to rent his equipment. From mid-September until November 1, he worked on 14 farms and processed more than 1,500 pounds of the skunky stuff. He would have worked longer, Nichol said, but he was due back at his desk job.
In December, Nichol quit his engineering job and devoted himself full time to growing Canna-Trim. Just last week, he signed a deal with CenturionPro Solutions, the Canadian manufacturer of his equipment, to be the company’s New England sales and service rep.
Nichol uses cannabis himself to treat deployment-related pain and posttraumatic stress disorder. And because his machinery can trim plants grown for either cannabidiol or recreational marijuana, he sees huge future growth potential for Canna-Trim once Vermont legalizes its cannabis retail market.
“The rock stars of Vermont [cannabis] are the growers. I’m just the bucket-and-shovels guy,” he added. “As long as they’re healthy, I’m healthy.”
SEVEN DAYS: How busy were you during the fall harvest?
JACK NICHOL: I was insanely busy. Every day off, I had to stop and clean the machines. It was just me, my truck and my machines. Once I had a customer down in Bennington, so I was up at 3:30 a.m. to drive down there, trim — that was a multiday job, so I slept in my truck. Then I drove back up here the next day.
SD: Did you harvest the plants for your customers as well as trim them?
JN: No. Trimming is just one step in the process. Harvest time for macro-scale growing is always a team effort and always will be, whether you’re doing mechanized trimming or trimming by hand. The difference with [Canna-Trim] is, I insert myself into your process so that you have people bringing cut plants to where I’ve set up, and from there we strip the plants and then they take the buckets full of flowers and lay them out to dry.
Courtesy Of Jack Nichol. CenturionPro hemp trimmer
SD: Is anyone else providing this service locally?
JN: I had at least one competitor last year. We were at the same site one day. I didn’t know them; they didn’t know me. We have a different way of doing things. I’m much more into allowing the growers to [rent] the equipment, because they can save money and not pay me to run the machines.
SD: How much time does mechanized trimming save?
JN: Lots! Let’s say you have a team of amazing hand trimmers doing two pounds of trimming per person per day. The machines I was using were doing 250 pounds per day.
SD: What are the biggest challenges you’ve encountered?
JN: That nobody in Vermont really knows what mechanized trimming is yet. They don’t know that there are awesome products that they can use to really speed up their process and use their time more efficiently.
The second big challenge [was] the market prices, which were drastically lower than a lot of people were promised. If the small- and mid-size growers can’t make money, nobody can make money [except] the big, out-of-state growers.
SD: Do you see Vermont’s growers competing with large industrial growers in other states?
JN: Whether it’s [grown for] CBD or THC, five or 10 years from now cannabis is going to be just like Vermont maple syrup and cheese. We don’t do a lot of volume in either of those [products]. We just do high-quality stuff. And that’s what Vermont cannabis is going to be: low volume, high quality.
SD: What’s the best part of your job?
JN: Just everyone I meet out there on the road. I knew this was going to be just me and my truck and my trailer, driving to farms around Vermont and talking to awesome people. I got to trim UVM’s flowers up in Alburgh. I trimmed [Lt. Gov. David] Zuckerman’s flowers. Just meeting those people and soaking everything up, because I’m the new guy and I still have a lot to learn.
SD: Does Canna-Trim have a social mission, too?
JN: Yes, [to demonstrate that] you can be an upstanding, taxpaying, hair-combing, clean-clothed person and be a cannabis consumer and businessman, not the stereotypical lazy stoner. It’s 2020, and I’m so tired of that stereotype.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.