Day in the Life of a Strawberry Field Hand

These days, the alarm goes off at 6:45 AM.

It sounds like church bells.  No, not the kind that play pleasant hymns or patriotic songs.  These bells are unpleasant–a discord of clanging and bellowing that is all too effective in waking me up.

The first thing I do is reach for my study Bible.  I roll up my shade and the early morning light helps me blearily make it through a couple of segments of Ezekiel and 1 Timothy.  (I like to always be reading something from the Old and New Testaments simultaneously.)

Next, I cautiously make my way from my bedroom to the kitchen.  As I heat water for tea, I go through routine stretches, pulling my body to smooth the stiff ache of sleep away.  If my older brother is around, he knows better to talk to me.  If he tries, I shoot him a sullen look and shake my head at him.  It’s not that I’m crabby in the morning.  I’m usually not.  I just need time to wake up before I’m ready to speak to anyone.  By the time I’ve consumed a bowl of Rice Krispies and a cup of tea, I’m ready for conversation.

By 7:20 I’m done with breakfast, have shuffled through my social media accounts on my phone, brushed my teeth, thrown on the same clothes as yesterday (red t-shirt with black running shorts), grabbed my lunchbox, and have left the house.

I cross the road and move one of our several golf carts to the service door of the shed.  By this point, my coworkers have also arrived.  Together, we dart in and out of the barn, filling the back of the carts with picking boxes, electronic scales, bottled water, and a large box containing an assortment of pens, fliers, and garbage bags.  Once this is done, we slowly drive through the orchard and to the back fields where the strawberries are.

We spend the next ten minutes getting everything in place–folding boxes, making sure scales are level, and applying sunscreen.  Usually, a couple of people scout the rows we’ll be picking in, walking up and down covering up any deer poop that has cropped up during the night.

At eight o’clock, my dad drives one of the golf carts to the entrance to pull the chain.  He then leads a stream of cars through our driveway, waving them into parking position with bright orange flags.  Some mornings, there are only three cars.  Others, there are thirty.

There are three main jobs one gets to do throughout the day: Man the stand, ferry customers, and run fields.  I usually do the first–greeting customers, weighing their berries, and checking them out.  Ferrying is easy–you just drive to and from the fields picking up and dropping off customers.  My least favorite is running the field.  Here, you stay in your assigned section.  When customers are brought out, you place them on rows, give them instructions, and make sure all is well.  If you have spare time, you carry around an ice cream bucket and pick up any rotten berries customers leave behind them on the straw.

On weekends, we close at noon.  This means that, around twelve-ish, my dad changes all the signs and phone message to “CLOSED”.  We, however, usually stick around much longer–waiting for the current customers to finish, cleaning up the fields, and offering the pre-picked berries my little brother spent all morning picking to any people who arrive before we can put the chain up.

If it’s a week day, we will be open longer into the afternoon.  When the customers are gone, we grab hoes and spend the rest of the afternoon making war with the weeds that threaten to take over the newly planted fields.  If it’s a weekend, we re-load the golf carts, put everything back in the shed, and I trudge back up to the house.

This is when I crash.  Whether a weekend or weekday, I slump on a couch and exhaustion slowly seeps throughout my body.  It’s a good kind of exhaustion–the kind that makes limbs go heavy to the core and a bleary haziness fall over my mind.

Even though I’m off work, strawberry season is unescapable.  The phone still rings off the hook.  Customers still show up in the parking lot across the road.  My dad darts in and out of the house, doing this job and that.  His work goes on long past the rest of us are finished.

The remainder of the day is pretty much useless.  Sometimes, I actually do things.  I put in a load of laundry.  I mow the lawn.  I bake cookies.  But when I think about actually doing the things I want to do, the things that bring me life, I simply feel more tired.  I think about reading, about painting, about working on some blog posts.  But, usually, any attempt stops here.  It just seems futile–reading makes my eyes want to shut, blogging brings forth nothing but a muddled jumble of un-publishable words, and paint dribbles aimlessly on paper, my mind is to out-of-it to know where it should go.

The evening passes by quickly.  Dinner with family, watch the news, cuddle with the cat, watch a movie.

By ten o’clock, the day has sapped all my energy.  I slump to my bed, falling asleep almost as soon as my head hits the pillow.

At 6:45 AM, the alarm goes off and I do it all again.

Just two weeks left until strawberry season is over.

Pleasant Valley Thursday: Frost Season

This photo pretty much sums up my week:

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It’s the time of the year where the days are reasonably warm and good for growing, but nights are cold.  Our strawberry fields are beginning to bloom and the tiniest bit of frost destroys the flowers.  No flowers, no strawberries, no income.

Most strawberry patches deal with frost via irrigation.  Since we’re a small, family-run operation, we don’t have the funds or water capacity for this.  So we take another route: frost blankets.

The method is simple: Spread the blanket over a field, hold down the edges with boards and sandbags, pull the edges snug, and voila!  Actually, it’s not as easy as it sounds.  It’s the kind of job where the devil is in the details.  There’s countless places where, if you make a wrong move, you royally screw things up.  For instance, you have to know which side of the field to roll the blanket out.  If you put it on the wrong side, you have the wind working against you.  You also have to make sure all the sides are tight and even as you go along putting the weights on the side–if the blanket is diagonal, it’s easier for the wind to catch it and blow it away.  Also, you need to be VERY careful where you pull because those things tear easily.  The whole process takes at least an hour per field.

Because of all the particulars, my dad usually does the entire job himself.  Which, if you ask me, is absolutely insane.  However, he threw his back out last week, so this year it was up to Sam and I to save the fields from their cold nemesis.

The most frustrating part of the job is that it feels very pointless.  We spend a day and a half getting the blankets perfectly placed only to roll them back up two days later.  It’s maddening!  And it’s hard work!  All the bending, crouching, and lifting is an incredible workout.  I’ve slept like a rock the past few nights.

Other Jobs This Week:

  • Fill sandbags
  • Haul all the brush in the orchard
  • Mow everything
  • Pull plastic (I’ll explain this in a future post)
  • Spread fertilizer

High: Dad bought us yogurt covered pretzels as a reward for finishing placing frost covers.

Low: The weather conditions were absolutely miserable early this week.  Mornings were in the thirties and drizzly.  In order to keep from freezing, layers are KEY.  On Monday I wore: leggings, sweats, a t-shirt, sweatshirt, oversize flannel, jacket, thin winter gloves, work gloves, winter hat… and I was STILL cold.  Also, Sam threw a big piece of brush at me, which resulted in a big cut in my chin.

Here are just a few of the strawberry fields all happily tucked in and ready to resist the frost!

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Stop by next week for more orchard adventures!