Melodie’s story continues… If you missed Part 1, read about it here.
Do you know how many different types of jobs there are in the blueberry world? I had no idea, not until I started vying for the few fruit picking jobs available at the beginning of the season. Don’t let that be a deterrent to you in your fruit picking endeavors; the beginning of the season is only tough because the plants aren’t quite ready for the constant attention that we so desperately want to show them. The best jobs, the most lucrative (and also the worst in terms of days off) are often snatched up before the season gets underway or just as farms begin to pick their fruit. In the blueberry world, the two most coveted positions are the packer and quality control jobs.
Packers have an ‘easy’ job in that they are usually in an air-conditioned room. And when it hits 36 oC – or really anything over 25oC – that air-conditioned job seems like a dream. Keep in mind though that they are usually pretty strict about no talking or listening to music in these jobs and you spend the majority of your day looking down at a conveyor belt. This type of job is usually for a corporation, and pay is either given in the form of a cheque or direct deposit into your bank. Pay rates hover around the minimum wage mark ($20/hr.). Quality control is another ‘easy’ job, but it’s the toughest job to score as it’s usually reserved for people with experience in that particular fruit. After all, you are expected to recognize when a picker isn’t meeting standards. On the big farms, quality control persons drive around in pickup trucks covering a smattering or large blocks of fruit ensuring that pickers are working and taking only the fruit that is ready for picking and not doing too much damage to the crop.
Small farms will use their pickers or onsite packers as quality control and that position doesn’t necessarily mean more pay. The positions at the big farms are probably the best paying jobs in part because they work for the entire season. Pay in this type of fruit picking job is around the $20/hr mark, and you spend most of your time telling people how to do their jobs.Then you have the pickers. I know more about picking than anything else simply because I have been picking blueberries for two months. I’ve worked on three different farms, and each one had vastly different vibes. When I first started picking all I really wanted was a quality control job. Then the season started and all the people with those jobs were working seven days a week while I was able to take a day off once a week if I wanted. Then I thought about how easy it would be to become a packer. Working in an air-conditioned shed seemed miles better then trudging up and down hills with buckets strapped around your waste full of blueberries battling spiders, frogs, flies, and caterpillars. Oh …and I forgot to mention the snakes. But one day I came back from work to find that my friend who scored a packing shed job had become so dizzy at work from staring at a conveyor belt all day she was physically ill. No thanks. Picking is definitely for me.
The beauty of picking the fruit as opposed to driving around near the fruit or packing it in a shed full of artificial lights is that you can really feel yourself getting in touch with nature and your hunter gatherer roots. You feel the grit and grime of soil trapped under your fingernails, see insects you never knew existed and you get your daily dose of vitamin D.
Remember to wear 30+SPF, and re-apply often! In the field you are allowed to talk as long as you continue to pick. You can listen to music, a podcast, book on tape, or just be silent and hear the laugh of the kookaburras in the distance. There is also a certain amount of camaraderie as you and 6, 20, or 40 other people work towards the same goal. Pay in the field varies. It can be per bucket, per kilo or per hour. Each farm is unique and each method of pay has its ups and downs. But despite the pay disparity (you average $10-$15/hour), I am glad that I chose to stick it out as a picker!
Stay tuned for Part 3… to be released next week :)