We finished thinning this week just as harvest is getting well under way. Our farm provides harvest and packaging service to many of our neighbors, most of whom farm organically. I still have a few conventional growers who just don’t see how they can do the organic thing, but because of decade’s long relationships, they still want us to handle things.
So here’s what that looks like in the real world. We have the dedicated resources and experienced personnel to help small farmers get the crop in. Because lots of us little guys work together, we can get close to the economy of scale that the big guys have. It ends up looking like a colorful merry band of fruit followers; indeed, we often refer to ourselves as team mobile.
Stone fruit changes very rapidly, especially in the early season, so fields that are getting close to harvest are scouted in the afternoon and a harvest plan for tomorrow is made. There are six 15 to 24 person harvest crews working with us all summer and we try to figure out where everyone is going tomorrow before they go home today.
It’s very common that a crew will start harvesting in one field, and then move to another. It’s also very common that an orchard will have more or less fruit than we thought, so Bill’s crew who gets done early will go help Al’s crew that got into heavier picking.
Since all the stone fruit comes from a 15 mile radius, ladders go on the trailer, everybody jumps in their car, and off we go to the next field where the farmer has harvest trailers in the field ready to go; takes 10 minutes plus the drive time.
If this all sounds hectic and intense and chaotic, you’d be right on the first two, but not the last. We work to be good stewards in the best interests of both farmers and harvesters and get the people where they’re needed.
And what amazing people! They regularly go from harvesting apricots to peaches, plums to nectarines like no big deal. But it is a big deal, because each fruit and field has its own character; kind of like your kids. And each field can take from 3 to 5 passes a few days apart to pick the perfect fruit at just the perfect time.
Pick or picking is an excellent word—really more descriptive than harvesting—because you are picking or choosing which fruit is ripe and leaving what isn’t; people on ladders making efficient split second decisions.
Your harvesters are typically paid by the pound, with quality incentives and earn about one and a half times the general wage in our area, but they work quite diligently. Like workers everywhere, they compare pay stubs with guys from other companies, and usually end up with bragging rights. In addition of course, we have the best benefits around. Visitors always comment on the cheerfulness of our team and that’s priceless.
So why explain all of this when stone fruit is just one component of your weekly adventure? Because whether its stonefruit or broccoli, it’s always all about the people; the people who grow it, and the people who eat it.