Food Security: Prince Charles Calls for Furloughed Workers to Pick Berries; My Thoughts as a Former Tomato Picker

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

Prince Charles has turned his attention to food security:

The Washington Post) picked up the message:

Prince Charles this week implored workers furloughed by the pandemic to get out into the fields and “pick for Britain.”

“If we are to harvest British fruit and vegetables this year, we need an army of people to help,” said his ruddy-faced royal highness, wearing a tie and tweed sporting jacket, his hand jammed into the pocket of his wrinkled mackintosh, standing in his own well-tilled garden at Birkhall, his estate in Scotland.

“It will be hard graft,” the prince warned, “but is hugely important if we are to avoid the growing crops going to waste.”

The Prince of Wales hit the wartime trope, and called for reconvening the Land Army of World War II, where women and girls did agricultural work, as replacement labor after many men went abroad to war, to make sure those left behind had food to eat..

Most of Britain’s perishable produce is harvested by migrant workers, many  from Bulgaria and Rumania, and the COVID-19 pandemic has so far blocked their annual migration to Britain to pick crops. The National Farmers Union estimates there are about 70,000 seasonal farm jobs that need filling,  according to CNN.

Now, Prince Charles has been a figure of fun, a butt of jokes for my entire lifetime. I was delighted to see – but if truth be told, also a bit surprised – that many Brits seem poised to heed the call to action by their heir to the throne. Maybe the country hasn’t entirely abandoned its wartime spirit. In fact, the WaPo reported that “So many people answered the royal call that the “Pick for Britain” website crashed on Wednesday….”

Farm Work Is No Picnic

Alas, this is no laughing matter. And what those Brits who show up to do it will find, farm work is not only hard toil, but also requires  a fair amount of skill – as I learned back in the summer of 1976, while holding down my first real summer job, as a tomato picker at Mr. Guidi’s farm in Green Township, New Jersey. Before then, my only work experience was as a baby sitter. That job was a bit of a doddle – 50 cents an hour, plus all the snacks one could scarf from the client’s fridge or the cupboard. As the eldest of five children, with an age gap of eight years between the youngest and me,  none of my gigs was ever more stressful then a day in my life as  the big sister. In fact, going to a gig was relaxing, a holiday from the chaos of a normal evening at home.

My motivation for becoming a farm worker? Art. As keen amateur musician, I wanted to buy a clarinet – a Buffet- Crampon model, which cost a bit more than $400, to replace the plastic jobbie supplied by the Mobile Music Man. This was lots of money for one whose only  work was occasional, even weekly, 50 cents an hour babysitting gigs, which were my sole source of pocket money.  At that time, I was less than 16 years old, so could not qualify for the work permit necessary to flip burgers at McDonald’s, wait at Dunkin’ Donuts, or serve ice cream at Dairy Queen.

I’m sure my Mother thought she was placing herself at no financial risk when she promised to give me half of the money needed for a new clarinet , if I could earn the rest. But she made the offer, because she was (and is) a good Mom.

Farm labor was exempt from the minimum age requirement for a work permit. So one day, at the crack of dawn – a significant hardship  for me, as like most teenagers, I enjoyed sleeping in in the morning – I found myself hauling out my bicycle, and riding it the couple of miles to Guidi’s farm. There, I learned the ropes as  tomato picker. The rate: 50 cents per bushel basket.

I quickly leaned I wasn’t very good at picking tomatoes.

The work was back-breaking, even for a supple teenage body. It got hot as the sun rose in the sky. Sweat and exertion attracted pesky insects. And, worst of all, my hands got filthy – so dirty that vigorous soaping and scrubbing didn’t clean away the grime. The only thing that worked to wash tomato gore from my hands was to crush a ripe tomato, and use it to clean my hands.

Good tomato pickers could make $3 an hour, but I was lucky if I scored $1 in that time. At this rate, I wasn’t going to make my target in that summer. But I persevered, and eventually,the Guidi family noticed my diligence – and promoted me to sorter. For that, the wage was $2 an hour, one started a bit later – which gave pickers time to pick something to sort – and one worked in a large, breezy shed that was shielded from the sun. Good pickers didn’t want such a ‘promotion’ as they made more per hour picking. I earned  my share of the money required to buy my clarinet and my Mother made good on her part of the bargain – as I knew she would.

I imagine farm work has not got any easier and that picking some crops – berries, soft fruits, leafy vegetables – is even more difficult, requiring even more skill, than picking tomatoes.

Despite the enthusiastic response to the Prince’s call, I bet some if not many farmers aren’t all that happy at the suggestion that Britons should fill their farm jobs. And it’s not just because they will likely have to pay higher wages, and might not be able to treat Britons as harshly as foreigners. Farm work is a skill, and mere hardship alone even combined with enthusiasm, is far from ideal preparation.

As this former tomato picker can attest.

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85 comments

  1. a different chris

    >a Buffet- Crampon model,

    Oh jesus I have the exact same one, maybe bought at about the exact same time (mid 1970’s), and I can literally see it from where I’m sitting.

    I haven’t touched it for 40+ years except to move it around, decided in high school that sure I was decent at it (first chair, school with a decent music program) but would have to put in a lot more work to only have a small possibly to be great and finally realized that I didn’t even really like the sound of a clarinet all that much.

    Switched to being an electric bass player in the jazz band instead. Much happier, although nowadays I hear Bennie Goodman occasionally and sigh a bit… think I was wrong about the sound. Pretty sure I was however right about the unlikelihood of me being that kind of good…:D

    Reply
    1. Big River Bandido

      Benny Goodman? I could take it or leave it. But there’s no sound more beautiful to me than the filigree wrought by Jimmy Hamilton for the Duke Ellington orchestra.

      I love writing for the clarinet…it’s like 3 different instruments in one.

      Reply
  2. John Ste

    Similar story: Farmer Grants, 1963. First real job. Picking strawberries. Backbreaking hard work. Graduated to “guide” for housewives picking their own. Then the Braceros arrived in late June/early July. Few if any of the local teenagers could keep up.

    Reply
  3. Noel Nospamington

    As an example to others, it would be nice to see all physically capable members of the extended royal family follow Prince Charles advice and work those fields for long backbreaking hours during the entire season this year.

    After all there is nothing else the royal family does which is critical important. As one of the richest families in the world, even their occasional charity work can be replaced by their donations and the odd video showing their support.

    Until we see the royal family doing what he advices, he should simply shutup.

    Reply
    1. pricklyone

      “It will be hard graft,” the prince warned, “but is hugely important if we are to avoid the growing crops going to waste.”

      Maybe the profit will not be realized, but there is no reason for waste. If you were to just make the food free for the taking, the needy and greedy alike would likely beat a path to your fields.
      Same as when the “immigrant labor shortage” threatened. The food will be left to rot unless the owners get their profit, or are made whole by gov.
      Perhaps the whole crop would not be picked in time to avoid some loss, but we’ll never know one way or the other, as they will stubbornly avoid any answer which lowers their takings.
      We have “pick your own” berry/apple/peach businesses here, and they can charge people to pick berries, so free ones ( or severely discounted) would surely move.

      Reply
  4. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

    One of the happiest days of my life was when my high school music teacher took me into Manny’s in NYC, to try out clarinets and purchase one. The thing about that clarinet was it was a professional model, used by pro musicians. Clarinets are not at all like string instruments in that respect. I’m sure there are lots of them tucked away in cupboards.

    Reply
  5. sd

    As a teenager, I picked ‘drop apples’ which are apples that have fallen on the ground yet are still clean so they go off to become vinegar.

    Paid by the box, the apples had to be neatly sorted and stacked in the box in layers. An experienced picker could do about 6 to 8 boxes in the amount of time I could manage 2. Pay was instant and you could just show up at the farm and pick drops any time.

    As work goes, it’s was a decent job for a teenager with no real experience or developed skills.

    Reply
    1. Prairie Bear

      We had two big standard-size apple trees on the farm I grew up on — no idea of the variety, as they were already mature when we moved there. They were pretty productive and tasted good. We called the ones that fell on the ground “windfall” apples. They had to be picked up every other day or so because they would go bad quickly. The ones we ended up using in apple crisp, applesauce, etc. were mostly windfall apples, the still-good one or ones with just a small bad spot that could be cut out. I also enjoyed feeding them to cows.

      Reply
    2. Abi

      We had an apple tree in our back garden and it was many of my house chores, after which I was to make apple pie with them (after cutting out the bad spots) because no one would actually eat the apples. But this was like late 90s early 2000s. My most hated chore.

      Reply
    1. Oregoncharles

      IIRC, Prince Charles has long been an advocate for organic agriculture, and in a position to manage his own land that way. I think he gets some props on that point.

      He’s also been quite the crank on the subject of modern architecture (changing the subject), but I think I mostly agreed with him.

      Reply
      1. Amfortas the hippie

        Me, too….although i couldn’t summon the details from storage all that easily.
        I just kept the “more or less good elite” designation i had awarded him.
        I trust my judgement, so we’re good.
        If i can help a Klannsman change his tire, I also must acknowledge goodness in otherwise hyperprivileged useless people with enormous power and wealth.

        Reply
    2. Kirk Seidenbecker

      The board game Monopoly is forbidden by the Royal household. Funny that, because maybe it would teach the young ‘uns about why their relatives have so much unearned income to begin with. Can’t have the children not believing in the TANSTAAFL (there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch) fairy I guess. That might lead to believing in the WIGGI (who is going to get it?) monster. Monopoly was originally ‘The Landlord’s Game’.

      https://www.teenvogue.com/story/ms-monopoly-lizzie-magie-creator-landlords-game

      Reply
  6. Arizona Slim

    During World War II, my aunt worked on a farm. In her later years, she remembered that experience with pride.

    Me? I had a bit of trouble wrapping my kiddie-sized head around the notion that Aunt Jean drove a tractor. But I’m sure she did.

    Reply
    1. Oregoncharles

      I’m so old that I was startled the first time I saw a woman driving a tractor – at a landscape supply place I frequent. But of course, it doesn’t take any special strength or size, so why not?

      Reply
      1. petal

        The farmers I worked for wanted me to drive the enormous double-forked tractor to load the bins of apples onto the truck. If I remember correctly, it was a $250,000 tractor. I’m 5’4″ and at the time was maybe 115 lbs soaking wet. What was fun was driving one of those huge dodge rams through the orchard. I could barely see over the dashboard.

        Reply
          1. expose

            Not really.

            Kids were allowed to run farm machinery at one time; they could get a driving license at a much earlier age than urban kids. (I don’t know if this is still the case)

            Reply
  7. PlutoniumKun

    I can’t imagine having crews of newbies is likely to work very well. Picking is not just very hard work, its skilled work too, it takes time for someone to get up to speed. A few years ago I was staying with friends in the south of France and was persuaded to help out a local raspberry farmer bring in her crop for a few days. Apart from being very tough work in the heat I was very slow. I was extremely embarrassed by the tiny number of boxes I’d completed by the end of each day compared to the ‘real’ workers. I really wasn’t worth even the very nice lunch she made me, I certainly wouldn’t have been worth paying. In my teens I also did potato digging and hay bale stacking on relatives farms – both are extremely taxing for a city boy.

    Reply
    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      That’s part of what I learned – not everyone is cut out to be a top tomato picker, So I accepted that; certainly didn’t return for second summer, once I had hit my target. But I did go on to do other things.

      Reply
    2. Amfortas the hippie

      I do French Intensive…in raised beds lining the cart paths all along our long and skinny place.
      In an ordinary year, this means discriminating identification skills…that’s a tomato, that’s a beet, that’s the seedling of a radish, or basil, and on and on and on.
      This year, i had intended only a small garden….only 20 or so tomato plants and similar peppers.
      and doing cover cropping and sheet mulching and compost-in-place for the rest of the beds.
      so i planted the vetch heavily last fall, and allowed the millet, buckwheat and such to go to seed even before that.
      Then pandemic, and I planted everything I had All that soil building…out the window, but it was all already planted….I elected to weed as we go.
      But I forgot about the first paragraph,lol.
      So I doomed myself to Keyman-ism in the Garden.
      I know what everything is, and what needs to go.
      Youngest is catching up pretty quickly, eldest has been working, and making the best of being a Graduating Senior during Pandemic(they have T-shirts).
      I can’t allow just anyone to wander in and weed.

      and it’s not just knowledge and skill.
      It’s attitude and high-strungness:
      I think it’s a truism that folks who live in the city are more high strung than people who live in the country.
      I’ve seen it repeatedly.
      Especially my Brother.
      He’ll come up, and “help” with the chickens, or geese…and it’s chaos.
      animals can sense his city vibe and don’t like it, and don’t cooperate.
      attempting to cull goats to send to auction…same deal.
      I used my Black Sheep Status to say “hell with it, lets go fishing”…so i could try again another day alone,lol.
      even cutting firewood or shoveling manure, city folks attack the job…and quickly wear themselves out…while we pace ourselves, and endure.
      All that said, I think it’s probably a good idea…engenders the social cohesion i’ve been on about…but it’s also gonna be necessary, at least this year.
      Let people see where their food comes from and all….but this would have greater effect if it was what we’ve been calling the PMC who had to sojourn in the fields for a time. I doubt that this will be the case(as a group, more likely to telecommute).

      Reply
    3. Janie

      So many jobs that the elite label as “just manual labor” or classify as entry level require unacknowledged skills. I recall a couple of upper management guys saying at a crisis managers meeting that they’d pitch in on an entry level bottleneck. The department manager said, “oh no you won’t. Do you know this, or this or this? No? That’s what I thought. It would take me a month to clean up after you. ”

      He’d been fighting for a raise for his crew, and not long afterward he got it.

      Reply
    4. ChrisPacific

      I will disagree up to a point. I did seasonal work as an apple thinner for a while, and while some of the work does require skill/experience (grading) or involves working with machinery and/or hazardous materials (spraying, working with hydraulic lifters) a lot of it can be picked up relatively quickly or learned on the job. Pruning, repairing irrigation lines, attaching the little twist pheromone wires for moth control – there are a lot of jobs of that kind that can be done by people with not much more than a quick briefing and demo.

      It’s not perfect – thinning is usually pretty forgiving, but a couple of times we had to redo the work because we were working with a different kind of tree/apple and hadn’t adjusted our approach correctly. But there aren’t usually formal training courses or qualifications in these things – it’s still mostly learning on the job. Offer an orchardist a large number of fit, healthy but unskilled/untrained laborers and they are not going to throw up their hands and say “No training or experience, take them away!” That’s exactly the position they are often in at the start of the season, after all. No, they’ll take them on, pair them up with experienced staff if needed, and generally take steps to ensure they learn what they need to do the job. It can be hit or miss (there was a stoner on my team who accomplished basically nothing all season) but by and large it works about as well as it needs to.

      That said, it is definitely not for everyone – you are on your feet all day, out in the sun all day, and there are physical risks (we weren’t supposed to work on ladders in the rain, but it was an incredibly wet summer and we definitely pushed the boundaries on that rule at times). And there are certain jobs that you really need somebody skilled/experienced for, like operating expensive machinery. But most orchardists I know would certainly be able to find a use for additional unskilled laborers to learn on the job, up to a certain point.

      Reply
      1. Oregoncharles

        I’m pretty chicken on ladders, but I’ve still fallen off three times, IIRC. Knocked off by branches twice. Needed an infected knee drained once – no noticeable permanent damage. Come to think, I’ve had worse damage from falls on the ground – strained knee and shoulder joints.

        But then, I’m getting older.

        Reply
  8. Peter VE

    My first job at 13 was working on a commercial nursery. Most of my fellow workers were Puerto Ricans who came up for half the year, and a few local kids like me. I lasted about 4 weeks.

    Reply
  9. petal

    Count me in, too. I worked on a farm in HS, college, and after college when in between jobs. I grew and harvested carrots(I would ride/surf the cultivator drawn by the tractor-it needed a little extra weight so it would dig down far enough), cukes(ouch-prickles in hands for ages), tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, eggplant, beans, etc. Picking beans is hot work. I thinned and picked peaches(another awful job is thinning), picked pears; and brought in the apple harvest with the migrant workers. I was the only English speaker, and only female. The bins of apples would be loaded onto trucks and go to the Mott’s factory down the road. You have to learn how to pick fruit properly so you don’t damage the trees. I laugh my tail off and shake my head every Fall when I see my friends pay to go pick apples. The veg we took to market where I got to deal with yuppie suburbanites. A lot of people don’t appreciate just how hard farming is, nor do they care. Am I glad I did it? You bet. Builds character, and growing food is a great skill few have. My hands would be stained by dirt the whole season no matter how much I washed them. It’s just how it is. After the season was over, eventually they would turn back to normal. I’m proud of the work I did. I’m proud of my hands. I imagine most of the people that signed up for the British harvest program would drop out after 1-2 hours. But, maybe people will come to appreciate their food(and the process) a little more.

    Reply
    1. a different chris

      Oh god I have one (1) peach tree and only thin it every 5 years or so. The next four years are spent recovering from that… not to say it isn’t worth it, it is but just beyond me even contemplating most years.

      Reply
        1. a different chris

          Yep!

          Re-reading my quote, what I was trying to say is I decide “this year I am going to have peaches” and I do the thinning. Then it takes me 4 more years before I long so much for fresh peaches off the tree that I can talk myself into doing the spring work again!

          Pretty much all my peaches fail to come to, uh fruition* unless I thin. Just a bunch of hard but somehow also rotting lumps on the ground.

          *hey I think I just figured out the root of “fruition”!!! :)

          Reply
          1. petal

            Ha! Peach trees are the last fruit tree I’d ever plant-because thinning was so crappy. I think that was the the task I hated most.
            Fruition is a great word! Thanks for the laugh today.

            Reply
  10. Harry

    I tried it. Both in Venezuela and in the UK. My back couldn’t stand the constant bending over, and heat was crushing. Out like a light at 6.30pm as soon as I got to where I was staying.

    I also worked as a waiter dishwasher in a London cafe. That was hard too. 12 hours on your feet, and they went easy on me too. Definitely clerical work for me.

    Reply
  11. Rolf

    As a city boy, my first “real” job (apart from mowing summer lawns and shoveling snow in the winter) was loading tractor trailers for UPS while still a teenager, part time at night. Hard work, blisteringly hot in summer (trailers usually sat empty in the summer sun during the day), icy cold in winter. I ached so bad the first day I barely got out of bed in time for the next night’s shift. But the union scale pay was a fortune for a teen in the 70’s, $6.25/hour.

    Here’s a depressing fact: adjusted for inflation, that pay would amount to $39/hr in 2020. The current wage offered for the same position (as I’ve been out of work as a research scientist for over a year, I’ve been checking UPS’s openings): about $13/hr.

    I never realized how good I had it in the 70’s.

    Reply
    1. Felix_47

      Rolf, I’m a little older than you but we did strawberries and tomatoes in the summer in New Jersey. We were paid by the box. You could make 3 or 4 dollars per hour and that was in the 1960s. It was casual labor since the farmers did not need us to pick all the time but just for a month or so. High school kids and housewives used to do it. I would get a ride from a neighbor. In construction working for the Union a few years later I remember the base rate was 4.25 which was a fortune for me back then and that was at the lowest level of labor. Carpenters and masons made a lot more. I think the carpenters were making 7.50 per hour with benefits on top. And then in the late 60’s as a Union Teamster it was up to 4.75 and that included health insurance and retirement on top and that was entry level. So that is 30 dollars per hour with benefits to drive a truck. A few years later I got into Ford Mahwah and it was around 9 bucks an hour entry level and then they closed down and moved it to Mexico. I looked it up on Google and ten dollars then is worth about 70 dollars now. So the whining about Americans not willing to do farm work is BS. Americans don’t want to do farm work for BS wages. We need to pay a few bucks more for vegetables and figure out a way to get all those who can’t find a job out doing a job. It is an economic problem, not an educational or back problem. The agricultural industry figured out how to arbitrage third world labor. Now they can do it two ways….transfer the work to elsewhere or transfer the labor to the US if the production facility can’t be moved. I guess the national debt must be financing the project since much of the work we are doing today is hardly productive enough to justify outsourcing everything. The decline in wages in the US is the real scandal. It is a consequence of magnifying the proportion of the economy going to finance, law, defense and medical care so the GDP seems to go up but the real economy languishes. Can you imagine if everyone was working that wanted to and was paid a decent wage and I don’t mean BS jobs like shuffling mortgage paper. Oh but we outsourced our real economy to China.

      Reply
    2. pricklyone

      Yeah, UPS union (Teamsters) voted to split-scale. New hires at crap wage, and years to work up to where the old hands started. It’s everywhere. Worked for a time at Winchester ammo plant. Same deal.
      UPS in the 70’s was such a good place to work. Everyone who wasn’t going to college seemed to want to work there. I never could get on there.
      I started in 1977 at a full time factory job for the grand wage of $4.10/hour, including a shift differential for working straight midnite shift! (missouri)
      UPS had good benefits and a pension plan, back then. SIL just retired from there (loader).
      My neighbor retired as a driver 15-20 years back. Lives very well in retirement.

      Reply
      1. John Rose

        Very likely, UPS and union had to change when FedEx come on big time without a union. Another lost skirmish in the long war against union power.

        Reply
    3. Joe Well

      @Rolf, that is like the “Old Economy Steve” meme.

      But unlike, Old Economy Steve, you actually appreciate that you had it better in economic terms! (Of course, people older than you had it even better.) As a New Economy native, I thank you for your solidarity!

      Reply
      1. Hepativore

        I am still amazed that during the 1950’s, a person could get a job right out of high school at a factory or similar blue-collar job and buy a house, a car, support a couple of children, a stay-at-home spouse and have a comfortable middle-class lifestyle. Now buying a home might as well be a fantasy for many early millennials like myself and I am already resigned to the fact that I will be in near-poverty for the rest of my years. It is not a coincidence that the above was also during the time when union membership was at an all-time high and unions were very powerful in the political sphere.

        As for unions, they are now near-gone and many have been rendered near-toothless. I have never had a job that offered union membership, so I have no direct experience in this regard. As I used to work in the biotech industry for histology research, the STEM fields never had any sort of union presence, and I do not know why. Considering how many STEM workers are treated by the FIRE sector and the wanton abuses of labor under the H-1B visa program as well as the whole permatemp game that many of us are subjected to, I cannot think of a better reason to have unions available to engineers and researchers.

        Still, as I am 36, I can say that I have witnessed the birth of the new Gilded Age. We have income disparity in the US on par with that of the Victorian era in the UK.

        Reply
  12. k teh

    The crux of the economy is always the corporation, which must take possession of children to extract natural resources and print money accordingly, and parents who believe that children belong to God, to themselves relative to the corporation, and raise them accordingly.

    It is of no surprise SCOTUS ruled that children belong to the corporation, and bred a population to believe that it takes a community to raise a children, but that doesn’t make it so. If only government and capitalism were pure goes the pleading, when they are always married to produce fascism.

    When the country was wide open, fascist operation was neither here nor there to the parents, but as the noose of electronic money has been tightened globally parents have evacuated the system, depriving it of operational leverage. Either the children have the fortitude to escape or they do not.

    You do not want to be caught in a valley with a herd that has no food; that is what wars are made of. There is no escape for the Fed; it trapped itself with best practice. This will be the last cycle for the Fed in its current configuration. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    Reply
  13. Oregoncharles

    “As the eldest of five children, with an age gap of eight years between the youngest and me, none of my gigs was ever more stressful then a day in my life as the big sister.”
    Just a purely personal note: I was also the eldest of 5, though by only 2 years. However, I was such a space case/bookworm that I was never expected, or trusted, to take responsibility for my juniors. That was a privilege I was blissfully unaware of, till we were all adults.

    Reply
    1. furies

      Cuz youse a molly (vs femolly).

      Boys generally aren’t required to do domestic service…at least in my experience.

      Reply
      1. Oregoncharles

        My mother didn’t teach me to cook, either. Learned that out of books once I was in college. Not that I’m an inspired cook, just sort of adequate.

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  14. Annieb

    A person, young or old needs to be accustomed to that kind of physical labor in order to be productive . My young and fit daughter and a friend, after graduating college, worked in the vineyards of New Zealand alongside Indonesian immigrants for six weeks. She said at first it was such hard work that all they could do after work was lie down and eat. Their bodies were aching and exhausted. Not many would sign up for that unless it was that or go hungry.

    Maybe Prince Charles is broadly hinting that a portion of Britons may need to adopt a new vocation and now is the time!

    Reply
    1. Turing Test

      Enduring hardship requires mental as well as physical fortitude, and “fitness” as understood by most Westerners lacks the mental component. Most of us lead very soft lives – to the point where many of us actually pay for the privilege of exercising our bodies – and are therefore mentally unprepared for the demands of even moderately demanding physical labour that must be sustained for many hours a day.

      Of course human beings are very resilient and can develop such fortitude, but doing so is an unpleasant experience and a hard sell in a society in which people regard the right to be spared any unpleasant experience as sacrosanct.

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      1. Paul Harvey 0swald

        I’m reminded of a quote – perhaps misquote, since I can’t find it – from Less Than Zero: “You will be surprised at what you will do.”

        Reply
  15. Edward

    You would need to pick 400 bushels to earn $200.

    I once picked strawberries at a farm that would let outsiders do this for a fee and leave with what they picked, so other arrangements are possible. I saw a report one time about a farm in Tanzania that would provide accommodations for vacationing students in return for help picking crops. The classic movie about America’s miserable farm system is “Harvest of Shame”. “Grapes of Wrath” also touches on this subject.

    Reply
  16. Oregoncharles

    Although landscaping, which I’ve done for 40 years, is vaguely related to farm work, it is far more varied. My chief challenge was the heat in New Mexico – there was one yard that was particularly hot, where I made a special point of drinking a lot.

    However, for a number of years I worked in the winter pruning in a vineyard, here in Oregon. That’s a combination of high-speed puzzle solving with hard physical labor. If you aren’t careful, you blow out your shoulders or elbows. That was a hippie/student crew; lots of colorful characters, so it was fun as well as hard. The same manager now has a Mexican crew – he was very concerned about losing them during an immigration crackdown.

    Pruning trees and shearing hedges are part of my job, so the work wasn’t beyond me, but I certainly wouldn’t try it now – pruning my own grape vines is quite enough. And the manager I worked for quit doing it himself before I did.

    Reply
    1. Hana M

      I’ve done several seasons in landscape gardening but in Massachusetts. As you say it’s much more varied than crop-picking so you work different muscles with different jobs (pruning, mulching, planting out annuals, raking leaves, etc.) Here in New England we start the season in late March or early April when there is still snow on the ground and the soil is hard as iron. Spring is working in the rain as often as not (I vividly remember planting an herb garden in a soaking, driving downpour covered in mud–the boss had just told us to get on with it as the client was the ‘instant effect’ type. Summer is ticks, brown recluse spiders, poison ivy, heat and humidity–and thunder and lighting (the one hazard that drove us to shelter in our truck. Fall is glorious but oh, those leaves! Still despite the hazards and often backbreaking hard work its I absolutely loved it and would still be doing it if old age had not crept up on me.

      Reply
    2. Hana M

      I love your description of vineyard pruning as “high-speed puzzle solving with hard physical labor. Totally true. Pruning is still my favorite job and I’m particularly fond of restoration pruning, the aim of which is to turn a badly sheared muffin shrub into something resembling a real plant.

      Reply
      1. Oregoncharles

        Pruning is work in 4 dimensions – time, as well as space. And of course, plants have “minds” of their own; they don’t necessarily do as you hoped. Sort of like children.

        I’ve done restoration pruning on apple trees; wouldn’t want to take that on now. Downright dangerous, sometimes. But very exciting; it’s a special pleasure watching a tree you’ve restored develop.

        Reply
        1. Hana M

          Yes, you are so right! The most satisfying are longer term, patient clients who will let you work on restoring a tree or shrub over multiple seasons. I find it generally takes three years for the four dimensional work to reveal the new pattern of growth.

          Reply
  17. Susan the other

    This is a more revealing little editorial than it seems. I confess I do like Charles, he’s got lotsa integrity, imo. And so does farm work. No work is more essential than farm work. “Picking berries” sounds almost frivolous – that’s because we are brainwashed – just as Marilynne Robinson told us in the links. We should be doing Essential-Beneficial social analysis. Back to basics. Somebody please show “cost-benefit” analysis the door.

    Reply
    1. Susan the other

      and… I’d just point this out: America is only as strong as its essential workers – without them American feet are sand. Just in case the “investors” are interested.

      Reply
  18. LAS

    As a kid, I too, tried picking tomatoes in California’s Central Valley and lasted only 1 day. Thankfully there was a much better job available at the public library putting books back on the shelf. Worked my way through highschool at the public library. Much easier and more pleasant.

    I wonder how much picking Prince Charles will do himself.

    Reply
    1. Felix_47

      For 35 dollars per hour you might have done it. The first few days would be tough but then you would get used to it.

      Reply
  19. OceanBob

    Maybe I’m a bit cynical but I read this to say “Hi, I’m a rich aristocrat that’s never worked a day in my life and I need you to get out there and collect some fruits and berries for me to eat.” I’d be more inspired if he wasn’t wearing a bespoke suit.

    Reply
  20. KFritz

    Memo to Prince Charlie (and even more so) to Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick: lead by example.

    Reply
    1. Maritimer

      From Marie’s “Let them eat cake.” to Chuck’s “Let them pick tomatoes.”,
      not much has changed in 230 years.

      Reply
  21. A Nony Mouse

    The late comedian Ralphie May had an excellent, if politically incorrect and profanity laden, routine on picking fruits/vegetables and why “Mexicans” were the preferred people to pick the produce.

    I’d post a youtube link, but don’t want to risk violating this blog’s policies.

    Reply
    1. Paul Harvey 0swald

      I’m reminded of a quote – perhaps misquote, since I can’t find it – from Less Than Zero: “You will be surprised with what you will do.”

      Reply
  22. Big River Bandido

    I went through the typical Iowa rite of passage for postwar teens: corn detassling. Long, hot, dirty work. Blisters from the sun and scratches from the corn leaves. At night I’d close my eyes and still see rows of corn coming at me, at 6mph.

    But I made great money, for a teenager. Wouldn’t trade the experience of having done it for the world. Many farmers are very thoughtful people…you have a lot of time for reflection when your view for 14 hours/day is the southbound end of a northbound mule.

    Reply
  23. furies

    I actually love doing farm work.

    As long as I can set the pace.

    I worked alongside my grandparents in their raisin business…picking, flipping trays, pruning and also have done stints in packing houses.

    I ‘became’ an RN but nursing was horribly stressful, the admin awful and the various gigs (already happening in the 80s when I graduated) did not pay well reflecting my rural location. Milking patients for money was not what I trained to do but was a huuuuge part of my job and I HATED it. The pure amount of physical /mental output required per shift not sustainable for me…

    I’ve cleaned houses, done gardening, started a nursery business/fiber farm and one of the biggest regrets in my life is that I chose the wrong major trying to please my family.

    What I really wanted to do was to make things/grow things…:(

    Reply
  24. Wukchumni

    My dad was really into fruit trees, and we had 15-20 of them of all sorts, and i’d guess he would’ve planted 90 if he had the space for them, which we didn’t. When we sold mom’s house 5 years ago, the stone fruit (doesn’t last that long) was pretty much gone, but lots of citrus and 25 foot tall avocado trees.

    We were enlisted to help out, and now setting up drip lines is a piece of cake-nothing to it, but back then, you had to dig ditches and glue pvc pipe together, etc. It was a real chore. Picking the fruit was fun, as there wasn’t too much of it. My first business venture was selling apricots, plums & peaches to houses in the neighborhood when I was 6, i’d get 1 Cent for a little one and 2 Cents for bigger pieces of fruit. Must have pulled in somewhere south of a sawbuck for my efforts.

    I do all of the work in our orchard, and i’m not sure i’d want to do the same if it was for somebody else, thinning being a chore i’m not especially fond of, but somebody has to do it.

    The first of our summer fruit is ripe-Loquats, one of my childhood favorites, kind of the unofficial fruit tree of L.A., as they seemed to be everywhere, on account of the tree’s unusual ability to grow from seed. We’d eat em’ right by the tree and throw away the 3 to 5 seeds in each fruit, and next year there’d be little trees all over the place.

    Reply
  25. Prairie Bear

    I am old enough to remember watching news accounts of the Venceremos Brigade* (1969 and later) volunteers going to Cuba to help with the sugar harvest. Most of them had no idea what they were in for! The Cubans did harvest a very good sugar crop that year, but I doubt the US college kids contributed all that much, and may have even gotten in the way.

    As others have mentioned, farming is hard work! Corn de-tasseling was mentioned; another one was “walking beans.” Soybean fields planted following corn in crop rotation would have lots of “volunteer” corn seedlings spring up. Also other weeds. Once they got to a certain size, farmers would hire high school kids and/or send their own out, with long-handled hook knives to walk the spaces between soybean rows and cut them off. It was tedious, hard, hot work with NO SHADE. I never did it, because my dad didn’t grow soybeans in his rotations until much later, but I watched the neighbor kids across the road and heard about it from my friends. Dairying was a different kind of work, also hard, but I’m pretty sure it was better than walking beans.

    * I remembered the stories and I had heard the name of the movement, but it was in checking this just now to refresh myself on details that I realized they were the same thing.

    Reply
  26. drumlin woodchuckles

    If the British elites want furloughed Britishers to “pick for Britain”, then the British elites should be ready to “pay for pickers”. That means a nice-living wage, not just a minimum wage, for “pickers for Britain”. That means food picked by nice-living-wage British pickers will have to cost more to pay for the nice-living wage for British pickers. That would be the decent pay “privatax” on the price of picked food. Would British food-buyers be willing to pay that higher price?

    If they would, then they will have to legislate a total ban on the import of any food from lower-wage/ lower-conditions areas which could be grown and picked in Britain but only at that higher price. As long as Free Trade in food is allowed to exist, underpriced produce from underpaid pickers will be used as an economic-aggression/ farm-labor-discipline weapon to drive fair-pay domestic produce off the British market in favor of foul-pay underpriced food from overseas and from extremely underpaid semi-slave pickers in Britain itself.

    Abolish Free Trade and you can solve a lot of problems which Free Trade was invented to cause in the first place.

    Reply
  27. Wenshi

    Sounds like job ripe for automation. Oh wait all the engineers are busy at Uber screwing drivers over.

    Reply
  28. ddt

    Former citrus farmer here. Nothing like the feeling you get on a cold late autumn / early winter morning as you reach up to twist off a lemon, orange or tangerine, your fingers warming the frost off the fruit, and those freezing drops sliding down your arm all the way to your armpit. Work a laptop now. The wariness from a day of physical labor beats what I feel after a day plunking at a keyboard.
    And my current job doesn’t feel like “work” as I understand the word.

    Reply
  29. K teh

    The problem is growing for the big city, in competition with the third world.

    We ran tobacco, rotation and dairy for the local, rural population. Big family. Never needed to hire anyone. Once you have employees, you work for the government.

    If you have to pay more than $1000/acre for soil that’s had cows on it forever, or you don’t have the seed to match the environment, or you don’t own the equipment, it’s not farming.

    You basically want to break even and acquire land, from others who think farming is for dummies. Like everything else, it’s all about operational leverage, which means working and thinking.

    I quit when my wife’s family wanted to put a hockey rink in the middle of the tobacco patch, and sell land off to the city millionaires building castles down the road. Did it to themselves.

    Never make a decision based on what government does or does not do, and never value anything by what city people are willing to pay, with electronic money

    Reply
    1. pricklyone

      “Never make a decision based on what government does or does not do, and never value anything by what city people are willing to pay, with electronic money”

      Should we assume you paid for your land, and demanded to be paid for you crop, in gold ingots?

      Reply
  30. kwark

    Yeah, out of shape city folks (and their country cousins) aren’t likely to be much help or be interested in “helping” very long once they’ve started! Try picking strawberries for a few hours, much less a full day, (week, month) and you’ll discover muscle groups you never knew you had. Speaking from experience it’s back breaking labor and requires far more skill than most folks would expect.

    Reply
    1. Adam1

      LOL! Bot sure how it happened but I ended up marrying a city slicker and I have to shake my head as my kids are growing up as city slickers. My first job that wasn’t mowing the neighbors lawn was picking strawberries and when the strawberry season finished that year I stacked hay. Some of my best memories are working on farms, but it’s often very hard work. Great experience for any young teen – mind you don’t do anything stupid or careless as it often can be very dangerous work too.

      Reply
  31. jackiebass

    I personally wouldn’t pick commercially grown food. They use too many chemicals in the process of growing the crops. These are chemicals that are dangerous to humans. Exposure over time would make you susceptible to serious health problems. Most people won’t do farm work because it is hard work at low pay. They don’t realize the real threat is to their health from all of the toxic chemicals.
    I’ve grown a garden for decades. Picking is hard work. I don’t use pesticides or other dangerous chemicals so I don’t fear getting sick from working in the garden. The rewards from the vegetables are worth the work and expense.

    Reply
  32. Claudia

    being close to the food source means you probably won’t starve- but no guarantee that you’ll get your regular ration of fat/sugar/salt…

    Reply
  33. Fred

    I didn’t pick fruit but my friend Jimmy Grogan did. Jimmy and I would walk to school when we were in the fourth grade. We passed a grocery store. The store had it’s fruit and vegetables delivered in the back. There was a driveway that ran along side the store. After making a delivery the produce guy would drive along that driveway, stop and then enter the street turning right. The truck had to travel another twenty or so feet and stop again at a stop sign before entering the main road out of town. Jimmy and I often got to the store driveway as the produce truck was leaving. Jimmy would jump on board the truck when it stopped before making the right turn at the end of the driveway. After the truck turned and stopped again at the stop sign Jimmy would pick fruit and toss it to me behind the truck. Jimmy would then jump off and the truck would proceed out of town. Jimmy and I ate a lot of fruit in those days.

    Reply
  34. Basil Pesto

    they might be slightly more experienced than you might assume. young poms are ubiquitous in Australia, and one of the pre-conditions if they want to stay for a second year is they have to spend, iirc, 3 months doing farm labour.

    Reply
  35. Pension Guy

    I had a similar experience at age 16, but this was picking cucumbers on a huge farm near Iowa Park, Texas. The ad said you could earn $20-25 per day, which sounded pretty good, so a couple of friends and I got a parent to drive us in to Wichita Falls before sunrise, where we got on a bus to go to the fields. The real experts were migrant workers, who knew to go for the green cucumbers which could be turned into pickles or salad fixings. The gringos among us picked everything, including the overripe yellow cucumbers, which were only good for feeding pigs and for which the owners paid us nothing. It was brutal work, bending over the rows to pick the cucumbers from the prickly vines. We had to stop shortly after noon, when the temperature would be well over 100 F. I wound up making 16 1/2 cents per hour, and the experience gave me a lifelong appreciation for the hard life of migrant workers and farmers generally. Life Jerri-Lynn, I found a better way forward after that.

    Reply

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