07 December 2011

Harvest Time

Twelve harvest seasons have come and gone and every time they hit me like a 2x4. Call me a slow learner, but somehow the harvest sneaks up on me at exactly the same time every year. No amount of list-making or desk rearranging can soften that moment of terror when D walks in and proclaims, “WE’RE PICKING!”

Growing up, all I knew about mandarin oranges is that they came in a can adorned by a woman in a kimono and tasted like the corn syrup they were swimming in. Imagine my surprise when I ate a fresh mandarin for the first time. I gulped down so many my stomach burned and my teeth tingled. Now they’re everywhere: hanging from trees, carted on trailers, stacked up in crates and packed in bags and boxes. But all that’s outside where the action is. My job is in the office, answering phone calls, responding to emails, taking mail orders and preparing hundreds of shipping labels. I gaze out the window every once in a while at the bustling workers and silently mouth, Hey look! I’m farming!

It’s weird having a crop that ripens in winter. While everyone else is busy with holiday gift shopping and party planning, we get lost in the demands of the harvest. We manage to set up a Christmas tree every year, but it’s plastic and stored in a box and permanently wired with lights. All we have to do is pop it open like an umbrella and plug it in. Voila, merry merry.

Fruit and summer just seem to go together. But here we are in early December, worrying that all our eggs in one basket could freeze overnight. And no one eats frozen eggs. Our only option is to turn on the sprinklers at night to protect the trees and hope for the best. We’ve had calls from well-meaning customers suggesting that we throw a bed sheet over each tree, or we light little fires under the trees and tend them through the night. Folks, there are 1500 trees out there. There aren’t enough sheets for sale in this small town, and it would be a recruiting nightmare to round up even a handful of people willing to risk hypothermia to huddle around a campfire in 30-degree weather. For minimum wage. And the bed sheets dangling over the campfires... I don’t even want to think about it.

It’s 6:30 a.m. Time to get to work.

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