Most mornings this past week my alarm clock bleats at 5:50 am. I knock on Tristan's door, we eat breakfast, pack lunch, fill our water bottles and head to work. We gather in the farm house with our fellow field workers. Some of us pick peas for a dollar a pound. Some of us pick strawberries for the farmstand for an hourly wage. We start at 7 am and our mornings end at 11 am. The farm we work at has 200 acres, a 100 acres are under cultivation. They are not organic but strive to use as few pesticides as necessary.
It is hard work. When there is no picking to be done there is always hand weeding. Most of the time at work is spent bent over at the waist. It is the best position for getting the most speed as you work your row. The mornings are quiet, sometimes foggy, the dew soaks into your pants and shoes. There is a gas cannon in a field over from where I work that goes off periodically to scare the crows away from the corn sprouts. A couple of mornings this past week a tractor cutting hay adds to the soundtrack of the day. Overhead, I hear Canada Geese as one honks to its flock for a new leader for their flying queue. Two male gold finches swoop over the field competing for the affections of a plane jane girl. And the swallows, at times, display in their playful flight what fun we could be having if only our heads were not down to the ground.
By 9 am the the morning begins to get warm and I start drinking from my water bottle. My legs ache and my neck is stiff from looking down most of the morning. But I am picking up speed as each morning I tally the passage of time by the gallons of strawberries I pick. By 9:30 our field has been picked and we move to weeding.
There is a camaraderie among the workers. Most of them are young, in high school or college and work at the farm most summers. Conversations fade in and out as we meet and then move beyond each other in our rows. Being older I feel like I miss some of the social context of their topics but at times we meet on common ground. During those quiet times in the field when I find myself lost in the work my mind wanders. Sometimes I think about what is on my ever growing to-do list. I daydream about our new home. I keep inventory of new aches and pains as my body gets used to this work. I think about the true cost of food.
I am picking strawberries in Maine in June but you can buy strawberries in January from California....cheap. It is the cheap part that I am struggling with right now. Because the only way they stay cheap is because the field worker, probably an immigrant, is not getting paid a fair wage for the important work they do. The farmer, if the farmer is anything like the good people I work for, work LONG days. Food is cheap and does not reflect the true costs of its production. There is a lot of sweat that goes into the food leaving the field. Mostly by hand...
By 11 am we ride the farm vehicles back to the farmhouse. Faces are flushed and everyone looks tired. Our pants and shoes are caked in dried mud. Some of us will leave and others will have lunch before heading back to the fields for weeding in the afternoon. I do this work because we need the extra money it provides, it is flexible for our lives right now, it has an end. Yes it is hard work but I have found an even greater appreciation for the work that brings the food to my table.
I will close with a new song of grace we sing at our table.
Johnny Apple Seed
Oh the earth is good to me
And so I thank the earth
For giving me the things I need
The sun, the rain and the apple seed
The earth is good to me.