Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Strawberry Fields Forever!

by Pa Rock
Navigator of Nostalgia

There was an article in the Los Angeles Times today regarding a truck spilling its cargo on a busy California roadway.  The cargo wasn't toxic, but it did create what the local television station in the Roseville area called "quite a mess."   The truck dumped 43,000 pounds of strawberry puree near the intersection of Interstates 65 and 80, not too far north of Sacremento.   Most of the product was in large plastic containers, but it was beginning to melt by the time the clean-up got underway.

I'll wager that the smell was wonderful!

All of that put me in mind of my short term as a farm laborer picking strawberries on a massive strawberry farm. It would have probably been the early summer of 1958 just after school let out.  My aunt, Christine Dobbs, took me and her oldest son, Bobby, down to the Haymes Strawberry Farm just south of Goodman, Missouri, where we picked berries for a couple of weeks.  I think I lasted two weeks, and Christine dragged Bobby back for a third.

If I have the year right, I would have been ten and my cousin was nine.

The strawberry fields meandered up and down hard Ozark hillsides and seemed to go on forever.  There was a berry shed where we would pick up a large wooden tray that had low sides and held six or eight berry cartons.  We had to fill all of the cartons and then heap a pile of berries on top of them so that what we turned in at the shed was essentially a big mound of strawberries carefully covering all of the cartons beneath that were also full of strawberries.  When a person turned in their full trays and they met with the bosses' approval, the pickers were rewarded with tickets that could be turned in for cash at the end of the week.

Some people elected to work for the berries themselves instead of cash.  I believe that is how Christine took her wages.

To this day, picking strawberries is some of the hardest work that I have ever tackled.   The work was back-breaking because it could only be accomplished through bending and stooping.  If a person sat, they were constantly having to move to  keep up with the berries, and they wound up making far less money than someone who was mobile.  The sun was brutal and constant, and there were always reports of snakes.  I remember finding a box turtle one day who was dining on the plump red berries.

So today when I heard about the strawberry spill in California, one of my first thoughts was about the amount of labor that went into picking enough berries to make 43,000 pounds of puree.  Would the owners be able to salvage some or most of the product?  Would my labor from all of those summers ago have filled even one of those large buckets?

The incident in California, combined with my own personal memories of being a strawberry picker, has left me feeling even more respectful of the people who follow the harvests to scratch out a meager living and put food on our tables.

Si se puede, mis amigos!  You have my respect and gratitude!

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