Work on a small farm primarily consists of manual labor and is a grueling proposition. James Carville stated, “Next to Love, the greatest gift someone can give is their labor”. Never has such a statement hit closer to home then what we experienced during strawberry season.
We were close to getting into a major retailer, but we had to have our “Good Agricultural Practice,” GAP certificate. We did not get it in time so the berries destined for the store sent us hustling to find buyers. Before that, we had to harvest the strawberries. I was on Agrication last week and was picking strawberries everyday. I can tell you, first hand that harvesting strawberries six hours a day is back breaking work, eight to ten is down right unfair. Yet there are migrant workers that do just that.
By Tuesday evening, I was whining like a tired two year old. My wife being the sympathetic person she is, told me to suck it up and get back out there. Okay, maybe she did not say it like that, but I know what she meant. By the end of the day, my feet, ankles and lower back were killing me. Sleeping did not bring much relief, every time I moved some part of body reminded me of the days work. I would get up the next morning gingerly putting on my clothes and work my muscles loose.
Then unexpectedly we get a call from a local woman that home schools her kids. She wanted to know if she and her kids could volunteer to pick strawberries for us. She is big into the local movement and had seen other organic strawberry growers go under. She wanted to make sure to help in order to keep us afloat. Then the Carville statement came to my mind. Thanks, Kate, the intrinsic rewards we felt and gratitude was overwhelming.
I have said this before growing and raising food is a humbling experience I just did not know in how many ways it could happen. The mom and her four kinds came out on two separate days and helped pick over fifty pounds each time. It was incredible to meet her and talk to her kids. I cannot help myself I am a natural born teacher, so I took the opportunity to ask them questions. Like “What is a good bug versus a bad bug?” and others questions about nature. I have to show them the new layers that were on grass and the meat birds we are raising.
As the week progressed, it was not looking good for sales. We had about one hundred and twenty pounds in the refrigerator and my wife was contacting every restaurant in town and any other potential bulk buyers. Being a small farm, you are all things and when there are just three of you, things fall behind quickly. However, we managed to get them into the Orchard in Frederick City and sales increased on the farm.
Then a group of three adults and four kids came up to pick. They were repeat customers but I did not recognize them and I asked, “How did you find us,” of course the reply was “We were here last year,” so I made a joke about my mental capacity and took them out to the berries. They came back with fifty-six pounds of strawberries. We made a game out of weighing all the different baskets and flats with people guessing the weights before the total displayed. One family picked 6.66 pounds of strawberries, the display was facing away from me and when I heard them say that I quickly picked up one of their berries and ate. “Thanks," was their response. Strawberry season is over for us, but there is still work to do with them. They produce fruit for about three weeks, then you must renovate, weed, feed, keep them healthy, cover for winter, uncover in the spring. Then whine like a baby in June of the next year.
It is people like Kate and everyone else that came out to pick that give us hope, finding kindred spirits and people willing to help knowing you are trying to make a difference in an indifferent world and they see that an get to be part of that.
Buy Local: Find a grower by you and give it a try. Now is the best time.