We just finished up the 2015 strawberry season. Right in the middle of it a low pressure system squatted over our farm providing wet and humid weather. It was less than ideal for the fruit, we lost a lot to fruit rot at the time. Makes picking the berries harder as well. But it didn’t seem to dampen the spirits of the field crew significantly as they went out each day to deal with it. I could hear the chatter in the field punctuated by some periodic laughter. They goaded me to make coffee and donut runs. Made the loss of fruit somehow more bearable for me personally.
I have come to refer to the people who do the stoop labor in the fields—the planting, harvest,weeding and all that goes into the outdoor production of fruits and vegetables here- as the Edgewater Farm Dogs of War. It is not easy work and you have to be mindful and pay attention to what you are doing. And yet there are those who like the challenge of accomplishment and being in the elements. A high percentage of applicants for this type of job can wax eloquently about working outdoors, but usually are picturing in their minds warm sunny tan-developing days, not gloomy murky days filled with face gnats, blackflies and ticks lurking in the edge of the fields. Nor cold days in the fall where the fog doesn’t lift and show the warming sun until you are 4 hours into the workday. Or a job where the most popular attire is commercial duty fisherman’s raingear worn over shorts. There is no demographic that produces the more perfect farm employee. We have Roy and Bill, our Jamaican H2A workers that have been here for 14 years, but we have tried other H2A workers that we didn’t care to ask back the following year. We have George Cilley who is 84 this year who deals with light mowing and tractor work but is the best man on the farm for plowing and heavy tillage. And invariably the harvest crew is almost 50% male/female in ratio. The make up of the Dogs of War Crew here really runs the gamut.
When we hire we are looking for people who will fit into the returning team of employees. Are they personable and do they have previous experience in the outdoors? Will they step up to help their fellow workers? (If a young woman shows up having hiked the AT with a 30 pound backpack through muddy stretches with blackflies or put herself through college as a night janitor….that demonstrates to me a determination and grit that is essential to this lifestyle) . I often tell new employees that they have nothing to prove to me, but everything to prove to their fellow workers. These people may have very little in common in outside interests, but the job will bond them with mutual respect if they are willing to step up and haul a little extra weight now and again. Part of having a good field crew is when in the context of being tired and facing adverse weather conditions there is no undue drama generated. I have always answered the question “Was it a good summer for the farm?” When I answer “Yes, I always am thinking that there was no drama, everyone managed to get along really well, and at the end of the day were able to sit down and have a beer together and BS with one another before heading home at night. That’s a good year.
So the rush of strawberry season is over. The weeds grew everywhere during the harvest, we have transplanting backed up in the greenhouse, not enough hours in the day to work, not enough hours at night to sleep and the raspberry and blueberry rush is already in full swing. So when Mike and I got rained out yesterday when we were cultivating, I went uptown to get a haircut and some chickenfeed. The Dogs of War were in their rain-gear picking blueberries.