I'm always fascinated by the people who go berry picking. The majority are immigrants from eastern Europe or Asia, with few locals interspersed, and so many languages are spoken all around you as you work. I have observed that pickers tend to fall into one of four categories:
- The yuppie couple from the city who bring their toddler into the fields for the "farm experience." They slather on the sunscreen and bug repellent and spend ten minutes singing Old McDonald Had a Farm, encouraging their child to pick berries into a purple wicker Easter basket (and the child will have none of it but insists loudly that it's time to go home). They finally leave with two cups of berries, feeling very content with their foray into being organic and close to the earth. They will go home, wash and eat the berries, and no doubt blog about their experience. (Ahem...) And then forget about picking fruit until next June, if then.
- The tourist who arrives by bus with a hundred others, one-pint white container in hand and a camera around their neck. They pick one berry, move ten feet down the row, pick another berry, pause for a selfie, walk ten feet and eat a berry, and then all gather excitedly back at the end of the row to take photos of their friends holding strawberries. I had a conversation with one of these yesterday. He wasn't sure what the "wood chip things" were that he was walking on. I explained that it was straw, and that's why they call these strawberries. The straw keeps the weeds down, the moisture up, and the mud from splashing the berries when it rains. He was quite interested. And took a picture.
- The flock of elderly women who arrive in a chattering group, cheerfully pick about seven quarts of berries, leave in a happy crowd, and go home to make jam for the church bazaar. These are women who have fond memories of working on farms as children, know the dying arts of home food preservation, and believe in the restorative value of a circle of friends. They're the ones who remember when the subdivision down the road was an apple orchard, know the farmer by name, can compare this year's crop with that of the last decade, and can probably drive the tractor themselves if given the chance. And they'd secretly love to have the chance.
- The serious pickers. These arrive grimly, with buckets and buckets. When they get to their allotted row, they don't look around or glance at the beauty around them or speak to anyone else. They put their heads down and methodically pick, like machines grooming the plants, gathering pound after pound of fruit. They haul it all back to their cars, juice stains on their hands and knees, leaving nothing behind but the most unripe berries. You get the sense they are stocking up their nuclear fallout shelter, or else taking these berries to sell in the marketplace.
My husband and I fall somewhere between the latter two groups. We take the work seriously, knowing time is short and waste is prohibited. We're aware of the plants' needs and not just our own, so we are careful to clean off all suitable berries and leave only the ones that are too early or too late. We hauled 48 pounds of fruit out of the field in about an hour, destined for the freezer. But my husband took time to joke with fellow pickers and tease the teenage daughter of the farmer that her destiny was fixed. I'm sure she really wanted to be a commercial pilot or a lawyer, but no, her family owns the acreage and the mantle will fall on her shoulders to carry it on. And such a magnificent acreage it is, too. I'm less chatty, and I didn't look up much, but that was more due to the fact that if I straightened upright, I'd likely throw my back out and not be able to bend again. I'm not quite as limber as I used to be.
All around a beautiful day. Beautiful food, my house smells of strawberries, and I'm surrounded by abundance. It doesn't get much better than that.