Am I really a farmer?
Updated: Mar 9
I was actually born in Idaho, to be exact I was born in the old Mercy Hospital. (The one that burned down located by St Paul's Church). I lived in Nampa until 1969 when we moved to Vancouver Washington. We lived in town in Nampa so when I left this "farming community" I did not have any farming experience to speak of. Ok so I was 10 years of age when we moved so I was still pretty young to actually have any experience.
Once we moved to Vancouver, I hated it for about a week. I got involved in school, met new friends, many that I am still friends with today and I moved on from Nampa Idaho. We moved to Vancouver in August, I attended school and summer finally arrive. It was the first summer I spent in Vancouver, and everyone was talking about working in the "Berry Fields? I had heard of "corn topping" when I lived in Idaho. A lot of Teenagers would get their spending money during corn topping season. Berry Picking was new and actually sounded kind of fun. The other reason to pick berries was the money! Anybody could work in the berry fields at the time, no minimum age requirements. This meant I would have my own money to spend on really cool clothes when me and my friends went on our shopping trip to downtown Portland. It was our chance to buy the clothes WE wanted, and not our mom's selection. For example, the red, white and blue stripped bell bottom jeans. Awesome. White hip hugger bell bottom pants with a paisley insert in the bell and a coordinating belt/sash. Stylish! The list would go on and we dreamed of our shopping trip daily as we would pick berries.
I asked my parents if I could pick berries with my friends. I explained the process, but I did need their permission to sign up. I could remember my dad telling me it was ok, however if I started the season I would have to finish. (Those words would come back to haunt me)
The last day of school finally arrived, the very next day we started working out in the fields! The alarm went off at 5:00 am - got dressed and off to the bus stop we walked. The rattle trap repurposed school bus pulled up, we piled in and off the fields we go. We filed out of the bus, picked up our little cart, empty flat and marched off to our rows. I can still remember the first time I stuck my hand in the strawberry bush in search of those ripe plump berries. OMG it was wet and cold and honestly not really fun. We worked all morning plucking the ripe fruit off the bush and tossing it into the flat. It took forever to fill that flat. If memory serves me correctly, I might have filled one flat on that first day.
The only highlight of the day was lunch. I think my mom thought that if I was going out and working each day, I should at least get a good lunch. When I say "good lunch" I am talking about food that we did NOT get on a regular basis. The first item that I thoroughly enjoyed was a can of soda. We would freeze the can of soda so it would be a slushy by lunch. It also served another purpose of keeping our sandwiches cold. We never got soda unless it was a very special occasion like a birthday or maybe the holidays. Getting that frozen soda daily was a real treat. The second item in the lunch was a little "tiny" bag of Cheetos or another type of chip. Again, we never got those at home unless it was a birthday or holiday. But the real highlight of the lunch was the Ding Dong or Twinkie! I do remember those being so good. Until I ate one years ago, and it tasted like shit. Waxy and tasteless. Did they change or did I grow up? I am pretty sure the first few days I "picked" berries I did not even make enough to pay for my delicious lunch.
I think we were into this for about 4 days, and I was growing tired of the whole process. I just wanted to stay home, sleep in and relax a day or so. My big plan, I would dress rather slow in the morning and send my friends on to the bus without me. I would catch up. Of course, I walked really slow, hid behind a house for a moment and arrived at the bus stop shortly after the bus had left. Oh, darn it, now I am going to have to miss a day of picking berries. Better be on my way home to catch a few Z's. As I rounded the corner, and my house was in view I noticed my father was still home. What? He always left for work before 6am to avoid the traffic over to Portland. I walk in the house - very upset I missed the bus and headed to my room. My father said, "wait I will take you to the field." Well shit, my plan was beginning to fall apart. I told my father, no problem I can just stay home for the day, but he would have nothing to do with that. So, I loaded up in his pickup and off to the field we went. It was not the ride that was painful, but it was the lecture that I was getting all the way to the field. My father told me that I made the choice to work, and his only stipulation was I finished what I started. He dropped me off at the field, I was about 500 rows away from my friends and was basically miserable. With nobody to talk to, and I was in "foreign" territory away from my people. (There was close to 1000 kids working) I decided to actually work. I think I ended up picking around 6 or 7 flats that day, a long way from the 1 to 2 flats I picked my first few days.
That day was a turning point for me. I decided if I was going to go out there I might as well work and make some money. I think I ended up with under $50 that first year but for 3 weeks work and $.40/flat not bad. The funny thing is I ended up working in the "fields" for the next 5 years or until I was 16 years old. I ended up being "top picker" twice having picked over 28 flats of berries in one day. I was promoted to field boss, working by the hour managing all those little berry pickers. I think I made $1.45/hour - I was in the money. My friends and I got on "the crew" which basically meant we worked all summer at picking zucchini, planting cabbage, weeding and you name it we did it. It ended up being a great first job and taught all of us how to work. We all ended up being very successful in our careers, and it all started in the fields. Best of all I did get those white hip hugger bell bottoms and red, white and blue striped jeans among countless other outfits over the years.
The question is, did this make me a farmer? No, it did not, I was a field worker who worked for the farmer. It would be over 30 years until I saw first-hand what being a farmer is all about. I am still not a farmer, but I have had the opportunity to see real farmers in action. It is truly one of the hardest jobs out there and takes a lot of brains, bronze and sheer hutzpah to be a good farmer!