When I tell my kids that I had my first job at age 10, they look at me like I have two heads…my best friend, Angela, and I used to pick raspberries for a German couple in Rednersville, Ontario. Every other day in the summer (as long as it wasn’t raining), we would put on old long-sleeved shirts belonging to our fathers, old jeans, and running shoes. We would spray ourselves with insect repellant (paying special attention to our wrists and ankles), and off we would go to the berry patch. Mrs. W. would provide us with wooden quart baskets to collect the berries in, and show us where to start. We picked red, blue and even a rare type of yellow raspberry – it was extra sweet, but there were only a couple of bushes of those. Blues were my favourite…they were the size of our thumbs, tasted good, and filled up the baskets faster than the reds! On a good morning, I could pick 10 quarts, which earned me the princely sum of $1.50 (which seemed like a lot when my weekly allowance was 15 cents!).
The next summer, I cleaned up! They were paying 25 cents a quart to pick strawberries at a farm down the road, so I did that in June, and picked raspberries in July and August (my brother and I also started splitting a paper route that year, and I was babysitting too). At home, I loved to pick peas and green beans (my mom let us sell the beans at a stand by the road – we had lots).
I picked every summer/fall until I went to college. That summer, my brother got me a job on the market garden farm he worked at – I would work with Jeff and three other men (our boss, Nicky, his brother, Danny, and Jeff’s school friend, David). David used to come and pick me up on his dirt bike. I would climb on, put on my helmet, and hang on for dear life as he flew off down the road! I always arrived in one piece! When we got to Nicky’s house, we’d pile in his truck, and drive out to the fields (which were about a mile from his house). He grew tomatoes, green peppers, corn, and potatoes mostly. We would spend all day in the field – I learned how to “hold my water,” not wanting to go off and pee at the side of the field in front of four men! At lunch, Nicky would pull his cooler out of the truck – it was always packed with bread, cold cuts, and lime rickey (which was a great thirst quencher!). We would pick tomatoes right off the plants, wipe them on our pants (they weren’t organic), and slice them right on to our sandwiches! I still remember the way they tasted!
My brother had terrible hay fever…I can still hear him sneezing multiple times whenever we had to pick corn!
At the end of the day, we’d load up the truck with the crates of whatever we were picking that day, and it would be put in cold storage until Market Day. I wish I still had the muscles (and the tan) I built up that summer!
Sometimes, we’d get to go to the Kingston Farmer’s Market with Nicky – I loved chatting with the customers. One particular Saturday afternoon, Danny had gone off somewhere and not come back to the stall. Knowing his brother’s penchant for alcohol, Nicky figured he was off on a bender, and we left without him (50 miles away- I have no idea how Danny got home!). Nicky didn’t put up with any nonsense (he worked at the cement plant all night too – I don’t know when he slept!).
Today, I still love to pick anything going…I go every year to pick blackberries. I’m looking forward to harvesting from my own garden this summer!