Reflections and Advice from a Newly Seasoned Strawberry Picker
1. Your back will hurt, particularly if you’re picking for 2 or 3 hours at a time.
2. Wear different tank tops each day to insure more even tan lines. I’ve had a racer-back tank on during the warm mornings and boy, oh boy you can tell from miles away.
3. As ridiculous and hot and uncomfortable as the plastic rain/field overalls are, they keep you dry when the fields are damp with dew or the clouds are pouring rain.
4. Try not to drink very much water or coffee before picking. You’ll waste a lot of time taking potty breaks. (Surprisingly enough to those who know me too well–I haven’t had to take a bathroom break yet. :D)
5. Baseball caps (old, ratty ones if possible) are very useful, especially on rainy days.
6. Did I mention you pick in the rain? It can be utterly miserable, particularly when it’s chilly out. Mentally prepare yourself for this.
7. If it’s rainy or wet in the fields, I recommend wearing rain boots or work boots of some kind. I had an old pair of snow boots (that didn’t look very much like snow boots) that I used on those wet days, after learning the hard way–tennis shoes get soaked through. And wet feet result in misery.
8. I picked on my knees and quickly learned to use both hands to pick. Some people sat on their rear ends and scooted down the rows, but I found that was a little too comfortable and way too unproductive of a posture for me.
9. After the first few days, my core muscles started getting extremely worked and toned–thanks to my kneeling picking posture and leaning over the rows while holding myself up with only my abs, because I was using both hands to pick. This is a real bonus of the job.
10. I used to hate sitting on my knees for any reason. I’ve learned to appreciate this position.
11. It’s beautifully peaceful at 7am when the pickers are still in a quiet state of mind. The silence combined with the repetative picking motion is surprisingly soothing.
12. The fields are a perfect opportunity for prayer.
13. Many people listened to their iPods while picking and others were chatty Cathys. I was somewhere in between. I enjoyed getting to know knew people and sharing great conversations. But I also saw my productivity decrease when I got too talkative, so I tried to keep that in check.
14. If you’re going to be a “professional” picker, you might as well do your best to pick as many berries as you can, right? One girl would literally fall asleep in her row and manage to pick maybe one or two pots of berries (3.5 quarts per pot) all morning. (Most people pick between 9-15 a day–31-52 quarts.) That is a waste of precious time in my mind. You don’t have to be the fastest, but for Pete’s sake give it your all.
15. Speaking of picking speeds, if you’re at all competitive (*ahem* which I definitely am), use that to your advantage. But make sure that you use the total number of pots picked by fellow pickers as well as the rate at which they move down the row to encourage you to do better without becoming sloppy. Don’t be afraid to take longer to get down a row. You might be a more thorough picker, resulting in more berries for you and a happier boss.
16. I am generally fast in everything I do. I value speed and getting jobs done quickly. This sounds well and good, but it can be a detriment in certain tasks (such as vacuuming, right, Mom E? ;)) When it comes to becoming a strawberry picker, though, speed is a great quality–assuming you can quickly pick the RIGHT berries.
17. The Right Berries–have their tops in tact, are completely red (NO WHITE!), don’t have wholes or bruises or little itty bitty slugs on them.
18. Be extremely excited and totally thankful when your boss tells you that pickers are allowed to take home as many quarts as they want (after deducting those from their daily tally.) WOOHOO, strawberries!
19. Enjoy the quality picking while it lasts–the season is over in just a few short weeks!
20. Learn to make jam (and ice cream and shortcakes!). I tried my hand at the cooked/canned jam this year and I think it turned out wonderfully!