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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Life in the Orchard

Here are the details of my life as a humble and tiresome fruitpicker in New Zealand.

During the day, we ride out to these vast orchards; miniature trees entwined together with wooden posts and arches giving stability and structure to these weedy little trees. It is much like a vineyard. Many of the rows rolling up and down the hilly countryside. Very picturesque. The orchards are a little over 6 feet high in the majority of spaces, and in some hang, disastrously lower. I write "disastrously" for a person anywhere 6 foot or over,like myself, has a lot of stooping to do. Not the most comfortable profession to be in if you are a bit tall. But height does have its advantages for I can reach fruit that somehow grow out of the reach of the shorter, more comfortable fruitpickers.

Then long aisles run off into the distance. Stepping inside these orchards, underneath the canopy of lush greenery, you have the solemn sense that you are in some ancient sylvan temple, what seems to be vines joining their leafs in holy prayer, forming a sort of immaculate ceiling for this low-hanging cathedral of green hues and wood. -Nature's cathedral. Here and there shafts of sunlight piercing through the leafy roof and illuminating in the sacred shade of the orchard. And there before your eyes hangs, like a grace hung upon a sunbeam, the kiwi fruit in abundance. Maybe there are as parishioners of the cathedral or as droplets of paint that if glanced from far away form some sort of masterpiece like the Sistine Chapel. But to us, they are there for the taking. Like Vikings pouring into the monasteries of Europe, sacking what we can, throwing down what we can't.

We throw on this bags, large baskets almost, that hand down in the front of the torso. And then it's one kiwi, two kiwi, three, four, etc. The basket gets full and heavy. These tractors drive into these columns hauling these large wooden bins. When our bags get full, its a stammering walk over to the bins and we release the kiwi fruit with these two cords that drop the fruit like a magicians magic hatch into the bins. And then its back to the picking again, arms flinging wildly as the fruit collects inside. Over and over again, all day long this process. Til you get quite used to it.


Kiwi fruit is divided up into two categories. There are the common green Kiwis with fur on the peel which are exported all over the world. (Up into this very moment I thought these were the only types of kiwifruit in the world.) And then there is the gold kiwi fruit. With a smooth peel and a lush, gold middle that makes the taste all the more sweeter.

And because there are two different types of kiwis, there are two different methods of picking. Both of which I've gotten used to. When I first arrived here, we were all picking gold kiwi fruit. These fruit are especially sensitive so there is much care taken into picking them. Bruises form very easily so a slow, attentive method is used. On gold kiwis we were mostly paid an hourly wage. So bulk and speed were of no concern. So picking gold was very idyllic and pastoral. It's probably the good side of what you'd expect picking fruit in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Imagine strolling serenely through an orchard, the sunlight beaming upon the leaves and the fruit and then rolling off into the hills, all the while you can take the time to enjoy yourself being outside. Maybe you will talk to the person next to you, or maybe you will, as I tended to do, let a song roll out your mouth into the orchard rows yonder on. And every now and then finding a ripe fruit that you can stop to sink your mouth into, the sweet juices quenching any thirst. Such is the simple life of a gold kiwi fruit picker. Ideal and picturesque, like a postcard of the 5 senses.

But then there's the green kiwi fruit. And with these bad boys, you can be a bit more brutal with them. You are paid by contract, that is, the amount that you can collect, the number of bins that you and everyone else in your group can fill. So rush, hurry, and speed are the catchwords. No stopping to taste anything, no singing any songs unless its a fast upbeat song, only the rapid grappling and breaking off of stalks from the branches and the "sift, sift" of the kiwis falling into your bag. Your bag gets weightier in seconds. Back and forth you carve pathways between you and the tractor with the bins.

Sometimes we divide up into teams and a fierce competition takes place. Everyone trying to go at the highest rate of speed possible. And woe unto the slow person, for this person will be the target of all types of sneers and anger, for one person going slow effects the pay of the entire group. So one's arms goes sore from the constant reaching up into the branches and one's back goes sore from the weight of the bag strapped on loaded full with all the kiwis and one's feet goes sore from standing up all day long.

But it's a strangely neat feeling during lunch break when we picnic or at the end of the day. You feel like you've done something wholly productive and almost righteous. And from your strain and your toil you know that you take part in that brilliant ceremony of kiwi-eating that takes place ever so often in various places around the world. Actually, I don't think about it too much. I only go is fast as I can. Occassionally talking with the person next to me and occassionally indulging in a little song. Country, Old Church Hymnals, Rock, I sing it all. And I've only been reprimanded once for it. Our supervisor was in a foul mood and I was belting out a little Roy Orbison a bit too loud for him. "Can you keep it to yourself", he says and then walks away.

So that is the the whole of my job basically. But it is soon to end for the harvest season here in New Zealand is almost over. I will leave this Bay of Plenty and head to who knows where.

2 Comments:

Blogger ПАПА said...

Thanks for the incite into the art of kiwi harvesting. I would have never known if you had not shared. Remind me to never enter a Kiwi-picking contest with you. I figured that was going to be very tiring labor. You make me desirious of a plump, juicy, golden Kiwi right now! To think that Brian may have picked this one! Will wonders ever cease! Im dying to know what a kiwi picker makes by the hour or by the load, of course this is personal information that you may not wish to share in this public venue. Im also wondering how may Kiwi's one would have to pick to buy a gallon of gasoline in NZ?

6:59 PM  
Anonymous the author said...

I don't know the answer to that last question.
But as far pay...per hour, with the gold kiwi fruit, I received about $12.50 per hour.
And then with the contract...it was factors out to be a few dollars more an hour, sometimes on a good day alot more than hourly pay.

10:12 PM  

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