Friday, August 11, 2006

My second job was cutting parsley on a muck farm

This is an incredibly daunting topic for me - it is so involved and was a very long period of my life. As I was bringing Nora to preschool this morning I was thinking about what I wanted to write about my experience on the muck farm. Do I want to educate the public about how parsley gets to your table? Do I want to educate you about the dangers of cutting parsley without protection? Do I want to focus on the people that I worked with? Do I want to focus on the hi-jinks that we did and the new territories I crossed at that young age? I'm still not sure - lets see where this takes us (get your coffee, folks, this could be a long one:)

During the summer before eighth grade I tagged along with my sister once again to a new job. Every morning at the wee hours of the day we each got on our scooters (hers was a Honda Spree, mine, you'll recall was a Razz) and drove 2 miles to T. Dykstra and Sons Produce. At that time there were probably 20-30 other high school kids that descended onto the parking lot at the same time - some on bikes, some in cars, some on mopeds. We came from different schools and different areas but we were united in one cause - bringing the freshest, greenest parsley to your plates every day.

Grabbing our yellow plastic pants (some of us even wrote our names on the pants because we wanted the same pair every day) we hopped on the back of a flatbed truck or a pickup truck and rode out to the parsley field. Once parked in the field, we would grab a bucket, a knife and several handfuls of rubber bands and head out to the bed. The most experienced bunchers would scout the best parsley bed and stake a claim on that one immediately. A parsley bed consists of 3 rows of parsley planted side by side approximately 3-4 inches apart. Each bed was about 2 feet from the other bed - about the space needed for a truck wheel to drive through. We would kneel on the bed, straddling the middle row of parsley, bend one row over, slice through the stems with the knife, shake the bunch to get out the yellow pieces, wrap the stems with a rubber band, and toss it behind us. After a while there would be a trail of parsley bunches that would lead us back to where we started. In the meantime, the foreman was making crates and bringing them to the starting point of each of our trails. When we met up with the person who was bunching in front of us (we faced each other and bunched toward each other) each person would go back and pack his/her bunches into the crate and write his/her number on it.

So that's the basic technical stuff - the how to of bunching parsley at T. Dykstra & Sons Produce.

Here are some other interesting tidbits:
*We were paid by the crate, not by the hour, so the faster you bunched, the more you made.
*Sometimes the foreman would come and bunch along with you - this increased your production and hence your pay. It also made the time go by faster since you had someone talking to you.
*The best parsley was the longest/tallest parsley because you had so much more stem to grab onto with your folding over hand - I know that probably doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but I can't describe it very well.
*After a field was cut, the parsley would grow back. We alternated fields throughout the summer, each bed would be cut 3 times during a summer.
*Toward the end of the summer the parsley was shorter and had more yellow leaves in it so production went down because shorter parsley is harder to cut (less stem space to grab) and more yellow = more shaking = longer for each bunch.
*The yellow leaves in the parsley caused a rash, called parsley rash (pretty original, eh?) for some people. Pretty much everyone wore rubber kitchen gloves that went up to their elbows. I never found gloves that fit me correctly -the finger tips kept getting in the way - so I never wore gloves. I never got parsley rash, but I cut my thumbs up pretty badly once a summer (I can show you my scars).

We would begin in the morning - bright and early (I'd guess around 7:30?) and take a break around 9:30/10ish and head back out until lunch. At lunch we would all go back to the barn and eat our lunches there. The girls would eat in one area and the boys in another. After lunch, the kids with the highest seniority would punch in (so they'd be paid hourly) and go into the washing barn to wash and pack the parsley for shipping. The pee-ons would have to go back out to the fields to bunch some more - usually until about 3 or 4pm. (Washing parsley was the coveted role because you got out of the sun and while washing you got wet and cooled off).

So that was our day in a nutshell for the summer and for a while after school began (yes we went after school and worked for a couple of hours). Shortly after school began we started pepper season, which was also very profitable, but not part of this story:)

What else do I want to tell you about this job?
*There were only 8 girls working with 20 guys.
*I was the youngest girl and one of the youngest kids.
*The cutest boy in school worked there. He was 2 years older than me and my best friend had the ultimate crush of all crushes on him - since I worked with him for so long, I could talk to him in the halls in high school - a freshman talking the the best looking junior in school - I think my best friend was a little jealous of that.
*One of our foremen treated me like a little sister and I viewed him as an older brother, although to this day Cara thinks I had a crush on him (I didn't)
*I worked there until my senior year - and by that time there were only 6 of us left and we weren't bunching parsley anymore.
*If there is a parsley tree on my plate and I take a sniff of it, 5 years of memories come flooding back to me. I often grab a bunch of parsley in the produce section of the grocery store and smell it for that reason.

Working in the muck was physically difficult - it was hot, full sun, walking in dirt, on your knees, carrying crates, working hard all day. It was exhausting, but enjoyable at times.

Question of the Day:
What was the most physically demanding work you've done? (paid or unpaid)

Getting to know me in 100 days - Day 4


Jen 11:04 PM  

Childbirth. . .

OK, for real, I did a Habitat house in college in SC and that was hard work. I installed windows and put on a roof. I was a retail gal so I really didn't go into the heavy manual labor thing.

Can't wait to read Kim's answer. Solitaire is not manual labor.

Mommy Brain 7:34 AM  

I worked in a garden center/flower shop all through high school and college. We had to wrap flowers in foil and make bows for mother's day, easter, christmas, weddings, etc. Bow making doesn't sound hard but after 300 your one finger gets pretty messed up from wrapping wire around it over and over again. We would work from 7am - 8pm right before big holidays...that was exhausting. I won't have a Lily or Pointsettia in my house to this day.

Amy 1:01 PM  

When I was a youth pastor, we did a big apple dumpling fund-raiser every year. We would make apple dumpling dough five hours or so on a Friday night and then assemble dumplings from around 7:00AM until early evening the following Saturday. It was always a crazy, busy weekend. We always turned over a good profit. Unfortunately the tradition does not continue--I think people got sick of the dumplings.

Carol 4:07 PM  

Being a mother of 3 active boys is the most physically demanding job I have ever done and ever will do.

My paid jobs: Preschool teaching...mentally exhausting; Waitressing...physically challenging, but probably my funnest job (besides being a mom)- I made good money and had a lot of fun - I would do it again in a heartbeat
Other unpaid jobs: General Contracting our house...for Dave physically exhausting - for me physically exhausting because I was packing up the other house and was 8 months pregnant and taking care of a 2 and 3 year old - but I would do it again and so would Dave, because it was challenging and fun - I liked working with the numbers of the waivers and contractor statements and payouts - Dave loved building this house for us - maybe I can talk him into the lot across from Christine's yet!

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