Growing up in a rural area provided at least one unique teenage job opportunity as opposed to a summer jobs in the city. For my little town it was strawberry picking.
One summer my goal was to earn enough to buy a new Raleigh 10-speed bike. Back then 10-speed bikes were all the rage. I wanted one so bad I even bought and put together a model 10-speed bike so I could at least have a little one until I could afford to buy a real one.
My friend Julie and her younger sister received new bikes recently and I was keen to have my own. Julie’s new bike was a classic girl’s bike and was stable enough for her to be able to ride it with no hands. It was quite a sight to see her riding on the country roads with her arms crossed pedaling away. Her sister’s bike was a 10-speed and that was what I coveted.
This particular summer I signed up to be a strawberry picker with my two older sisters. We had to get up at 6:00am in order to arrive at the fields at 7:00am sharp. Getting to and from the fields was a half hour walk for us, each way. It made for a very long tiring day.
You may not know this but strawberry picking is very hard, back breaking, work. You spend the entire day on your hands and knees pushing a big tray holding 12 pint size containers that your job was to fill up. You couldn’t always see the berries and you had to send your hand in the leafy plants blind. This meant more times than not your hand would encounter families of big and small slimy slugs. Oftentimes the rows were wet mud or had standing water in them and you just had to plow right through the mud and water. At the end of the day your clothes, especially your jeans were coated with mud.
Luck was having a row of big fat strawberries as these filled up the individual
containers the fastest. Otherwise it took twice as long to fill up the trays with small or medium sized berries. We were paid the princely sum of 75 cents per tray so the more trays you finished the more you earned.
Some kids tried to cheat by putting rotten or bad strawberries on the bottom of the containers but more often or not they were caught and sent back to the field with their tail between their legs. I have to admit I tried it once or twice but I cleverly only put 1 or 2 in a container so it was harder to find. But I felt too guilty and nervous about doing it so I just ended up playing by the rules. Fortunately I didn’t like berries of any kind so I didn’t eat away my profits either, like some kids did.
The lady who checked our trays always brought a radio and played it loud for all to enjoy. It always caused a stir when the song “Strawberry Fields” by the Beatles came on the radio. It was like a special song just for us.
That summer I earned a grand total of $67.50. That works out to filling 90 trays or 1080 individual pint size containers at .0625 ea.
It was a lot of money for a teenager back then but not enough to buy the made in USA, Raleigh 10-speed bike I wanted. I had to settle for a cheaper brand I never heard of which was made in China.
This was in the mid 70’s, little did I know how pervasive made in China was going to become and that many years later I would be sent to China by my employer. But that is another story…
So next time you eat a beautiful juicy strawberry consider giving a special silent thanks to all those hard working strawberry pickers out there.