My First Real Job

My first real job was as a berry picker in the Skagit Valley In Washington state. I started when I was 9 years old picking raspberries for a husband and wife that had a small farm that was just about a half-mile from our home. I was one of the few white kids in the field picking berries to make a little money for school clothes hanging out with my sister and having some fun.

But after the second half-assed day on the job, not picking my row thoroughly, Darrel the owner walked down my row before assigning another one to me and taught be a very important lesson. He spoke to me like an adult and explained how my low quality work impacted his life and the life of his family as well as took money out of the pockets of other adults working in the field along side of me to support their families. He told me I needed to decide if I wanted to be a quality worker and stay employed as a picker in his field or if I wanted to go home.

I decided I wanted to stay. I also believe I worked harder for him because he had treated me with respect, told me my options and let me choose. I worked in the fields for him for three more summers, each year getting better at the job and earning more. I would leave the strawberry fields of Sakuma Brothers as soon as the raspberries in Darrels fields were ready to pick.

A recent report on NPR about Anthropologist, Seth Holmes, who spend a year and a half working with migrant berry pickers had this to say about the work in his new book, Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies, Migrant Farmworkers in the United States.

Picking Berries At Speed, Duration Required Hurts The Body

Holmes says he often felt a lot of pain in his knees, hips and back while picking.

“It always seemed like whichever position felt the best, I was the slowest at picking, so I always felt like I had to pick in the most painful position, bent over with both knees as far as I could, in order to be as fast as I could,” Holmes said. “And at one point, I wrote in my journal, ‘This feels like pure torture.’”

It was very hard work, sore back, sore knees, sunburns, scratches from the needles on the bushes, I still have scars. My three summers of hard field work turned into 3 more seasons working in his small processing plant, standing on the line picking out the bad ones, dumping flats in to the clear freezing cold water to clean them for the line, preparing berries for jam by adding the exact right amount of sugar to the berries to get the ratio correct, packing the perfect berries for shipment overseas in special little boxes.

Every summer started with a stomach ache too, because the first day I would eat so many of the perfect, yummy berries that inevitably I ended up with a belly ache by the end of the day. But, oh it was so worth it. There is still nothing like a fresh Washington state strawberry or raspberry, no sugar needed.

My work paid for my school clothes each year, my first car (a used 1973 VW 412), school fees, band camp and any fun I had. Those summer jobs helped me in so many ways: it gave me a work ethic, helped me understand the economy of money and helped me appreciate people from other cultures. The migrant Mexican workers were the first foreigners I ever met and all of them that I worked beside over those six summers were kind, funny, hardworking and an inspiration to a young impressionable kid about taking care of your family, working hard and enjoying your life.

A summer job and responsibility should be on every kids resume before they graduate highschool.

Did you have a summer job as a kid? Do you expect your kids to work in the summer?