It is a wasted opportunity to do something pretty unpleasant and not find some kind of value in the meantime. Whether it is a new skill or increased knowledge, it makes the task worthwhile. It helps us to squeeze every drop out of this fruit we call life, after all it doesn’t stay ripe for too long.
I was reminded of this on my recent farm, the last farm I will be working on here in Ayr. Last year, a backpacker died right where we are currently picking fruit, possibly of heat stroke. This isn’t confirmed as the reason, they are still trying to find out what happened. Of course there are a few different stories relating to the event that have been passed on from backpacker to backpacker since then, however I won’t assume anything. If anyone wants to read a little more into this and the potential dangers that backpackers face whilst fruit picking in the tropical north, this can be read here in The Guardian’s article- Death in the sun: Australia’s 88-day law leaves backpackers exploited and exposed.
It gives a fair review of the work, as it isn’t all doom and gloom. I am glad to be finishing, but it will be one of the great experiences I will remember for a long time to come.
I asked my farmer, a nice man but clearly strict on his health and safety, about the plants we have been planting over the past couple days. We have finished picking pumpkins and watermelons, and now planting them to be ready later in the year. We spent six hours yesterday planting every couple feet or so (we measured the distance using our plant trays, the distance between each hole should be the length of the tray) and another three hours today planting a pollinator in the same rows every third plant. The pollinators are what attract the bees. As today was three hours, it doesn’t count as a day. Yesterday however counts towards my 88 days.
I mean, I may as well learn as I am going, I doubt I will do anything like this again so this is the time to make sure I’m gaining knowledge.
So, here are a few things I have learned whilst farming:
It’s bloody hard work.
I knew it would be, but it’s hard to actually understand until you are out there. Working full time in temperatures consistently in the twenties in winter and even higher in the summer really drains your energy!
Teamwork is key.
You see the ‘boom’ above? It is used to transport the fruit and vegetables up to the packers on the trailer. This requires everyone to focus when removing from the trailer once it is full of fruit. This is extremely heavy and a lack of concentration could have serious repercussions. It gets taken off and reconnected to the new tractor trailer, 10-15 times a day. Filling a trailer can take between 15-40 minutes depending on size. There are often at least 10 giants bins on a trailer to be filled, one trailer I worked on had 32.
Snakes are deadly, but attacks are rare.
It will be hard to answer the inevitable question ‘Is Australia dangerous?’ when I arrive back in England. It’s a yes and a no. I mean I have survived without a snake bite and so has every other person in the hostel. But if the wrong snake gets me, I could well be a gonner.
The most recent Australian death due to a snake bite occurred on the 19th of April, 2018, only an hour north of where I am in the city of Townsville. A 46 year old man sadly died due to the unprovoked incident involving an Eastern Brown Snake.
I’d say living in Oz is as dangerous as walking down a sidewalk. I haven’t had any close calls, but if that lorry loses control, the odds are massively against me. This doesn’t stop me from walking down the street, but it is wise to stay street- and snake- smart.
I have heard of deaths in this town, but this is due to dehydration and heat. Brown snakes have been spotted, but thankfully the killer animals don’t really want to interact with humans. If they can escape they will. So the lesson I learned here is don’t sneak around rural areas like you have just snuck into a creepy abandoned hospital. Be loud so the snakes slither away. The last thing you want to do to a killer animal is scare it.
Also, don’t worry about spider bites. I mean seek treatment, but don’t worry that you are about to see life flash before your eyes. The last person to die from a spider bite was a 22 year old male in 2016, the first fatality from a spider bite in almost 40 years. The introduction of anti venom has been fantastic in reducing deaths significantly in recent decades.
Hostel rules state that when going to work, a minimum of 5 litres of water must be taken. This is a must when working long hours in hot sunshine. 5 litres is no challenge on a farm, and I have learned to drink even if I don’t feel thirsty. Better safe than sorry.
Farmwork is big business.
I knew maintaining a farming business would be big bucks, but I didn’t really understand the figures until I started working on them. They go into the millions, and farmers here have pretty high standards of living. Seeing some of the homes of families on route to work and the boats they use to head to second homes shows that the hard work really can pay off. But could I personally live in a very quiet farming town with considerable wealth? I really don’t know about that.
Weather can really ruin a season, and this year was no exception.
I have been told that this is the worst winter Ayr has seen in years. I mean it has been hot enough for me and I have managed to get my days done, but it has been a struggle according to the farmers and hostel owners. It can be a big gamble being a farmer, as the work may get done to prepare for the season but that won’t stop a cyclone.
The fruit does some miles!
Once we finish a days fruit picking, the hundreds of bins of fruit get loaded onto a huge 18-wheeler and head for the big cities. Some domestic, some international. what seems baffling is that if the fruit is not bought or taken by the supermarkets for whatever reason, it may well end up in the local supermarket. So the fruit I pick up at Coles may be the one I picked earlier in the week. One supervisor once told me how his phone dropped into a bin and headed for Sydney. He didn’t know where it was until someone in Sydney picked up his call, telling him not to worry as the truck was heading straight back up to Ayr again!
Free/ fresh food tastes even better.
There isn’t much more satisfaction when eating than knowing your food is fresh, and even better, food you picked yourself. Our farmers are more than happy to let us take a pumpkin or watermelon home after a shift. I had made lovely pumpkin mash not too long ago, the first time I had tried it. Also, check the size of this eggplant…
I could go on all day about the little things I have learned in these five months, from the techniques to becoming a better picker to operating farming machinery. But I hope this was a nice little insight and as always, I’ll see you in the comments for any feedback and further questions.
Happy Friday everyone.