When I began this position, I did not have any formal fruit training. I learned as a child how to be careful with raspberries- watching out for moldy middles or protective daddy long-legs. Picking them gently so as not to ruin their perfect form and turn them into jam in my hands. Other than a few additional hints at a young age (mostly which things were sour and sure to turn my tummy), I was never expressly schooled in the art of fruit picking. As each new crop ripens for harvest, I find myself learning how to best treat each variety of prairie produce.
In our first month, I learned to be quick with a knife in the rows of rhubarb. Slicing off leafy tops in one swoop, carefully stacking the long, thin stalks together. Watching for crickets who loved nothing more than a warm home in the composting tops. In the strawberry patch, I quickly accepted that crawling along the straw between plants would give me my best yield. To watch for the thistles that seemed almost to reach out to my soft fingertips and palms. I learned how supple saskatoon bushes could be. Reaching up as high as I could to nab and pull down a branch heavy with berries. My fingers blackened with their juices. Cherries were a new challenge, how to get every last hanging ruby off the highest branches. The patience in pitting each small, juicy cherry so that pie could be made and enjoyed.
Now that we have begun our apple picking, I can’t help but see it as an art. By the end of the day yesterday I had four heaping boxes of apples, and an exhausted body. My shoulders ached from reaching. My hands were weary from plucking. My neck complained after hours of looking up. But my mind was satisfied after scanning, planning, and calculating the best picking route. I hadn’t expected the feeling of satisfaction at picking an entire tree and reaching for that last rosy apple. Seeing the relief in the branches as they returned to their normal height without their heavy load. Becoming comfortable with how to operate our two 17-foot articulating ladders along with actually climbing them has also been a bit of a breakthrough all on its own. My fear of heights will just have to make do.
While I might often find myself a little scratched, or bitten, or bruised- I’m also incredibly satisfied by the work that I get to do. It feels good to carry a heavy box of fruit into the soup kitchen and be welcomed with open arms. To tuck the ladders in the back of my truck at the end of a day of harvesting- everyone’s faces happy as we disperse with our portions of the pick. And to watch someone walking down the street, enjoying one of the apples that I picked after a visit to the food bank. It has become clear to me that any temporary discomfort I experience, is more than worth the comfort we’re bringing others. As I prepare to once more carry ladders down from my 3rd floor apartment, wincing as I run into every wall and door frame, I know it will be worth it.