A growing affliction is coming over me. I have to confess I’m a harvestaholic and I’m not sure what to do about it. No sooner than my own produce was squirreled away this autumn, I found myself up to my armpits helping other folks harvest their crops. With no expectation of payment or reward. What madness was this?
Most of my friends think I’ve lost the plot. I’ve invited some of them to go merrily a harvesting with me. That met with a resounding no. They just don’t know what they’re missing. Why does harvesting stuff flick my switch? For me, there is something deeply satisfying about the act of gathering food, especially when you haven’t had to weed, water and protect it throughout the growing season. All the gratification, none of the graft.
But it’s more than the gathering instinct that draws me to harvests like a spud to a sack. I like helping people and small scale growers are straightforward, likable people, who have battled the elements to get to harvest and are deserving of a hand. They’re growers working on an artisan/boutique/ lifestyle/uneconomic scale, (pick one depending on the level of rose tint in your glasses), and they can’t afford to hire help at harvest. If you volunteer they invariably reciprocate your kindness. Growers know that a harvest army works best on a quality morning tea.
But that’s not why I go. I like working in a team to achieve a tangible result. A result that for any one of us would be insurmountable, but together we make light work of it and have a good natter. I always think of this when I help with the willow harvest in Golden Bay each winter. Peter, the willow grower and basket weaver, stands in front of a football field of thousands of 2m high willow canes that need cutting off at ground level. Can you even imagine starting that job on your own? But in a little under 4 hours, including a stellar afternoon tea, an invited group of helpers raise the willow to the ground, sort, bundle and haul it to the trailer. It’s like watching an army of termites demolish an entire tree.
As I wandered from harvest to harvest this autumn, I got to thinking that all this bonhomie represented an opportunity. Those who had things to pick needed hands to pick them and those with hands would surely part with good money for a slice of this convivial harvest experience. And so over the olives, limes and willow, I sounded harvesters out on the idea of a Harvest Holidays company. Let me be clear, we’re not talking about mud up to your armpits, work in all weather type of harvesting. Cabbage picking for example wouldn’t be high on my list.
But stick with the sexy, tourist worthy crops, (olives, grapes, lavender, limes, saffron etc.), and organise the helpers so they only expended a few hours on a sunny day, with good catering, and it would be a bit like the WWOOF’ers scheme, (willing workers on organic farms). I’d call it WHALE’ers, (well heeled aspiring lifestylers). I could be like Peta Methias, (without the beads), guiding people through the rural harvest landscape. But prospective WHALE’ers would need to complete a pre-screening test to ensure only useful people attended. I’m thinking something like:
- How many kilos does a weck-pack crate hold?
- Can you work without coffee for more than 1 hour?
- What is more interesting a. cooking with chia seeds or b. anything else
I really thought I was onto something, but canvassing opinion among my fellow harvesters they weren’t at all convinced. Pay money to pick our crops? You’re dreaming. But then when you look at something day in day out, you lose the sense of beauty in your surroundings that outside eyes see. What to you is a huge load of mowing, weeding, watering and work is a rural idyll to fresh eyes.
As I watched the chooks scratching around under the olive trees, the little kids trying to cart cut willow to the sorting barrels, the calves chewing on handfuls of lemon grass, I could see the dream, not the slog. So I say let’s connect WHALE’ers with growers and everyone will be happy. I’ll facilitate and help eat the morning tea. Come on who’s up for it?