On The Farm

“Tick-tock, tick-tock, plink, plink, plink

28,000 in the bank

Work, work, work, work, work, work, play

Tick-tock, tick-tock, plink, plink, plink”

That was a jingle I invented one sunny Spring morning, crouched behind a corroded vat of chemicals, waiting for an irrigation cycle to finish. There were many such 5-10 minute idle periods that broke up the day. I’d use them to reflect on life, to imagine possible futures, to appreciate the moment, and to calculate my wage down to the second; 3 cents for every 5 seconds on the clock. Whenever the job got boring, or got hard, I’d pass that limerick through my mind. It became a mantra to refocus my ultimate goal; saving money.

Most backpackers in Australia submit to farm-work for exactly 88 days because that is the required duration to qualify for a second yearlong working visa. I spent 147 working days on the farm.

I wasn’t visa mining. For me, there’s too much world to explore and too little time to muck about one continent for two years. My stint in the agriculture business perpetuated so long because it was so damn lucrative. And because it was so damn enjoyable. My enthusiasm for farm-life blossomed out of an intrinsic love of the lifestyle.

There was the supreme simplicity of living. Boiled water in muesli, 125g fresh-picked blueberries, coffee & a cigarette for breakfast at sunrise. Moving about in the crisp, fresh air accomplishing tasks. Those cool mornings that blended perfectly into sunny days. Riding a tractor up and down endless rows of blossoming blueberry trees. Working outdoors under vast austral skies. Signing off, dirty and tired, after a long day. Eating a cheap pasta dinner. And sleeping right on site.

There was lady Nature, who was so exquisitely represented. Hares scurrying about at dusk. Clouds of golden honey bees filling the fields with their buzzing thrum. Birds of a hundred varieties calling out their songs. Snake and lizard tails poking out of tall grass. Unseen fish rippling a placid reservoir. Migrant pickers smoking cigarettes on a second story balcony.

The job was physical. It was mental. It was slow and easy, and it was chaotic and rough. Working it, I felt a flavor of pride unknown to me before. It came from straining and sweating, from inputting physical effort and mental focus for ten-hour days, to then stand before the product of my hard work at the end. That feeling fed my devotion, which caused me to perform better, which gave me even greater pride.

It felt blissful, euphoric, to such a unique and ineffable degree, to push, at twilight, that last 288kg cube of blueberries, with aching arms and tired legs and sweated brow and dirty clothes, into a freezer the size of a house, and set it in line with the 14 others harvested, packaged, loaded, transported and placed that day.

There was a moment there, each evening, alone in the cavernous pack-house, right before I heaved shut the massive freezer door for the night….

The days were often sweltering and I stood in a freezer. They were long, and I was finished. They were dirty, and a hot shower awaited me. I was hungry, and a warm meal was ready. An impressive display of 3000kg of blueberries sat before me, packaged into 140g punnets, 12 to a box, 144 boxes to a palate, wrapped in tape, labeled and aligned neatly into rows. Before working on a farm I would never have been able to even imagine such industrial production. And that every single day. I’d collected those boxes, loaded them, transported them, arranged them on palates, labeled and wrapped them, and palate-jacked them into place.

So on top of the relief, of heat and work and filth and hunger, was the supreme satisfaction of a job well done.

I was addicted.

I took to farm-work for its every facet. I loved working outdoors because Nature is sacred to me. I loved the hard work because it made me strong. I loved the problems because they made me resourceful. I loved the people; interesting characters from all over the world. I loved the operation; growing the delicious, super-food blueberries. I loved the tasks; driving machinery, watering crops, transporting product, managing pickers, and a multitude of miscellany that kept the job perpetually interesting.

In the beginning it was only a Sri Lankan supervisor and me on the farm. We’d haul 50kg bags of sulphate, phosphate and nitride fertilizer to a giant mixing vat. We’d slice them open with a rusty scythe spilling their chemical guts into the churning water. Then we’d use an old shovel like some farmer warlocks to stir the great brew.

Those first few weeks my duties pertained mostly to riding a small mower up and down the rows. I’d bounce along for hours with music pumping in my ears and a wide, wide smile plastered on my face.

My contentedness sprung from a deep appreciation for the organic machinations surrounding me. Among it all, I felt a part of it all. Every day during lunch I watched bees float between blossoms with sandwich crumbs on my lap. Every evening during dinner I watched the horizon climb up to swallow the sun.

I would boil a kettle to bathe. I would stretch on the grass to relax. I would open a book to pass some time. Then I would let crickets chirp me to sleep.

Then harvest began. Blueberries ripened and fell like drips of water from a slow flowing waterfall.

On the first day of the season, a handful of pickers packed 36 boxes. On the biggest day of the season, 200 pickers netted 3,000 boxes. I thrived on the steady progression between day one and peak season. More pickers to manage. More packaging to hand out. More produce to collect. More numbers to keep track of. More boxes to load. More trucks to unload. More names to remember. More challenges to meet in an ever-evolving and growing operation. And I met all of them.

With more pickers came fellow backpacker coworkers. With daily interactions with Malaysian pickers came a funny rapport. With the steady lifting of thousands of kilos of fruit came strength. With the precise recording of hundreds of boxes, and the accounting of which groups packed them, came a razor sharp arithmetic acuity. With the shared toiling of eleven and twelve hour days, came a friendship between three British backpackers and myself.

As life on the farm became harder, it became more satisfying. We harvested in sub-tropical rainstorms that cracked the sky with lightning and flooded the Earth. We harvested when heat would ripple the distance. We pulled trucks out of mud. We covered our asses when blueberries spilled. We fixed pipes with duct tape, and handled chemicals with recklessly little protection. We got it fucking done.

It was the best job I’ve ever held.

Thank you for reading.


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