WATSONVILLE, CA—Have you ever picked strawberries? I’m not talking about the U-Pick place near your house where you half-heartedly snap up a flat of berries with your friends or your kid’s school field trip.
I’m talking really picking berries, with accountability?
I stopped by one of California Giant’s BB #:121061 fields recently and tried for myself. Cindy Jewell, vice president of marketing, took my friend Heather and I out to a field to see first-hand, and showed us a few techniques before we tried our hand.
I even timed one of the pickers to see how long it took him. It was about 30 seconds on average for a 1-pound clamshell. The pickers zip through the rows, grabbing just the right berries – not too big, not too small, no white shoulders, no stems, no dirt. Then they perform what I can only describe as the world’s most delicate three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle to get the berries all faced and perfect in the clamshell.
Once they have a flat of berries, they take it to have their “card” punched to get credit for the piece work. Nowadays most growers are digital with the “punch cards,” which also are a component of berry traceability. A quality control person also does a quick check and then they’re off to the cooler to have the field heat removed and start the all-important cold chain.
Berry picking is no picnic, despite what the agritourism experience will tell you. It’s hard, but recent changes to California labor laws make it a pretty decent gig. Workers are guaranteed minimum wage, plus piece rate, the same access to benefits as other company employees, and an 8-hour workday, Jewell tells us.
But, as I learned, you have to have a back of steel, just the right flick of the wrist, a good judge of weight and great juggling skills.