Farming is one of the most important professions
by Christina LiPuma
Nutrition Major, Class of 2016
As a college student from April to September I’m always bombarded with the same question: What are you up to this summer? I love seeing the expressions on people’s faces when I tell them I work on a farm. People have some pretty wild interpretations of the term ‘farmer’ so it always requires further explanation. I work at Stults Farm, a family-owned berry farm in Plainsboro N.J., a suburb of Princeton.
In this post I’ll go through what a typical day of work for me in June is.
It’s 5:50 a.m. when I roll into the dusty parking lot at the farm. Work doesn’t start till 6 but Mrs. Stults always says, ‘If you’re on time, you’re late, and if you’re five minutes early you’re on time.’ The other pickers arrive sleepy-eyed and bundled in sweatshirts. June is strawberry season, and picking strawberries is a family affair – all the Stults plus four to eight hired workers pick side by side.
We head out to the fields piled into three John Deer Gators – golf cart-like utility vehicles – with more than 20 flats, each containing 8 quart-sized containers that we pick directly into. Mrs. Stults gives us directions on where to pick and we begin. The berries at Stults truly aren’t mass-produced. I find berries of all shapes and sizes. As long as the berries are ripe and not rotting or covered in mud, I pick them. The girls sometimes chat about college and movies and boys as we move down the endless rows of berries, but mostly we work in silence, which is actually quite peaceful once you get good at picking.
After an hour or two the sun heats up the fields and we all pull off our sweatshirts. There are only two ways to pick strawberries: bent over, which kills your back, or squatting down, which kills your thighs – both ways kill your hamstrings. One interesting thing about working at Stults, though, is that there are no time standards, but we all understand that we are costing the farm money if we slack off, and we have too much pride in what we do to be the weakest link that day, so we all work hard.
After two to three hours of picking strawberries, we return to the barn to exchange the full flats for white buckets and cool off before heading out to the pea field. Bent over our row we rip pea pods off the fragile plants and throw them into the buckets until we reach our goal and can return to the barn. At this point we’re exhausted, sweaty and covered in mud, and Mrs. Stults usually calls it a day.
The same sort of pattern goes for the months to follow but with different produce. Raspberries ripen after strawberries, then blueberries, then blackberries, with green beans and tomatoes overlapping all of them. Occasionally we get assigned odd jobs like weeding or planting in the green house. I love the variety.
Actually, I love just about everything about my job. The people who work there make me smile every morning. As time goes on you get used to the stress berry-picking puts on your body and it’s really nice that you can immediately see your work paying off as the flats of berries you picked pile up in the barn. Every day is interesting, whether it be because you find enormous spiders the size of your hand or enormous blueberries on the row that almost never bears fruit. I love working on the farm and being close to the land. It takes a special type of person to run a farm. You have to be hard-working and honest but also a crop-savvy business person. In my opinion, farming is the most important profession because, as it has been pointed out by many, no farms equals no food and without a steady food supply, no other job could exist.