Picking Cherries – 1

It’s cherry harvesting time in the northern and western states, and the produce departments of our supermarkets are featuring several varieties at terrific prices.  For the past few weeks I have been feasting on sweet Bings and Raniers.  I have also been remembering the long ago summer I picked cherries.

When I was in high school I spent a few weeks of my summer vacation each year with my sister, brother-in-law and their two young daughters.  They rented a small cottage in a  tiny village by Lake Ontario about 15 miles east of Rochester, New York.  The lake was their back yard. My brother-in-law was a music teacher and band director at a high school whose students came from nearby farms and several small towns in the area.

One summer my brother-in-law decided to earn some money picking cherries at a large farm nearby run by the parents of one of his students.  He asked me if I wanted to join him.  The farmer paid 3 cents a pound in a lump sum at the end of the harvest when he got paid for his crop – about two weeks if I remember correctly.  I had visions of making a tidy little sum – after all it doesn’t take too many cherries to make a pound!  I eagerly agreed to participate.

We would arise before dawn, grab a quick breakfast and head off to the farm.  En route we picked up two elderly ladies – well, at least to me, a teenager, they were elderly – probably late 50’s or early 60’s!  They would pick until lunch break and then get a ride home from someone else.

It was a huge farm, with cherry, apple and peach orchards, as well as vegetables.  In addition to we four, the work crew consisted of the farmer’s large family and several families of black migrant workers from the deep South.  The migrants stayed in wood cabins provided by the farm.  These particular migrants had been stopping at that farm for the entire harvesting season – not just for cherries – for quite a few years.  The cabins were small but clean and in good repair.  This was not necessarily the case at many other area farms.  The deplorable living conditions and treatment of migrants was a common subject of newspaper and television news exposés.

– – to be continued in next post

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