Hard work develops and displays character

I’ve had the privilege this year of spending some time riding the family tomato rig, aka the Pik-Rite commercial tomato harvester with Odenburg sorter. It’s a huge, noisy machine that picks tons of tomatoes in little time. But effective as it is, the real bragging rights go to the human sorters of tomatoes aboard it.

UN-OUTSOURCED SORTING - Tomato sorting is one of those character-building jobs that can't be outsourced because nobody wants to do it. So it falls back on family.

UN-OUTSOURCED SORTING – Tomato sorting is one of those character-building jobs that can’t be outsourced because nobody wants to do it. So it falls back on family.

“How hard could it be,” you may be asking yourself. “My grandma grows tomatoes” or “Who couldn’t sort through produce? I do it all the time, myself, when I grocery shop.” But for how many hours and tons straight do you sort at the store? Until your back no longer allows you to stand straight and you can’t see straight?

Usually B & V Farms, our family operation, doesn’t ask me to help with the tomato harvest because I have proven to be out-of-sorts when it comes to sorting tomatoes. I zone in and out and despite being a skilled piano player and fast typist, lack the necessary hand-eye coordination and quickness required for the job. My carelessness and cluelessness along those lines are also why I don’t smoke cigarettes: I would be too dangerous.

However, when faced with not having all the rig spots filled (vacancies put additional pressure on the already-over-worked, albeit talented tomato sorters), they invite me to inhabit that “better than nothing” role, the sports equivalent of “we just need a uniformed body to avoid forfeit.” So I show up wearing crappy jeans and a sexy bandana for the legitimate workers to mock.

After overcoming motion sickness from the lurching movement of the machine, I settle into a clumsy routine. I non-stop scan the wide, tomato-laden Odenburg (affectionately referred to as “Odie”) conveyor belt for too green, rotten and otherwise compromised tomatoes to chuck, simultaneously resisting the urge to upchuck. I also watch for the various forms of vegetation, dirt clods, rocks, sticks, rodents, amphibians and litter that gets caught in the mix.

I know this sounds glamorous, but we wear Latex gloves to make it less gross. Within minutes, though, we’re so dusty and slimy that “gross” ceases to register. Besides, everything happens so fast and furious that there’s no time to get disgusted, even if you are so inclined. Gotta keep moving to keep up with the unrelenting pace of the harvest, which doesn’t give two hoots BOUT how you feel.

At the end of your work shift, you feel that really good, “just got wrung through the wringer” kind of tired, mostly because although every job at times feels overwhelming, overwhelm constitutes the tomato sorter’s job description. Perpetually in the thick of things, the only thing you can keep on top of is your thoughts.

Mine alternate between berating myself for being pokey and encouraging myself not to feel overwhelmed: wise words I have no time to internalize. From the corner of my eyes, I watch the other members of the tomato crew frantically sort around me and note how much faster they seem. Hands whizzing back and forth, occasionally darting into someone else’s sorting space in a determined effort not to let something disgusting elude their grip and get in with the good tomatoes.

Watching my children hustle is heartwarming. Reared on video games, they receive through tomato sorting a real-life application that requires their otherwise useless snap-judgment skills and quick finger action. Actually, this physically and mentally demanding job requires a lot from a person. And over time, it has the potential to be character-building. That got me thinking.

Instead of holding separate job interviews, employers could invite job applicants to the farm and stick them on the Pik-Rite to sort tomatoes. Observers would learn much about individual levels of strength, speed, accuracy, teamwork, attitude, leadership and perseverance. Don’t just talk about your work ethic, show us!

We should do the same with presidential election candidates. Line up the Democrats on one side of the sorter conveyor belt and the Republicans on the other. The real work would keep them so busy there’d be no need or time to argue or create drama. And unlike with government operations, at the end of the day, there’d be end product – a load of something other than manure.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Todd
    Oct 07, 2015 @ 22:33:49

    I am fascinated with farm equipment Does your Oldenburg look like this?


  2. diffdrum
    Oct 07, 2015 @ 23:45:41

    Yes, it’s pretty much the same, just much less picturesque. Sign up to work and fulfill your farm equipment fascination.


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