My little brother was a hippie. He left college and joined the Peace Corp. 30 years later he is an organic fruit farmer in Washington state. All you need is weed, some LSD and that’s hippie heaven — or so I thought.
But I was completely fucking wrong.
A few years ago, the Bear and I went to “harvest”. They pick their fucking pears before they ripen in the fall, chill them and market them in Seattle all winter long.
Brother John and his wife (who owns the farm) call their “friends”. There’s a few family members, and some fucking Canadians who illegally cross the border to pick fruit (who knew that ever happened).
But most of the pickers are members of this fucked-up cult out of Walla Walla, Washington. They claim they went to the same “college” (Whitman).
But the Branch Davidians didn’t show this kind of loyalty. Most of the Walla Walla cult didn’t know John or his wife. They heard about “harvest” through some bullshit alumni newsletter. Then they volunteered to camp out and pick fruit one weekend in September, every year — for 20 years.
They bring their kids and camp with the rattlesnakes and the dog piss in the “orchard”/ backyard. It’s an eerie little group — think Children of the Corn in Birkenstocks.
It started with the “safety” speech. My summary of that 3-minute speech: “don’t fall and fuck this up for us.”
We are climbing on 8-14-foot tripod ladders. The single leg goes through the branches in the middle of the tree. You get scratched and cut as you climb in and reach out for each piece of fruit.
After the safety talk is “the picking practice.” Never drop the fruit — if it hits the ground, it must be thrown out or fed to the cows across the road. (Last year’s cow is this year’s dinner. Incredibly sweet meat).
You have to grab the pear’s stem by the “knuckle” with an index finger, bend the pear at 90-degrees and “snap” the knuckle so it has a smooth end. Sharp ends will stab the other fruit in the bin and ruin it.
Sounds fucking simple.
But then you are in the tree, the wind is blowing, the ladder is moving, the fruit is moving. The birds are landing on the branches and making them swing even more. The bees are buzzing. The fruit is always just out of reach, so you stretch and pull the knuckle back and crack – there’s a sharp stem.
If you are careful and put the sharps on the outside of the bin, maybe it won’t stab the fruit.
Brother John — Grumbling
30-minutes into the pick, brother John walks out to the trees to get our attention.
“You are moving way too fucking slow,” he tells the 20 of us. “We gotta get this all done this weekend for fuck’s sake.”
There is a little grumbling from the Walla Walla-ians (or whatever the fuck you call his cult) but we pick up the pace.
An hour later, brother John appears with 2 big beautiful pears in his hands.
“See this,” he says. “That’s a sharp stem.” He drops that pear on the ground.
“See this,” he says. “That’s a cut where that stem cut the pear next to it.” He drops the second pear.
“That’s 5 fucking dollars right there. Don’t reach. Climb down and reset the ladder you lazy shits.” He turns and does an “angry shuffle” away.
Rinse and repeat every 40 minutes or so with sharp stems, bruised fruit, or dropped picking bags that spill 10-20 pears on the ground…
The grumbling gets louder.
“At least it’s John and not the other one,” a cult member said. “She’s really tough.”
10 minutes later… brother John is back.
“You missed all the top fruit in an entire row. Now go back to that row, get on the big ladders and make sure it’s all picked before lunch.”
When I think he is out of earshot, I mumble “This is a hostile work environment.”
“Yeah,” one of the cult members said. That was followed by others encouraging this kind of douchebag millennial bitching.
I start getting a little excited: “I say we start a fucking Union.” Others agreed.
We start chanting “Union, Union, Union” from the trees. Loud enough for the sorters and owners near the house to hear.
“Wow,” the Bear said. “You got them fired up in a hurry.”
These hippies are like sheep — easy to mislead.
Brother John ignores the “Union” chants. On his next trip out:
“Don’t just pick the easy ones. Get in the center of the tree and get all the fruit…
” And you lazy Union assholes. You can easily be replaced.”
We all know it’s true. Professional pickers would clean out his crop with fewer errors and for far less than we cost in lunch and whiskey.
You know what’s also true? My brother is not a hippie. He runs that little organic farm like a confederate plantation master (at least on harvest weekend). And he’s the “nice one.”
If you want the best pears ever, get them at Booth Canyon Orchard. https://www.boothcanyonorchard.com. You can order boxes to be shipped in Oct-Thanksgiving. But don’t be tardy – you won’t get shit.