I love summer in Niagara: senses are heightened, weather is perfect, and the landscape is abundant with delicious colourful local food. Farm-to-table is an easy motto to adopt, as farmers’ markets pop up in busy locales and fruit stands decorate dreamy country roads. But for many Niagara-ites, farming isn’t just perfect Instagram pictures, or tasty treats, farming is life.
During the sticky humid summer months, there is no shortage of work for eager hands in Niagara as fruit farmers enthusiastically welcome as many labourers as they can acquire. With over 700 fruit farms in the Niagara Region and a tight time-frame to follow, help is needed, albeit arduous and exhausting, and the pay is, well you’re not going to become a millionaire, but the memories gained outweigh the negative.
Growing up, my summers were spent helping my dad in the vineyard and neighbouring farmers tend their fruit, as my own eager hands, in quick succession, worked in fields and barns pruning, picking and packing.
Let me preface, when I say eager, I mean told – I didn’t want to spend my summers working on farms. I wanted to laze around the pool, binge-watch television, gossip with girlfriends, but instead, was instructed by the authority figures (my parents) to get off my keister and work. I hated it! It was hard work, the hardest work my teenage body ever encountered, and it was boring, so very boring. I can’t tell you how many grapevines I have pruned, or the number of cherries I have picked, or the amount of apricots, peaches and plums I have packed. However, I can tell you the horror stories of what happens when you eat too many cherries, or the feel of peach fuzz on your skin after an eight-hour shift, or what happens to your nails after repeatedly rubbing them against the rubber conveyor belt.
Once I learned how to overcome the, shall we say, obstacles, it wasn’t that bad. I worked with great people, both locals and migrant workers, and shared laughs, meals and stories. It helped that my bff was there as well, which made the time slightly speed on by as we would tell tales, listen to audio books, and get and give advice, mostly on school, guys, and clothes – the priorities of teenage girls.
Those four summers spent working on fruit farms created the foundation of who I am today. I learned what it takes to be a hard worker, how to listen to others, and the importance of respect, followed by a greater appreciation for the fruits of our labour.
So buy local, not only does it taste better, it supports our local agricultural communities.PS. Have you been following the “The Hands That Feed Us” series in the St.Catharines Standard by Niagara-based writer, Tiffany Mayer? If not, you really should!
4 thoughts on “Summers on the fruit farm(s)”
Ontario peaches have just arrived here in Québec !! Sooooooo excited to make jam. Loved reading this.
There’s nothing better then Ontario peaches – they are so sweet. Happy jam-ing. 🙂
Well writen Ali! Brings back so many memories working on the farms growing up! Hard work but so many great memories! Adventures in odessy and singing lessons…occasional naps in the rows;) oh childhood… love u!
I endured, and that is the correct word, summers on my grandparents farm picking all sorts of fruit but peaches were the worst. I can still feel the itch from the peach fuzz but I must admit they are my favorite fruit to consume. Though I’m well into my senior years I still recall teetering on a ladder as I reached for that last handful of cherries; it seemed to take forever to fill that basket. I also worked on a sorting belt for cherries for 65 cents per hour. At night when I finally closed my eyes I still saw and felt that belt moving along in front of me! Character building for certain.