Apple Picking: Not Your Usual 9 to 5 Job

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Photo by Fotolia/zigzagmtart
Most orchardists provide housing, especially if you get there early in the harvest. Even if you don't, the turn-over is fantastic (because the winos go on benders and split), so there's almost never a lack of jobs.

Reprinted with permission from
Spokane Natural. 

The average American adult seems to believe that laziness
rates high on the list of musts for being a (cringe)
hippie. Actually, though the majority of heads shun the
typical nine-to-five mind-shrinking drudge, most members of
the disestablishment not only find it necessary to search
out some gainful employment … but can really dig
working. Under the right conditions.

Unfortunately, the number of jobs available to young people
even verging on freakiness is quite limited. Especially
around Spokane. Those jobs that are open are often
quite distasteful and short-lived.

Since many heads like to work hard for part of the year and
reap the benefits the rest of the time, the ideal job for
such people would be a seasonal occupation. One that pays
proportionately to the amount of labor involved. A job open
to anyone capable of handling the work — freaky or not.

We’ve found one occupation we’d like to recommend to those
of you looking for this sort of deal: apple picking.

Last year, a couple we know decided to pick apples for the
fall and were so monetarily successful and spoke so highly
of the experience that this year, prompted by a fruit
growing co-op’s ad in the Spokane papers, we decided to try
it ourselves.

We ended up driving from Wenatchee up the Okanogan Valley
nearly into Canada, looking for the Right Place to work.
After stopping several times, we landed four miles out of
Tonasket at a place next door to the farm the fruit co-op
sent us to.

Wildly enough, we really lucked out with our apple picking job. Because we were a
couple, the fellow who hired us decided to let us live in a
small house trailer that he and his wife use on weekends
during the winter. Though we had only cold running water
and an outhouse, we soon found that we were much better off
than the pickers who end up in clapboard cabins, possibly
wood-heated, often rather grungy.

Also, it turned out, our boss was an extremely nice guy,
and we became quite friendly with him and his wife.

I guess this is what really turned us on an awful lot about
the whole apple-picking deal. You see, it was not only our
boss and his wife who were friendly, but everyone we met,
all around this apple area. Everyone was SUPER friendly,
nice and open with us. No standoffishness because of long
hair, beards or obvious hippiness. It really freaked us
out, but it was great!

We finally figured that those people must see so many
oddies — winos, fruit tramps, greasers — coming every year
to pick, that we were nothing new. There were even a few
heads, but there could be a lot more.

Pickers are getting harder to find every year. This is due,
in part, to the dying out of the traditional wino fruit
tramp (or fruit removal engineer, as the joke claims he’s
called during picking season).

The orchardists will hire anyone, experienced or not. And,
if you like the work, you can come back next year and get
preference from your boss: Better trees, higher paying
apples, etc.

Picking season starts about the middle of September on the
southern edge of this region and begins progressively later
in areas farther and farther north. The season lasts four
to six weeks, depending on weather and quantity of crop.
During that time, if you’re working a good orchard (one
that’s well kept, well thinned, pruned and mostly younger
trees on reasonably level land), and if you work your tail
off seven days a week (most places, you set your own
schedule, within reason), you stand a chance of making $800
to $900. Maybe more, if you really hustle.

Now that’s optimum conditions.

Facts to remember are that you’ll be toting a bag – that,
full, weighs about 30 lbs., strapped around your shoulders,
up and down ladders to the bins — a good part of the day.
It’s not easy work.

Also, until you catch on to the gentle – but quick – touch,
or if you get bad picking (big trees, small apples), it can
be pretty discouraging when you get only two bins a day. Or
less.

Most bins used now hold 25 bags. Bins pay from $5.00 to $6.00 on
the average, depending on the type of apple. If you’ve got
good picking (small trees, big apples), you can average 6
bins a day. Some oldtimers get 10 or 12 (don’t let the old
guys bum you — they’ll just drink it up).

The best way to find apple-picking jobs is to come over
just before the season and ask around. The Farm Labor
people have orange information trailers parked in nearly
every town. They also have labor camps in many places where
you can eat and sleep for a minimal fee.

Most orchardists provide housing, though, especially if you
get there early in the harvest. Even if you don’t, the
turn-over is fantastic (because the winos go on benders and
split), so there’s almost never a lack of jobs. Start
looking anywhere in the Columbia Basin or the Okanagan
Valley, from Yakima to Wenatchee up to Canada.

And if you really like apple picking, or you find you have
a talent for it, you might like to explore the possibility
of other fruit-picking jobs. Arizona and California have
lemons, oranges grow in California and Florida (these are
wintertime best bets), and all sorts of other fruits and
vegetables are begging to be harvested, too.

It’s hard work but the people you’ll meet are fascinating,
the whole area is fantastically beautiful, you’ll be
working outdoors among orchards of peaceful, happy trees … and the money you earn could keep you warm through a
long, cold winter.