Fond memories, friendships & five years without farming
This is now the fifth spring since our family sold our farm, and, I must say, I don’t miss it at all.
I don’t miss working in a field and encountering the wolf spiders, the black widows, the aphids, the beetles and all the other nefarious harbingers of pestilence and their ilk.
I don’t miss walking the rows of blueberries, checking for irrigation breaks and happening upon snakes.
I don’t miss driving an open-station tractor in a field full of blossoms and being perpetually surrounded by tens of thousands of bees, confused by the nectar on said tractor, trying to cross-pollinate me with my John Deere.
I do not miss those things.
Those blossoms were pretty. Sometimes, the early light of day would cascade through the bushes, touching upon countless dew drops and illuminating the field like a virtually infinite sea of diamonds.
That was kind of nice.
And, insects notwithstanding, being able to drive the open tractor for hours on end in slow, languid circles was remarkably relaxing. I used to wonder how people could say that they could fall asleep on a tractor, but I’m here to tell you that once the throttle was set at a given RPM, every tractor we owned would start to emit a hum that was lulling and soothing, and it was often a challenge not to submit to the slumber that beckoned incessantly.
Plus, I never had so dark a tan as I did from the farm—nice and even, thanks to the directional changes every few minutes.
Maybe I might miss that.
I don’t miss the inclement weather: the driving rains that could ruin a crop, the excessive heat that could ruin a crop, the hail that could ruin a crop, the late frosts that could ruin a crop or the lack of colder temperatures that could delay winter dormancy and potentially ruin a crop.
I do not miss that lack of control.
But—strangely—I actually sort of miss worrying about it. I miss being so heavily invested that worry over the weather was simply second nature, and I miss the accompanying relief that would follow when we would come through relatively unscathed.
I also do not miss picking season—but, paradoxically, I miss packing season.
I don’t necessarily miss modern blueberry packing, with its frenetic pace that is more akin to working an assembly line in a factory than working on a farm.
I miss the kind of blueberry packing we did when I was growing up, with individual pints fresh from the field, cellophane that went across the top and a rubber band to hold it all together. I miss making cardboard blueberry crates, and feeling like I was a king when the price went
from $0.02 to $.03 apiece.
(That was a 50 percent increase in pay, you understand, and I could make an impressive amount of those boxes daily—and, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, that was good money.)
Most of all, I miss the people who packed blueberries. When I was little, Annie and I would help around the packing house while Debbie and her friends packed. Later on, Annie’s friends and my friends started working on the farm each summer.
Competitions would be held to see who could pack the fastest—and how many they could pack in a day. We’d have races carrying the empty crates, and the winner was the one who could carry the most. We made rubber-band balls. We sat under the mulberry tree and ate our lunches.
It was wonderful.
There’s actually a running gag at The Gazette office about our packing house, because
virtually any time Gabe or Gina have asked me if I know this person or that, my answer is usually, “Oh, yeah; they packed blueberries for us.” It seems, anymore, like half of Hammonton had their first job at Mohawk Farms, and it’s a joy to wax nostalgic when I run into the ones who are still with us.
Many—too many—have left us too soon.
I miss them, too.
Packing season is still eight or so weeks away (though, if this warm weather holds, I will not be the least bit surprised if farmers start harvesting before Memorial Day), and this will be the fifth year that I have not picked or packed a single berry, operated a forklift, wheeled around on a pallet jack or sat under the mulberry tree.
I miss it.
Oh, do I miss it.
I miss it all.
…except the spiders.
Joseph F. Berenato holds a master’s degree in writing from Rowan University and has been writing for The Hammonton Gazette—to varying degrees—since 1997. He is a trustee with the Historical Society of Hammonton and a caretaker at Oak Grove Cemetery, where he also serves as board secretary. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on social media at @JFBerenato.