It’s always buzzing in late August on an apple orchard in the Northeast. A couple of early varieties start the harvest at low volumes. But McIntosh and Cortland are almost ready. Cold nights and cold sunny days turn the apples red. They need to be very red to make high grade, not just partial red. So all systems are being readied, machinery is being oiled, and muscles are being exercised in preparation for a frantic pace and intensity of harvest, grade, pack, and refrigerate.
I was planning a rush of initial truckloads with Barney Hodges of Sunrise Orchard in Vermont, one of Red Tomato’s primary Eco Apple growers. Everything was in place—promises made to customers, all the paperwork executed. Barney called me on day 1 of the McIntosh harvest and said: “We got a problem. My packing line is down. I need a part. I’ve ordered it from Grainger, but tomorrow is Saturday and I’m nervous about weekend delivery.”
Sure enough, the part didn’t show on Saturday. We promised delivery for Monday. Barney turned to a few of his veteran employees who work every Fall at Sunrise Orchard courtesy of the U.S. guest-worker program known as H2A. They are Jamaican men who have been working at Sunrise Orchards for many years. They know how to weld. They know how to solve problems when resources are scarce, instead of ordering from a 1,000-page supply catalogue. Barney showed them the broken part and asked them to search the grounds for scrap metal, for anything they could use to replicate the part. Ashley Fisher, Joseph MacDonald and Headley Turner went on a mission. They found raw material. They pounded, welded, and shaped their way to a replica part which is still working today, two months later. The delivery was on time. “The people” ate September apples…on time. And Barney heaved a huge sigh of relief, and chuckled. The government considers H2A farm work “unskilled.” What a crazy notion.