When I left the USA bound for the Southern Hemisphere in late 2009, my goal was to develop a greater understanding of where things come from; especially food. Most of my life had been spent in the suburbs of Northern Nevada either working in an office or building houses/home remodels. It troubled me that I had spent my life eating food (grains, meats and veggies/fruits) that had come from a place that I knew nothing about. I feel deeply insecure about being so reliant on something that I have no control over. If I’m honest, I had next to no understanding of the processes needed to produce food! I needed to learn more about the world in order to understand my role, I needed to get dirty.
So I flew to Australia and got a harvest job out in the orchards around Stanthorpe, Australia. My first gig was cutting broccoli from the ground and placing it on a tractor that carried a conveyor belt which hung out over the enormous veggie patches. I would awake at 5:30 with the rising sun and work until late in the evening, bending over and cutting broccoli all… day… long… It was backbreaking work. We worked barefoot because it was simply the best way. After about 2 weeks I was exhausted, my feet were rotting from from the moisture and the repetitive work.
Luckily, for the first time in my life, I was fired. Apparently, I wasn’t harvesting fast enough. Honestly, I think it’s because my heart wasn’t in it. Vegetable harvesting is brutal.
My next job was harvesting apples. This was far less harrowing than the broccoli but it was none-the-less very demanding physically and even more taxing mentally. The repetitious nature of picking thousands of apples a day, day after day, 5-6 days a week was very challenging. The skin on my fingers split, I got blisters on my feet, my sweat drenched shirts would fall to pieces visibly every day. I couldn’t buy sacrificial shirts fast enough to keep up with the degradation.
I learned a good amount about vegetables and fruit, I took a vacation and went about understanding where meat comes from. My friend and I found station hand jobs at a super isolated cattle station in the middle of Outback Australia. Just like the fruit picking and the vegetable harvesting, we’d awake with the rising sun and work until the sunset. There was lots of filthy diesel engine work, welding, fence repair and horse work involved. I learned so much, and each day I’d come back to the ranch house a filthy mess. Showers never felt so good.
The value of all this experience is incalculable. Not only did I learn about how food is produced, I gained a fundamental respect for farmers. I learned to weld, build fences, harvest vast areas and I got the fundamentals for what it takes to provide enough food for hundreds of people. The world would be a better place if everyone had a more fundamental understanding of what it takes to provide for their subsistence. I recommend you do something to produce your own food. Everyone should get a little dirty.