As I may have mentioned before, I grew up in Eastern Washington in a little town outside the Tri-Cities called Burbank. Yes, like Burbank, California… but in Washington!! Burbank lies just southeast of Pasco after you cross the Snake River towards Walla Walla. Burbank is even smaller in comparison to Kennewick, Richland, or Pasco. In fact, my high school graduating class had a total of 59 students! Such a small community that all three schools; Columbia Elementary, Columbia Middle and Columbia High School were all on the same street. Right in a row!
I enjoyed a smaller school setting and couldn’t imagine going to some of the massive schools with hundreds and hundreds of kids! We literally knew everyone in our school! Now, kids these days don’t know even half the kids in their own class. Very sad, and I suppose that’s another reason why moving to Fall City, WA was so appealing. Both my husband and I wanted to maintain some aspect of small town life, even though we love the luxuries of living close to the big city.
Anyway… when I was in high school, a levy was voted down and our school was left figuring out how to fund the sports programs. Sports was a big deal in my life, like a lot of kids I knew. If we couldn’t play softball in the spring or watch football games on chilly fall nights, what the heck was there to do!
As luck would have it, some of the area farmers and the school district came together with a brilliant plan. The farms would donate funds to the school in exchange for labor from the students over summer vacation, which would then pay for the sports programs. This was awesome! I remember thinking, sure, no problem. I’ll work on my tan a little, roll up my sleeves… this is going to be a piece of cake! Little did I know, I was about to gain a very valuable lesson in what hard work really was.
Each participating student had to choose two days on the calendar and would be given a job assignment. If you’re familiar with Eastern Washington, you know it can get seriously hot in the summer. Let me tell you, there’s hot and then there’s stand out in a dusty potato field for 10 hours under the blaring hot sun hoping and praying for a rain cloud that was never going to come kinda hot! It was miserable! MISERABLE!
My job was to stand up on this machine that had these turning rod thingies pushing the potatoes down a long line. Ok, ok, before I start using the word “thingy” too much, I looked up what the machine is called. It was a potato combine harvester. As the potatoes were brought in from the field, a big truck slowly dumped the potatoes onto a belt where the potatoes would pass through the potato combine harvester, then drop into another truck and be driven away. (I feel so smart using the correct terminology!) Then alongside the harvester, workers would quickly spot and pull out debris, rotten potatoes, and even a frog! (True story) Now just imagine standing in close to 100 degree weather with no shade for ten hours staring at a buzzing belt carrying bouncing potatoes moving past while trying to focus on foreign objects that were not potatoes! Just thinking about it makes me dizzy and sick. In fact, that’s exactly what happened. I suffered a heat stroke. I didn’t drink enough water halfway through the day, got dizzy and nearly fainted from staring at all those bouncing potatoes, and had to go sit in an air conditioned truck for a bit of time. Perhaps not a bad plan, but I felt like I wasn’t holding up my end of the deal… and for only two days! By the second day, I wore a long-sleeved shirt and drank plenty of water throughout the day.
Here’s the truth of it. When I walked away from my two days of work on a potato farm, I walked away with a lot more than just my contribution to my high school sports program. I walked away with an appreciation for just how hard farming was and still is. After two days, I got to go back to my summer job in an air conditioned building. Those farm employees and the farmers themselves, work long and I do mean LONG hours. Some work from sun up to sun down. And crops don’t take the weekends off. Farmers work seven days week for months at a time without a day off.
Now going back to me stepping out of the car this past week, some 10 years later… ok, ok… it’s been 20 years since I worked in that potato field, the same feelings came back. The truths I heard about days starting at 3:30am in the morning and evenings ending at 1am in the morning are real. Many of the flower farmers work the land themselves, with no help at times. They get up at the crack of dawn or before, work for several hours out in the fields, then some come in and get kids ready for school or amazingly home school their children, only to spend several more hours out in the flower fields before even taking a lunch break. And like all crops, the flowers need the sun. Or the flowers get filtered sun under special plastic covered tunnels which help control the elements of weather, but are still seriously hot inside! And the farmers work their too in the heat!
Just walking around on my tour, I was roasting, got a sunburn, and wished I’d worn different clothing. And I’m only talking about the summer months. I haven’t even began to discuss the winter months where they plant and nurse the seeds which will turn into baby plants in the most sophisticated greenhouses I’ve ever seen!
But here’s the reward…. Gorgeous, gorgeous flowers grown by the hands of Americans with loving care and countless hours of energy and sweat for all of us to enjoy a beautiful bouquet of flowers on the dinner table or your wedding day.
Just like those two painful days working out in the potato fields, I developed a respect for farming like no other. A person cannot even begin to understand the level of true grit goes into farming unless that person has walked in those shoes. And don’t get me wrong… my two days in a potato field some twenty years ago, doesn’t even compare one iota to the hours, weeks, months, and lifetime of commitments to farming flowers. Yet what it has given me is an appreciation as to why local and sustainable flowers might have a higher price tag than mass-produced grocery store varieties and why they don’t last in a vase for weeks on end because chemicals aren’t sprayed on them to lengthen their “shelf-life.”
Knowing that behind those beautiful American grown flowers is a face…a story… it brings it all back home for me too. And that, my friends, is what makes local and sustainable flowers worth every penny.