Summer on the Organic Blueberry Farm
It was the end of Summer 2015 and I had spent the majority of the summer studying for my second crack at the MCAT (Medical School Admission Test). I logged into the website to see my score and my heart immediately sank. I had scored a 122 on verbal reasoning, which is in the low 20th percentile. Out of any 10 people who wrote the MCAT, around 8 had done better at verbal reasoning than I had. The medical school applications I had been working on had instantly become ineligible due to the low score. It felt like a year of my life had immediately evaporated, and trust me I don’t have many years to dream chase left.
Fast forward to the beginning of Summer 2016. I had re-taken the MCAT in January and scored 128 on verbal reasoning, which is in the 90th percentile. I finished all my undergraduate course work and had secured a summer co-op placement at Ruby Red Farms in North Saanich as the Packing Line Manager for blueberry season.
A quick anecdote: during the interview Ivan Mishchenko (farm owner) mentioned he liked my UVic blog. I’m not sure if it was this blog or the fact that I told him that I’ve been eating like 10 pounds of blueberries every 2 weeks for forever that got me the job. He probably thought he would find me snout deep in a pile of blueberries!
What is life on the farm like? Like anything it has its ups and downs. The work can be long and tedious at times, but the people definitely made it a great experience.
Ivan truly cares about his staff, and donated over 8000 pounds of blueberries to various food banks this season! The blueberries are hand picked by a staff of Philippino workers, all of whom were a pleasure to work with. They come to Victoria for the blueberry season (June-September) and then return to the Philippines. They are some of the hardest workers you’ll ever find! I loved to throw on music by LMFAO, Katy Perry, or Bon Jovi because they couldn’t resist dancing to those beats, and neither could I!
A quick shout out to Elmer, who oversees all activity on the farm and works 7 days a week almost year round. He loves singing to the band Air Supply and can be overheard serenading his wife Rose at lunchtime from his hammock. A true romantic!
The packing team consisted of 3 university students from Winnipeg (Jazz, Marika, and Rhea), 2 high school students from Victoria (Jack & Hayley), 2 UVic students (Toni & me), and one manuscript translator from Thailand (Anitra).
Anitra would regale the youth with stories from her life, which included helping refugees in Cambodia during the genocide, working on a campaign to clean up unexploded landmines from the Vietnam war, and other humanitarian efforts.
Rhea was a dancer, Jazz was a student-athlete, and Marika enjoyed eating falafel. These women from Winnipeg educated me regularly on social injustices such as gender inequality, white privilege, and racial bias. Along with helping me develop a more conscientious social attitude, they motivated me to vote in the next election even though I gave a persuasive argument against it!
Jack was a real workhorse. He pretty much gave up his summer before Grade 11 to work on the farm. During peak season, we would work 7 days a week for up to 10-12 hours a day. I spent the summer before Grade 11 playing video games and goofing off with my friends, so mad props to Jack.
Hayley was a bright student-athlete from a prestigious private school about to enter her first year of university. Although I disagree with her thinking that putting spoilers or exhaust on cars is cool, she is a real star, and I know she will do great things.
Toni ate fancy salads out of jars that looked delicious, and is the lead singer in a band that is actually pretty dope. Nobody uses the word dope anymore? Please, Toni, we can’t all be as cool as you. She writes a music blog which you can check out at http://ridethetempo.com/author/toni/. Check out the music festival entries, they are straight bangin’ yo.
What did I learn this summer? That it’s not about the finish line; it’s about embracing the journey, and the people you meet along the way. The work was hard, the days were long, but we did it together. Shout out the whole squad; there was no ounce of quit in any of you! We will always have the fond memories of Summer 2016. I wish you nothing but happiness & fulfillment in all of your endeavors. Champions are the losers who forgot to give up!!!
“I turned my back on my home. I left the streets where I’ve grown. To chase the yellow brick road, I heard they paved it in gold.” – Vince Staples
Back row from left – Ivan, Hayley, Me (James), Anthony, Argie, Vicky, Jovelyn, Anitra, Rose, Ronel
Middle row from left – Christopher, Jolly, Rhea, Jazz, Marika, Areole, Rosena, Eduardo
Front – Elmer
For more information on the farm, check out www.rubyredfarms.com