A farmer’s life is not a life for me

September 23rd, 2010

“Danny, you should probably start looking for a job.”

Gee, thanks Mom.

In the back of my mind all through Christmas break last year, I knew that I should probably start looking for some type of summer employment. After all, I was going to be broke by May because school tuition had dried up my bank account.

So I began my quest using my connections back home.

Originally, I thought connections would help me in getting a cushy summer job – like working as a paid intern at a law firm. I actually did get a job as an intern at a law firm, but the job was for experience only, not pay.

“Well, that alone isn’t going to work. Keep looking.”

I know, Dad.

Luckily, I had other connections in another, completely different field of work – literally. One day a week, I worked in an air-conditioned office in front of a computer, ate at fancy restaurants where the tab was picked up by the law firm, and learned what lawyers do. The other days – I saw farm fields filled with corn, strawberries and other yummy produce.

My paying job was at a family-owned farm and country store that sold flowers and trees, garden supplies, baked goods, candy and other goodies. But they were more well-known for their fresh homegrown produce.

The business, along with its main store and farm, sets up three satellite locations in different parts of town. College students man the stands by setting up the produce displays, handling the money, re-stocking the displays with fresh produce when our truck from the farm came, dealing with customers, and talking up how good the locally-grown fruit and vegetables were.

To some people, this job may not seem hard. However, for someone whose previous place of employment was a church office, this was a bit of a challenge. As a result, I learned a lot over the summer.

Being friendly and attentive to customers’ needs is crucial. They decide, based on the impression you give, if they should just drive down the road to Giant Eagle to buy their produce. An elderly customer once asked me to help her shuck the five dozen corn she had just bought. I took some flak from my co-workers for doing that, but I thought it was necessary to make sure customers kept coming back.

However, a balance exists between the phrases “the customer is always right” and “we employees know better.” Elderly customers usually gave us employees fits about the “soft” tomatoes. “Ma’am, if you wouldn’t put a death grip on that tomato, it wouldn’t be so soft.” I had a few customers tell me they needed perfect strawberries. Unfortunately for them, produce was grown to taste good, not necessarily look good. That revelation didn’t seem to phase their displeasure.

I realized how important it was to know a foreign language. Every morning, I greeted one of my Hispanic coworkers with “¡Buenos días, Señor!” On the few occasions I worked at the main store, I could relay the instructions I received from my superiors in semi-perfect Spanish to my coworkers. Being able to speak their language made them come to like me; I could be counted on to help translate.

My dad told me that a job like this would give me some motivation to do well in school. He was right – I don’t want to be in a position after college where my only options are working on a farm or asking “Do you want fries with that?”

I’m not sure yet if I will go back to the farm next summer. Even if I do or don’t, I will always know how to pick out ripe melons.