Raspberry Harvest and the Sentence Heard 'Round the Farm...

Early morning berry patch
A view of the mountains from the berry patch

The raspberry patch is one of my favorite places on the Research Farm.  It is peaceful there.  I have spent several mornings there working away, watching the sun rise, usually listening to opera or some other beautiful piece of music.  It smells glorious, and it tastes even better, but don't tell anyone because I am not supposed to eat the berries, just count and weigh them!

Harvesting with new harvesting crates

Part of my job is learning about raspberry harvest here at the farm.  When I first heard about it, I thought to myself that it couldn't be that hard.  First wrong thought.  Harvesting raspberries consumes more time here than anything else that I have seen.  Peach harvest is a close second.  It's not just harvesting raspberries, it's also taking data (sugar percentage, counting, and weighing), packaging, sorting, and selling the berries.

My first day of harvest didn't go so well.  For some reason, the berries were damp.  I wasn't aware of how deep to fill my picking bucket and I happily kept picking until I had a nice well filled bucket.  Needless to say, I harvested soup!  The local farmer that we sell to wasn't too happy with our little crew and our boss certainly wasn't thrilled.  I ended up buying the berries myself to make jam, which made me happy, but certainly wasn't the ideal situation.  Lesson learned...

The shameful harvest about to become jam

After staying up very late that night watching (at least a million) You Tube videos on how to harvest berries and a lot of discussion with my professor the next day, I was instructed to change how we harvest.

*PAUSE*  Intern definition: (n.) a poorly paid slave that absolutely does NOT get to change the direction the world turns, let alone how anything is harvested on the farm.  *UNPAUSE*

Changing harvest is seriously like changing the direction the wind blows.  The idea that we had discussed was to make a harvesting basket that we could fill with clamshells (the little plastic container that you buy at the store) and pick the berries straight into the clamshells.  This would fix everything and get me hung by the picking crew and possibly several other random people that would no doubt show up with pitchforks!  So, I quietly observed our harvest techniques for a few weeks, looking for small things we could tweak that may make a big enough difference that I wouldn't have to rock the boat.  More shade, less movement, shallower harvest depths, minimizing how many times the berries are touched.  Then my professor blew it when he asked the picking crew: "So, did you harvest into clamshells this morning?"  

The sentence heard 'round the farm.

Run intern, run!!!

I hadn't mentioned the changes to anyone because I was trying so hard to fix the problem without rocking the boat.  The idea of harvesting into clamshells was not well received.  But, what happened next was great.  With my boss' help, we were able to design a simple crate that would hook to our picking harnesses.  In the crate we could house several clamshells.  As we picked, we could pile the clamshells to one side and then empty them into a lug that could be taken back to the packing shed for data collection, etc.  'Grumbles', or unmarketable berries, could be placed in a bag hooked to the crate.  No more sorting berries, which equates to a lot less touching and movement, which means happier customers and potentially more berries to sell and a higher profit margin.  My sweet hubby made up some prototype crates and we gave them a go.  And... they worked!  We now harvest into clamshells and luckily, I am still living to tell the tale.

New harvesting crate trial; figuring out where to put the hooks.

I am telling you this because innovation is such a huge part of farming and food production.  My professor has been trialing a new way to harvest tart cherries.  I was so excited to see it in action, and... it works!  A little tweaking, a few minor adjustments and the way tart cherry planting and harvest is looked at and carried out could be completely different.  This part of the farm fascinates me, I love looking at systems and figuring out how we can do it better, faster, and more efficiently.  Putting ideas out there is how we change things for the better, even if it means changing the direction that the world turns.

Tart cherry harvester.  Getting it into the row and ready to harvest.


  1. Considering how much people hate change, huzzah for you.

    Looks like the trays that cigarette girls, in films from the '40s, used.

  2. "Cigars, Cigarettes, Raspberries..."


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