Well, I can cross “working on a farm” off the bucket list.
Remember a few weeks ago, when a friend and I accidentally wandered onto a hazelnut farm? Well, the owner told us that they would need help with the upcoming harvest, so after exchanging a few e-mails, I ended up working on the farm for two days last week.
These are the kind of random things one can do when one is unemployed.
This particular farm is 32 acres of organic hazelnuts, comprised of two varieties: Casinas and Willamettes. The difference between the two, from what I understand, is that Casinas are much smaller with a very thin shell, while Willamettes are larger and darker brown. See how much hazelnut knowledge I have to offer? Of course, up until this point, most of my hazelnut experience merely involved nutella.
So I arrived at the farm at 8 on Thursday morning after driving through some crazy fog on the way up the hills in Eugene. I wish I would’ve had a chance to take pictures of the fog in the hills (but I know better than to photograph and drive) because it was spectacular. And the fact that the radio station was playing Justin Timberlake only added to the experience.
The really cool thing about this particular farm is that it’s in a valley with views of these spectacular hills (I would call them mountains, but apparently that is incorrect in the west). The views entirely made up for the fact that it was only 38 degrees outside.
So back to the farming. Hazelnut farming is far more complex than I ever imagined. First, you have to go through and rake the nuts and leaves out from under the trees so that they are about 2 feet away from tree trunks. (You can also use a leaf blower for this, but there were only so many leaf blowers on the farm.) Then a machine called the sweeper runs up and down the rows, moving all of the raked hazelnuts and leaves into the center of the row. This machine is followed by the harvester, which is a crazy contraption with a conveyer belt of sorts, separating the nuts from the leaves and dirt. The nuts bounce up the conveyer belt into a big wooden crate behind it, while the leaves and dirt are sprayed out the side of the harvester. And if you get caught within 30 feet of this spray, you are going to get very, very dirty (I spent most of my afternoon unsuccessfully dodging the spray. Wind and dirt are a vicious combination.)
I spent the first half of Thursday raking nuts out from under the tree canopy and shaking the nuts out of the trees. The tree shaking part was pretty fun at first (it’s just like what you imagine- grabbing tree branches and shaking them until all the nuts fall off), but it turned into quite the arm workout. The rest of the day was spent traveling between the sweeper and the harvester, raking up the nuts that were trapped in dips in the ground. That’s another interesting thing about orchards. The ground really needs to be completely flat and grassless in order for the machinery to to effectively do its job. So in the places with grass or cracks in the ground, I rescued the nuts. And because there was so much machinery involved (read: very loud), I got to wear some sunglasses and sweet noise canceling headphones.
Personally, I was just thrilled to spend Eugene’s “last sunny day” (as the locals called it) outside, soaking up some vitamin D and doing something productive. I’ve felt a little useless since we got to Eugene, as applying for jobs has proven to be fruitless, thus far. But doing some manual labor and helping some nice people out definitely improved my spirits.
By the time we finished a 9-hour day of harvesting, I was dirty (it hasn’t really rained here in months, making for dry, dusty ground) and Grand Tetons hiking-level sore. I was suffering from what I will call “rake hands”, which I’m sure will be added to the medical dictionary any day now. Because my hands and wrists had essentially been in one position for close to 9 hours, I couldn’t move my wrists without pain. And my fingers were struggling to bend and unbend. This made for a very productive evening of TV watching and Pinterest skimming. I had to force myself to stay awake past 8 pm, when my body had essentially shut down for the night.
When day 2 came around, I popped some Advil and hopped in the car for another Justin Timberlake-filled (this radio station is the best) trip the farm. We needed to finish harvesting the 32-acres on Friday, and rain was supposed to set in at some point during the day, which essentially stops the process because the wet leaves clog up the machines. So I got to work, raking and raking and raking.
We worked for 8 hours straight, through little rain sprinkles and lots of dust sprays, finishing the harvest right before it started pouring down rain.
I don’t know that you can really tell how big these crates were from the photos, but I’d say they were about 4 feet tall and wide. And we filled 18 of them. With hazelnuts. What? Crazy. Some might say it’s nuts.
After all of this, I can officially say I understand why nuts are so expensive. It takes a lot of hard work and expensive equipment to produce nuts on a large scale. And I have a new respect for farmers of all types who work tirelessly all year long, but especially during the intense days and weeks of harvest season. And now I really want to own my own orchard. I may or may not have spent last night searching for orchards for sale all over the country. And that may or may not have led to a half hour perusing home listings in Jackson, Wyoming with views of the Grand Tetons. Oh, to dream.
Anywho, I’m super jazzed that I will receive a few pounds of nuts once they return from the cleaning and sorting facility in a few weeks. I’m already thinking of what I could make with hazelnuts. Any suggestions? Tried and true recipes? Go nuts!