Like many a young girl, my first official paying gig was babysitting for some neighbor kids, but my first actual paycheck-paying job was at an orchard just a few miles west of our farm called Garrity’s Prairie Gardens. I was able to start working there before other places like food establishments and stores in part because of the work itself as well as the fact that it was just seasonal employment that centered on the various fruits and products grown and produced there on site, which was perfect for my 14-yr-old self at the time.
Of course apples were a main draw for many to Garrity’s but they also had several seasons throughout the early spring and summer, before the fall apples were ready, including strawberries that folks could either pick on their own or that employees would also pick for easy purchase; they also grew raspberries and produced a whole wealth of jams, jellies, pies, etc. in the small store building located on the grounds.
When I look back on it now, I realize how many odd jobs were rolled into this one job as I touched just about every aspect of the orchard at one point or another during my time there, including being a babysitter/driver for the owner’s young child and his summer activities. When I wasn’t on those random duties, the two tasks I remember the most were picking raspberries and working in the store/kitchen.
The raspberry patch, unlike the large strawberry field that lined the main drive onto the property, was smaller and to the back of the grounds. Tucked behind the house and some rows of apple trees, the raspberries were more for us to pick than the public, and pick I did, scratchy though they were. I know from our own small strawberry patch in our current garden that those berries are similar in the unpleasantness that comes with getting down low and sticking your arms in amongst the itchy leaves, but as a teen, I was probably more annoyed with the early hours to beat the heat than I was the physical discomfort of bending and stooping to look for the ripe fruit that could be plucked and later hauled into the sorting facility. True to form, I know I liked the quiet this particular part of the job and all told it probably went faster than I would have liked given the chaos of some of my other odds and ends at the orchard.
Being in the bustling and warm main building meant everything from kitchen duties like pitting cherries for pies and apple prep to semi-mindless, repetitive jobs like folding gift boxes and putting label stickers on jars for the various fruit-based products they produced. A lot of cleaning, both in the sink and of the surroundings, took place, too, as did some costumer service helping folks as they came in to purchase whatever trinket or homemade good they were after on that day.
Minimum wage at the time was $4.25 so it’s possible that I didn’t exactly make much more than gas money during my time at Garrity’s but it certainly broke the mold in terms of being a very unique first place of employment.