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Published: October 6th 2017
On November 2010 I moved to Canada for business. In this blog, I will try to give out some
of my most important experiences while living in Pitt Meadows, Vancouver BC.
It is about my social and working life in a Blueberry farm.
I always say that the Canadian experience was, in some ways, my test bench and also a great test of morality.
It was pouring rain down, that night, when I arrived at the Golden Eagle blueberry farm.
There was the farm manager waiting for me inside the office when I arrived by taxi. It was
late, he wanted to go home and so he quickly led me to my accommodation nearby the
Inside, the house was really plain and also dirty but I did not mind that, after all, because
that kind of ambiance made me feel to have landed on some of those exotic places you find
in south Asia and I liked that thought.
I woke up early in the morning, had some breakfast and picked up by the manager with its
He showed me the surroundings and explained me how they organized the job.
The Golden Eagle farm is one of the biggest berries farm in North America. Named after the
golden eagles that inhabit the region. It holds and operate nearly 5000 acres of prime
agricultural land in beautiful Pitt Meadows, British Columbia. Half of it is blueberry and the
other half is cranberry. I was assigned the blueberry part.
The manager then started to give me some interesting informations about the list of
- There are 15 varieties of blueberries and most of Golden Eagle Berries’ varieties are
northern highbush blueberries. A couple of examples are: The Reka, a blueberry import from
New Zealand, and the Northland, a cross between highbush and lowbush blueberries, known
as a northern half high.
- The fruits usually blossoms in Spring with a harvesting season averaging 8 to 12 weeks.
Depending on the geography, type, and variety, berries ripen at different times.
At that time of the year, in the farm, the work was pretty scarce and the main two
The pruning season "which was from January to March" and the harvest
season "which was from July till September".
Immediately, I started to think about how depressing it could be to live inside a farm when
the weather is most of the time cloudy and rainy.
The only consolation, I had, was the very prestine scenary of the Golden Eagle Valley and
how green and beautiful it would have been, in summer, during the harvest. "This was of
great help for the months to come".
After a nice tour around the farm, he brought me to the store to buy some groceries. Many
big trucks and lorries made their way through the relentless rain and the road was lined
with numerous fast food restaurants (too many). I was in North America so I had to accept
this sad reality of the garbage food that people are used to eat here.
I entered the superstore and saw many people busy to fill up their trolley, a caotic
ambiance. I had to lose a couple of hours before finding the right produces in this enormous
place. There were probably ten varieties of each produce: bread, soft drinks, milk, eggs,
biscuits and so on - I also noticed a certain hard feelings by the employees of the store
when I asked circa a product which I could not find, the lady seemed very cold and distant.
I was just arrived in canada but I had already a feeling of being in a boring and depressing
place. It appeared a society aiming at the profit as the most important aspect of life.
Listening to the people, when I was just landed and stayed for a few days in the city
center, the farm manager and, lastly, at the groceries store made me understand about
the values of the population.
Work and money are the values, here, and the rest seems of little importance. Even trying
to get to be friend with someone it looked like a really tough task to achieve.
On the way back to the farm, the manager let me know that, if I wanted, there were a
couple of seasonal workers that, unlike the others labourers, had to stay longer because
they worked in the mechanic shop and that provided an all year round work opportunity.
So I decided to have a walk and going to meet them personally. They were from Mexico.
Mario and David were two friendly and good fellows. One from Monterrey and the other one
from Colima. There was already a good feeling among us and they started to talk about
their experience on the farm. they told me that, during the busiest months of the year, the
company hire seasonal workers from different countries. The Mexican normally were those
that worked in the blueberry field, especially during the harvest time, then there were the
Jamaican that worked in the nursery area of the cranberry and, lastly, the Filipinos that
were those working in the processing plant. There was also a fourth group, the east Indian
people that, though, lived there within the Vancouver area in a town called Surrey.
They also told me how tough was to work during the harvest time with the east Indian
people. My mind was already commencing to imagine how it was possible to work with
people that did not speak a word of English...
In the weeks preceding the pruning season, the principal duties were: checking fields,
setting the wire to get the plants to grow upright, post setting to mark the lines, tractor
driving to flatten the soil and pipe mending for the drainage.
Performing these jobs in the morning time, while admiring the aurora rising, had got
something special. To the background was a beautiful mountain scenary stained of white to
the top that turned yellowish as the sun continued its run toward the sky.
It is said that, during winter season, it is a rarety to enjoy such a beautiful blue sky.
Spectacular was also the colour of the blueberry plants that assumed a red hue and, looking
at the plant's lines, it seemed they created a way reaching up to the far mountains. It was
of tremendous beauty that made me feel better and curing a bit the depression of the long
"That beauty enters inside you and makes you feel part of this wonderful place and there
be better way to start a day at work".
Week after week the workers began rolling in the farm. This was a sign that the new season
was about to commence.
The day before starting the new pruning season, the manager gathered all the people in
charge to supervise the seasonal workers and gave some instructions circa organizing the
job. I was also in charge of a small group of labourers.
I was very excited to see how was to work with people of different culture, most of them
were from east India. That day, I arrived at the field, next to the road, and was drizzling,
so, as I was fearing the first day would have started under the rain. I saw many vans that
were parked along the edge of the field, I slowly got in with my bicycle observing all those
old man staring at me.
At first glance, it seemed one of my travels around south Asia: masses of people, men
wearing a colourful turban, serious faces, looked all the same and old.
The company hired some contractors and
they subsequently did hire some seasonal
My job was, basically, to supervise those workers from east India in performing labour
duties as: pruning plants, collecting the branches that were cut off and clean up the lines.
I worked in contact with the farm manager due to the language barrier. At the beginning,
the workers seemed a bit unfriendly toward me due to the language and traditions
differences. But, something that I truly apppreciated, during the break time, was their
sharing of food, drink, talks and that gave you an idea about their sense of community.
Soon after, their attitude significantly changed and they began to invite me to share those
moments. I just loved their tea blended with milk and sugar and a few delicious home made
sweets - The farm manager became also an invaluable interpreter - Those workers were
from Punjab state located in the northeastern part of India, forming one of the twenty nine
states and seven territories of the country.
There is a big community of Indian people in Vancouver togehter with the Chinese one.
I stayed with them and more was the interest for their country and traditions.
Through these invaluable conversations, that I had with them, I began to learn circa the
- Within this society there are castes divided in four main groups. tThese main groups
contain thousands of hierarchical castes. these four categories include: the Brahmins -
priests and teachers; the Ksatryas - warriors and rulers; the Vaisyas - merchants and
peasant farmers; and the Sudras - labourers.
From the ancient Hindu texts, the Veda, which dates back by the second millennium BC:
These four groups were created by the gods from Purusa, a sort of spiritual concept.
From Purusa's head sprang the Brahmins, from his arms the ksatryas, from his thighs the
Vaisyas and from his feet the Sudras. Within a Hindu community, social status is directly
related to an individual caste.
Many of these Indian people come Canada for a better lifestyle, even though they may not
be happy with the depressing weather they find, here, and for the difficulty of having a
In India there are harsh
realities like the "bonded labour" , it was a mechanism that
enslaved a person for years while a loan was repaid through work. Although prohibited in
India since 1954, but still this practice remains widespread.
I was thinking that, at the beginning of the season, I would have had a hard time with these
people, but I was wrong.
With this experience, at least, I had something to keep myself busy, in the quest of more
information about India, during the rainy and depressing days.
The only vehicle that I had to move around was a bicycle and that was it. In that area even
the public bus did not run. So, when I needed to go to the store I had to call a taxi if
anyone, at the farm, was available to give me a lift.
When I had the fortune of a fine day I used to go to Pitt Lake. It was about 10 km north
from the farm. I bicycled all the way to the Lake.
The mountains, as the sea, reminds me a measure
of greatness from which I feel inspired.
I loved to spend my time there, especially when I had a tough week at work and I needed
to find a bit of tranquillity admiring the beauty of the wilderness, the lake, the evergreens,
the mountains and the sky.
As the months passed by, my relation with the workers got better and I was always more
curious to hear about the Indian customs. It was a different world and I was eager to
deepen my knowledge in the unknown.
- In India, as a tradition, the people used to feed the ants which was surprising to me. I
was wondering if there were any notions about how to feed them. I liked this idea of feeding
ants and it riminded me another interesting culture that there was in China circa a manual
explaining you how to raise the crickets, building their homes, feeding them, bathing them in
the tea, preparing them for the fighting, building their arenas and so on. I appreciate this
interest and care for the animals, nature and the simple things. It is
nowadays you do not often see in the actual society.
This season was about to end and I felt relieved with the arrival of the longer days of the
spring season. The air was getting delicate, rain lighter, sun warmer, the bloom of the
blueberry trees, this place was coming to life again.
Other jobs were to be done before the harvest season: spraying, weeding, planting and
setting up new fields.
This was the time when most of the seasonal workers beginning to
arrive at the farm.
One day, I was told that I would have had a extra labourer in my apartment. The workers
arrived by bus (a company bus) at night. They were probably fourty. I was about to go to
sleep when I met him, Daniel.
He was nice and likeable Mexican man in his fifties. Not much tall, he had a bit of weight on,
dark hairs, black eyes, dark skin, the typical Latin American person.
He was in my group. The first few days, the workers had to sort out some bureaucratical
matter like opening a bank account and things of this kind.
I soon started to get along with him and we often cooked food and ate together, by night.
We had also the same taste about preparing food: boiled cauliflower, broccoli, potatoes and
ate them with a bit of olive oil and salt. At times, we taught each other our favourite local
recipes. In particular, I remember a very delicious recipe, by Daniel, that I would really
recommed to anyone.
Risotto: let the butter melt and then fry the rice, adding an onion cut in half, a bit of ginger,
a few leaves of fennel, some chervil, a leaf of minced laurel, turmeric powder "good for the
liver", some cloves, a bit of cinnamon and red pepper powder.
He is from Tampico in the state of Tamaulipas, a city along the coastline of the Mexican
He also loves travelling and we spent time talking about our experiences and ideas. Back in
Mexico he is a teacher but, here, in canada his qualification is not accepted.
The days in the field
were much pleasant, right now, with a bit of sun and the scent of the
I liked to continue, during the break, to talk about the Indian traditions and listyle
with my Indian workmates. Every time I heard new and interesting stories.
- In India, when some people become old they begin a new life. They get them to be called
"Anam" which means "the one with no name" they are also known as "Sadhu" or
"Sannyasin". they basically refuse to live in the material world and live a more spiritual life.
They live inside places called "Ashram" where they pray and read the "Veda" which are the
ancient Hindu texts. At the end of their life they travel through the forest and stay there to
meditate until they pass out.
I noticed, while talking, a few Indian men wearing a golden curve shaped knife under their
waist and I asked them what did they do with that. It was the first time I saw it because, in
winter, the dagger was concealed behind the raincoat. They call this dagger
"Bichuwa". It is
very beautiful with that narrow golden undulating shape. The decoration is also beautiful
with the face of a protective "Yali" a demon. The daggers can be even double bladed. The
Indian men wear them for religious purposes.
India is a country where the ancient traditions and cultures are still deep and it is probably
one the last countries that try to maintain them yet, growing at a low pace.
In this period of the year, the job was increasing, we had to work extra hours and, with the
warmer climate, even more tiring.
When I went home, I just wanted to cook something quickly. I had fried rice, boiled broccoli,
cauliflower and a bit of salt and olive oil on top. I had a short talk with my friend Daniel
about our daily work and, dead tired, went to sleep.
It was becoming hard to follow this routine everyday from early morning until late in the
evening. I noticed that the assistance by the company was not impeccable, as well, when
issues arose: workers complaining that the home
appliances did not work and were not
replaced, lack of transportation to the groceries store and to the fields, considering the size
of the farm.
The spring season went on more or less this way till the harvest time.
In summer, the company hired more contractors and, in the field, there could be something
like eight hundred seasonal labourers picking berries.
There were two kind of harvest: "the hand pick harvest" which consisted in picking up the
best berries and "The machine harvest" where the berries were collected with a combine.
I was assigned the hand pick harvest, supervising the contractors workers and organizing
the scale. We had to place a couple of workers for each row, dropping off some lugs, calling
up the scale every four hours and loading up the lugs on the cart to ship them to the
The working time was from about seven o'clock am to eight and sometimes nine o'clock
pm. Most of the workers were from India and some from African countries. Those from
India were, more
or less the same as those that worked, in winter, during the pruning
season, quite old and the African ones were all young boys and girls, so there was a great
difference in the age between them. One day, among the Indian workers, I met an old man
that was still able to pick up the berries at the unbelievable age of eighty-six years.
The Indian people were the ones that caught my eye, especially, when they were eating, on
the green grass, all together, their beautiful turbans (Pagri) formed a wonderful line of
colours, long white beard, biblical faces and long colourful Mundu (traditional garment of
India). Also the women used to wear their traditional clothing and were really fascinating
with their wonderful long colourful garment called "Sari". I admired those people that still
kept their long traditions even in a westerner country and at work, too. They had a
profound attachment to their own country and there was a fond sense of community.
At that time of the season, I was always busy with the job and the chance to talk with the
Indian people was quite remote. I had to work physically, loading the lugs on the cart and
also helping the older labourers carrying the boxes full of berries, at the time of the scale,
all the way back to the tractor and had also a bit of paperwork, jotting down all the working
hours of the labourers and collecting the punch cards for each worker so that we could
keep an average count of how many berries were picked up each day.
One day, some complaint arose circa the salary that many workers had received, which
was incorrect. They had many missing hours. They said: it was not fair to get people
working so many hours, literally toiling from dawn to dusk, and not be remunerated, fairly.
They really felt exploited, demoralized and unwilling to work from 12 to 15 hours a day.
We had to go to the head office to discuss about that issue many times. When the
employees received a payslip, they, regularly, had missing hours. It was a great dilemma. I
was between two hot stones and I knew that,
in the coming weeks, it would have been
harder to cope with that situation.
Morally, I felt more on the workers side. I have been working hard, under the sun, carrying
large and heavy boxes, so I knew what that meant for them. I was told by other workers
that was a perennial problem, in that company, and it was no news. I was also informed
that the company had got some big fines for not having a safe working environment for the
labourers. I felt really sorry that those workers had to suffer that injustice for so many
The harvest, although, continued to run even though the ambiance of the work place was
becoming ever tense. I was also glad that, with me, the workers was understanding and still
treated me with respect. I tried to support those labourers in the best way I could and I
often discussed with the manager about how they were treated, exploited to work a
tremendous amount of hours and not remunerated properly.
This is how it works in the business industry, nowadays.
The utmost important thing is to
make money and the rest it does not matter.
"I like to remember a quote of my favourite traveller and writer that said: Let's make more
that is right, instead of that convene to us. Let's educate the kids to be honest and not
Although we had many worriments on the farm, I think that this experience was a great
test of my morality and I just hope that, one day, things might change for the better
because if there is no transparency each other we will always commit the same mistakes.
I stood for the workers, I often argued for them but nobody seemed to worry much about
it. I understood and learnt a lot by this experience and I think it will be invaluable for the
continuation of my work career, in the future.
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