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“Hardest job I’ve ever had,” Kaplan said. “Best job I ever had too.”

It’s strawberry season in California and almost time for the sweet Rainier cherries to be picked in Washington, but who will pick the fruit?

Farmers in California are reporting labor shortages of more than 50 percent, according to Rayne Pagg, manager of Federal Policy Division at the California Farm Bureau Federation. Last year in Washington apple growers advertised daily for workers and still came up short.

This means that if you don’t mind hard work – really hard work – these jobs are available now.

Strawberries are sweet, but they’re a tough crop to pick. The plants are low to the ground and require bending or kneeling, but think of how tan you’ll be by the end of summer. The pay’s not bad either. If you work your butt off you can make up to $100 a day and all the berries you can eat.

“I’ve worked from Carlsbad to Santa Cruz picking strawberries for the last four years,” said Blake Kaplan of Poway. “I lost my job at a boat manufacturer in LA and I couldn’t find a job. My dad dared me to pick strawberries, and I found I had a knack for it. It pays to be short if you’re going to last in the fields.”

Kaplan finds his gigs by word of mouth or on the Southern California site pickingjobs.com.

Apparently there is a cornucopia of farm labor jobs available in California. The California Farm Bureau Federation stated that more than 70 percent of state agricultural producers expect a shortage of workers starting this spring and becoming worse though the growing season. According to the CFBF, the labor force could fall by more than 80,000 farmworkers — down from the 450,000 workers in the peak harvest of late summer.

Many of the workers are aging Latinos, and their children have decided not to follow in their parents work boots.

“No one wants to do this job, because it’s hard work,” said Mike Bliss, owner of 50-acres of apple trees in Yakima, WA. “I’ve had people come to my farm since they were teenagers, but because of the immigration laws and the fact that they’re getting older, I find myself looking for new workers every day.”

Cherries will soon be turning ripe on the trees in Washington State, and growers there look for workers who can pick, trim trees, and even fly helicopters.

Brad Frazier, originally from Escondido flies his helicopter around the country drying cherries.

“If it rains a few weeks before the harvest the cherries are likely to split or rot,” Frazier said. “What I do is fly in and hover low over the trees. Our downwash dries the tree branches and dries the water from the cherries. It’s a cool job.”

Picking jobs can also be found around the world. Becca Presley of Huntington Beach made her way from Italy where she picked olives and grapes, to France where she harvested cantaloupe, and England where she marked sheep when she was in her 20’s. She now owns her own small farm in New York.

“I met my husband in Italy while we were both pickers,” she said. “We love working outside and getting our hands dirty. Picking was the hardest job I’ve ever done in my life but I made good money, saw the world, and slept hard every night.”

For jobs across the world, check out the international section of pickingjobs.com.

Some farmers in Europe pay pickers in room and board only, so make sure you know what you’re getting into before you pack your passport. Don’t even consider picking fruit if you have a bad back, and make sure you enjoy nature including cockroaches, snakes, and the harsh sun.

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Letter to the Editor May 8, 2013 @ 7:36 a.m.

This article had me totally excited and then totally let down. I am a farmer who is in San Marcos taking care of my mother. Picking fruit is a the perfect job for someone like me who loves farmwork but also needs money, so I eagerly looked up the website mentioned in the article (pickingjobs.com) and was immediately disheartened to see listings in just about every field besides farm labor. The only other advice on how to actually pick a job picking fruit is to use "word of mouth", but no advice on where to go or who to talk to. I would love to see some resources published for those of us who are interesting in picking a job picking fruit. - JON G


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