Chantelle Den Boer looks at her hands and giggles.
For two weeks they’ve been stained a bright pink, bordering on raspberry red. But the 13-year-old hardly notices the stains anymore, it comes with the job, she says.
Chantelle was one of 11 tweens and young teenagers hired to pick raspberries at Berry Bounty Farms on Chilliwack Central Road last month.
While it wasn’t her first job, for most other kids it was.
Berry picking is a coming-of-age employment for many young teens who are too old to stay at home under their parents’ watchful eyes, but too young for real employment.
It’s a good training ground, says Dave Maljaars, who runs the family owned Berry Bounty Farms with his sons.
“These kids are learning about the idea of commitment, of plugging away at something even when it’s not always fun. It’s very good experience for them.”
But it’s not an easy job.
With 31 rows of raspberries extending 1,000 feet that must be picked on both sides, Chantelle’s hands are not only stained, they’re torn up in several places by raspberry prickles. Some days they’ve even cramped up on her.
“Depending on how good the berries are, it usually takes me until lunch to finish a row,” she says, her arms covered with sleeves, legs hidden by pants and feet stuck in gumboots – her strategy to ward off the bugs, prickles, and early morning dew on the ground.
“It can get messy,” she smiles.
After three weeks on the farm, 12-year-old Laurans Bosman, who was picking three to four flats a day, says his picking pace is slowing down.
“I’m a little tired,” he says, only managing to pick two flats by noon. “My back is feeling a bit sore.”
Can you blame him?
While many kids his age are spending their holidays sleeping until noon, Bosman and his fellow berry pickers are up at 5 a.m., on the job by 6 a.m.
It doesn’t matter if the sun is blistering hot, or the rain pummeling down, these kids pick. It doesn’t matter if there are bees buzzing around or mosquitos feeding off them, these kids pick. It doesn’t matter if the berries are plentiful or scarce, these kids pick.
“I wanted to make some extra money,” says Chantelle.
On average, she can pick two flats of berries by noon. At 65 cents a pound, 12 pounds of berries per flat, she makes approximately $15.60 for six hours of employment – $2.60 an hour.
Some might balk at such pay, but Chantelle loves it. While her bosses are sticklers for picking the bushes clean of good berries, and making sure the flats are a solid 12 pounds, not an ounce less and no filler berries, they’re relaxed in many other areas.
What other job allows its workers to eat as many berries as their bellies can contain or engage in spontaneous raspberry wars?
“Yah, I like eating the berries,” Chantelle says, the sweet berry aroma wafting off a nearby bush. “It’s almost like instant jam.”