Commercial farm work is back breaking stuff. In the U.S., it’s generally done by people who are somehow unqualified for other jobs and usually pays $50 a day — slightly more if lucky. In NZ, thanks to fierce labor laws and lack of cheap migrant labor, it’s done by all sorts of folks and pays $13.77/hr.
The day I arrived in Wanaka, the Job Agency turned up work for me. It’s shoot-thinning time at the local vineyards, and they need many hands! A bright-eyed Brit named Sarah picked up our group of bleary-eyed traveling youth at 6:45 a.m. sharp. An hour’s drive through gorgeous farm country and aquamarine waterways landed us at a huge commercial vineyard. Training took all of five minutes, but getting fast took the rest of the eight hours.
The shoots in question are nearer the ground than my eyes and hands. The work is mid-thigh for me, and just above the knee cap for poor Pat! We spent the day squatting, kneeling, bending over, or in the splits. Thanks to the descending waistlines of the past decade and the time I’ve spent in the above positions, NZ is giving me quite the plumber’s tan!
Pat could only do a day before he was on to other, more varied labor jobs. During my two days on the vineyard, I accomplished moulding hundreds of grapevines into productive, evenly spaced candelabras. I learned that the suspicious flavor of unwashed store grapes is thanks to regular, heavy doses of sulpher for pest control. (I’m told this is entirely safe…?) Except for the very traumatizing and shocking moment when a rock beneath my bum shattered the screen of my iPod (I nearly cried), it was two days of zen labor. Okay, so the ball of my right foot is still without feeling. And my back would be shot if I wasn’t religiously devoted to maintaining core strength. And I would probably never commit to doing it for more than a few days at a time. And I will more highly value every glass of wine I drink for the rest of my life. But, all in all, a fun New Zealand experience, and no lasting complaints!