The 18-year-old lives in Alexandra when home from studying at the University of Otago, and found her way into the industry after her mother worked in an orchard. Her grandparents had also owned an orchard in the Nelson region, and so she grew up around it, also knowing it was a great way to earn some decent money for her tertiary education.
Initially starting in the pack-house, Meg soon realised that it was outside in the fresh air that she needed to be, and after a week, joined her friends to pick fruit instead.
“If you want to make good money, then you’ll find out pretty quick if you like picking or not, the packhouse is easier money but picking is just so nice amongst the trees.”
Meg is keen for a full season of cherry picking this Christmas holidays, and enjoys the convenient hours, knowing every day is a guaranteed 7-8 hours of work over a 6-7 day week.
Having a good group of friends to pick with definitely helps the day go faster, as it can be physically demanding, but also a great way to get fit and a tan.
“My back was very sore after the first day but the buckets aren’t that big that you can’t hold them. It’s just physically tiring.”
In the peak of the season they would start work at 7:30am and finish around 3:30-4pm, but if they were busy the boss would give people the choice to either carry on, or sign off if they had other commitments.
But if the physical work seems daunting, then there are other orchard jobs available, and the pack house is a good place to start.
Stonefruit, in particular, was much easier to pack than cherries, and a good way to earn extra money when there was a great harvest, she said.
Although pickers get paid on contract and rewarded if they reach a certain quota, there are also options for contract work in the sheds as well.
If the orchard was having a busy harvest, then the boss may offer staff a contract rate, and for Meg and her friend, on top of the minimum wage they were paid, they could also make an extra $50 each on a good day.
At the end of last season there were 2-3 weeks where she was making well over $1000, enabling her to start her university year with a full bank account.
But while picking was physically intensive, packing could also be quite laborious and “mind numbing,” she said.
Orchards can be very social places, and Meg’s employer had a basketball team, and threw parties to celebrate milestones, such as at the end of the cherry season.
As well as having good friends around to pass the time, and great opportunities to make extra money when you are prepared to work hard, the social diversity was another bonus of the job. "There are people of all ages and people who don’t speak English. It was also nice mixing with 2nd year students and learning a lot about next year at Uni.”
Her advice to others that are thinking about giving it a go? “Don’t knock it til you try it.”
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