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Thursday, 31 July 2014

Journal Entry - Life on the Cherry Farm

Dear Diary,

My fingers have become noticeably crusty and black with dirt and pesticide. Their ends slightly hurt, and it's sometimes tough to grip things. But my fingers are satisfying evidence of the hard physical work I've done cherry picking.

I have now spent 3 weeks on the cherry farm. As I generally enter new experiences with no expectations, life as a cherry picker by default has exceeded my expectations. However, the experience has been truly amazing and has felt more like a dream. I'm amazed and humbled everyday by the intensity and skill required to do cherry picking. And I'm in love with camp life.
Hiking on a day off
The people are what truly makes any experience and this is no exception. There is a real diverse mix of ethnicities and personalities to keep every day interesting. Over half of my campsite is comprised of Quebec origin. I don't know why, but I'm guessing it's the European connection. Quebec's culture is very similar to Europe, and Europeans are generally open to new experiences such as the travel and work lifestyle. Speaking of Europe, there is a large group of Czechs here, as well as individuals representing other countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Russia.

My favourite moment of camp so far happened on one of our rare days off. On this rainy night, a dance party broke out in the kitchen area, the music blaring from an old and small iPod stereo and people starting to show their dance moves. It began raining heavily outside, with rain falling beside the dance area, which was roofed but was open on one side. One girl started dancing in the rain. Everyone was initially shocked and started waving her in, but soon one girl joined her, and then eventually almost everyone ran out into the rain to dance!

With so many talented people in such a small space, the campsite has occasional random moments. One evening a guy performed poi, or fire spinning. One afternoon, a guy and a girl invited everyone to watch them dance tango. I recently watched someone giving his friend a tattoo using the stick and poke technique. I'm looking forward to the tie dye party which we are planning soon.
Poi - the art of spinning rope with balls of fire on the end
The kitchen can be full of nice surprises too. I've been able to cook a lot of my favourite recipes, and turn heads doing it. But while it's common to see a lot of cheap, instant foods such as pastas and noodles, a few cooks are always making wonderful creations from scratch. I've been able to trade my home made beer and cooking for kombucha, home made root beer, and muffins. A few people have come back with boxes of dumpster dived food and I helped to clean and keep some of the foods. Just today, a few people are making cherry wine!

Life's a beach here. I've spent quite a lot of time on various beaches on the Lake Okanagan. I hope to make my way to a well known cliff jumping spot just off nearby Lake Kalamalka, or to bike along the Kettle Valley Trail. And hopefully to join a group that regularly goes rock climbing. At least I've managed to go on a few hikes in the area.
Relaxing on Coral Beach (the actual beach and not the farm)
It's sometimes hard to get away from the people and find time for solitude and individual activities. I'm very ambitious though and intend to do as much reading, (blogging,) cooking, yoga, meditation, and learning harmonica as I can. I am also learning French by podcast and through conversing with some of the French speaking people in my camp (also a few words here and there of Czech and Spanish).

My favourite one or two hours of the day is usually when I get to read (while snacking on potato chips) and sleep in a hammock. At this rate I should finally be able to finish the tremendously long novel Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky, which I started too long ago to admit!

These exciting times, combined with the hard work of cherry picking, makes the problems of camping seem small. Sleeping in a tent isn't so bad after doing it for 3 weeks straight. Spiders and bugs are a non-issue. And I'm lucky to be a driver, so I don't have to hitchhike to get into town, like many here do, when the shuttle bus for groceries isn't running.

And whenever I do get exhausted with waking up at 3:30 am every morning to go cherry picking, or the pain in my fingers becomes unbearable, I like to remind myself that my problems are not so bad - first-world, really. In fact, whenever I look out from my tent and see the view of the lake, or when I meditate, I am able to remind myself of how lucky I am to be here, and to just be in the present.

More pics here -
Holding a baby wallaby at the Kangaroo Zoo in Winfield, near my farm

Sunday, 20 July 2014

The Art of Picking Cherries

Welcome to the wonderful world of fruit picking in BC! Come and allow me to open your eyes to a lifestyle of working in nature, and living in a community of transient workers, many of whom live a double life as adventurers and travelers.
A bunch of cherries (note: ripe cherries are a darker red)
My own adventure starts in the gorgeous Okanagan region of British Columbia, defined by its rolling hills and arid climate, which is almost considered to be desert, due to its low humidity and high temperatures. It produces an abundance of fruit including some of the best cherries in the world, sought after in countries such as China and Japan, which place a high value on cherries.

Coral Beach Farms ( is one of the largest cherry farms in Canada. Its full scale operation includes several orchards, a processing and sorting factory, an office, and campsites for up to 300 migrant cherry pickers from July to September.

My campsite is within the farm and just off Lake Okanagan, with amazing lake views, and has a capacity of 150 people. It comes complete with a large tent area, kitchens, a huge walk-in refrigeration unit, washrooms, washing machines and, yes, Wifi! It's also just a 5-minute walk to the lake.
Exterior kitchen area
All this sounds glorious so far, and it certainly is. But it's not all fun and games. Cherry picking work is nothing like the serene image you may conjure up of a weekend family visit to the local cherry farm. It is intense, physically demanding work, and the technique and skill involved qualifies cherry picking to be its own art form.

Here are the main things to consider when picking cherries for commercial sale. Cherries with the stem on lasts 3 days longer than without the stem. Thus, cherries must be picked with the stem in order to ship them fresh to China. Many stems are attached to the tree by the spur, which houses the buds for next year's cherries. Thus, cherries must also be picked without removing the spurs.
Cherry with stem; cherry without stem; cherry with spur (tiny buds on top)
While high quality cherries must be picked, picking a large quantity also maximizes Coral Beach's sales, and also the individual picker's profits. I am paid not hourly, but by picked weight ($0.24/pound). The perfect balance of quality and quantity must be achieved when cherry picking, demanding a consistent, high level of concentration over a 7-9 hour day picking cherries in the Okanagan's dry heat.

The bucket, or tote, which contains the cherries is suspended from my shoulder harness in front of me, supported by my waist. To pick cherries fastest, I position myself directly under a bunch of cherries in a tree so that I can easily snap the stem and let them fall into the bucket. If I can't position myself directly under a bunch, then I will be reaching for the cherries, grabbing them and tossing them into the bucket, which wastes time and energy.

I am given a ladder between 9 and 14 feet long. Laddering, or the act of placing the ladder, is crucial in maximizing convenient access to cherries. Laddering itself is an art, as creative placements over branches are often needed to reach those cherries that are really high up in the tree and appear out of reach.
Near the top of a 9 foot ladder with my tote directly under a bunch of cherries
I tag my own buckets with specially made labels with my name and a serial code, so that I get paid what I pick. Also, in order to ensure that I do my job properly there is quality control staff who sift through my tagged and filled buckets. A high rate of stemless cherries or spurs can result in a loss in pay.

My cherries then get submitted to the factory where they are cleaned and sorted by personnel (of which I helped for an afternoon). The sorting is done mainly by Mexican immigrant workers because it is a tedious and undesirable job, unlike cherry picking, whose prestige attracts migrant workers and travelers from far and wide. The premium cherries, with zero defects, will be shipped to China or Japan while the ones with minor defects will be sold locally.

Learning about this entire process has given me an appreciation for this luxurious fruit and how much it costs. For example, my farm has a helicopter that flies over the cherries after a rainfall to dry them, because a cherry that gets wet before it's ripe will split its skin near the stem.
This picture shows a lot of the operation
Unfortunately, cherries are rarely grown and sold organic because farmers risk losing up to half their crop without pesticides. Occasionally the pesticides cause itchy eyes and sneezing, but I put up with it because I have no choice.

On my first day of picking cherries, I managed to pick 7 totes, a profit of only $35. About a week later I managed 19 totes, making about $100. However, I heard someone collected 58 totes, for over $300 profit in one day! That guy might be a highballer! Highballers mean serious business, and have likely been cherry picking for several seasons. In fact, there is a section of the campsite reserved for their tents only.

I am learning and becoming more familiar with the art form everyday. And anyway, I hear the early season is slow. Mid-season is when the lapin species of cherries arrives and cherry picking becomes a lot easier and bountiful! Lapins are cherry gold :)
Hanging out with some amazing people at the campsite. More on camp life in the next blog!

Friday, 11 July 2014

All I Need Is My 2 Bare Feet

As I write this I am at my tent-site designated for cherry pickers, with a partial view of Lake Okanagan, through rows of trees. But more on that in another blog…

I have had a lot of great conversations with friends over my final weeks in Calgary. It’s as if my departure left a rupture in the fabric of my social network in the city. My actions have, if not inspired, then disrupted inner thoughts and provoked self-reflection among several friends. 
Apr 22, 2014 - overnight cycling camping trip with non-profit Two Wheel View. I met some really great, inspiring people in TWV, such as founder, Rick McFerrin, who cycled for 2 years around the world
I have also been doing a lot of thinking myself (for that matter, I am always thinking). One very simple question my friends have been asking me, which I am continually figuring out myself is – why? Why pick up and leave everything behind again?

After thinking this through, I can safely say that this new phase in my life I am just embarking on is for a multitude of reasons, which beautifully synergize into an all-encompassing journey whose purpose is greater than the reasons combined.

I am seeking an alternative way of living – one that achieves happiness through humble methods, and also doesn’t scar the earth, instead works with the synergy of nature to, if not leave no trace, then enhance its ecology.
Staying on my friend's organic farm in Slocan, BC. Here is happiness
Since my return from my 10 month backpacking trip to normal life in May 2013, I witnessed a slow degradation of myself into just a shell of who I was. I fell back into distractions in a big way, compromising my main interests, and taking time from doing what I most passionately wanted to do.

I noticed how the social construct of the big city broke me down and trapped everyone else in an unforgiving web of temptations, distractions, materialism and superficiality. I pondered how on an individual level, excess consumption is leading us down the wrong path to happiness. Looking at the bigger picture of our world, excess consumption combined with the force of globalization is aleading us down a path to increasing social inequality and environmental destruction.

Observing all this I couldn't just return to this life, this society of winners and losers.

I am extremely spoiled. At 30, compared to the vast majority, I have had amazing experiences and adventures already. And through these life experiences I am highly privileged to have developed an acute awareness about myself and my surroundings, and to have pushed my comfort zone to the point where nothing is impossible for me. With this privilege and awareness, I feel a handed responsibility to benefit others through my leadership and influence.

Thus, my blog - All I Need Is My 2 Bare Feet. The goals of my blog are this:
  • uprooting my life, quitting my job and selling almost all my stuff will challenge the social norms and conventional paradigm
  • vicariously, my experiences will expose curious readers' minds up to another life path, an outlying path yet an achievable one, hard to find yet not out of reach
  • show how disconnecting from technology and connecting with nature can increase happiness, humility and sustainability
  • redefine the term "rich" in the same way Bhutan measures its progress not by its GDP but by its gross domestic happiness
  • I hope to evoke the great irony of travel which is that by expanding one's individual borders, one learns the meaning of community and can apply it in one's home community
  • ultimately I hope to free your mind and break you out of the Matrix which is our society!
Nature has the amazing power to heal, which is why we must respect nature
On a personal level, travelling and working abroad will allow me to connect with cool people and to develop my main passion, which is currently sustainable food and permaculture. All this could lead to a career that is truly fulfilling. I will also have more free time to engage in simple passions such as reading, meditating, and just travelling in a way that I can continue to learn and grow as a person.

Isn't it ironic how I can marry all my passions together by simply doing the opposite of what everyone tells me to do? Since I left Calgary just a few days ago, I already feel reinvigorated. Like a big bang, my mind, free of distractions, is blasting out philosophical thoughts, exploding out of my skull.

Everything seems to be coming together thus far, and justify my thoughts leading up to this transformation. But who knows? Picking cherries in 40 degree heat could change my mind!

My self-titled blog is all about embarking on a journey of humility and gratitude - All I Need Is My 2 Bare Feet. And please just forget the grammatical error. Buddha once said he didn't want any temples, shrines or monuments built in his honour. But sometimes, in order to get people's attention for their own good, you need to start your own Facebook page with a snappy title!

On that note, I encourage you to follow my blog, and my new FB page: (

I hope what's to come will inspire you and change you, for the better of both your world and our beautiful earth.
Shoutout to my family for their support on my journey - I love you
~ Andrew