Seth rolls silently down orchard laneways in his Ford pickup, one hand on the steering wheel and the other pressing a cell phone to his ear. During the harvest, he’s in constant contact with buyers, describing the quality and quantity of his apples. There are hundreds of pieces in the apple business puzzle. Seth pushes them around in his head, and on paper, all day long, turning disparate figures into a profitable picture. With the foremen, Seth looks deeply into the bin, gears turning. There is a wordless but palpable connection between them, everyone weighing the variables in real time.
As the farm’s management is passed from Mason to Seth, so too are the skills of the pickers passed on to their sons. 30 father and son pairs work in the orchard. During a picker’s first season, he is partnered with an older, more experienced picker, often his father, for four or five days.
Willard Shaw, 69, known as “Shaw-Shaw,” and his son Omar, now in his seventh season on the farm, work together and in silence in a corner of the orchard. The two work on opposite trees in the laneway depositing their apples in a single bin and splitting duties driving the tractor to move bins to the road or down the aisle. Since he joined Forrence Orchards in 1985, Shaw-Shaw has worked under three generations of the family. Omar, one of Shaw’s eight children, farms with him on the family farm in Jamaica growing ginger, cocoa, bananas, and coffee. The very trees he and his son now pick, Shaw planted 13 years ago when Seth began trials of Honeycrisps. Seth attributes the health and success of the trees to Shaw, who blessed and danced around each tree as he planted them in the ground.
Since 1985, Shaw has spent the better part of his life at Forrence Orchards, but he has seen little beyond the orchard and town of Peru. Over the nine months a year he spends on the orchard, there isn’t time for anything else but work.
Like Shaw, the men on the orchard live a spartan, disciplined life. They send their wages home every Friday through Western Union to their families, who depend on the income to educate their children, finance their own farming operations, build homes, and give their families financial stability. It comes at a cost. The many weeks and months away from home have broken up marriages and strained relationships with children. In the pre-dawn or setting sun, men are seen speaking into cell phones to family back home.
“It’s a matter of trust,” says Wilward “Drizzy” Drysdale. He came to the orchard through his childhood friend Neville Betty. The men live nearby each other in Jamaica and attend the church where Drysdale is a pastor. Neville calls his wife three times a day to ease his time away.