Field Notes Forrence Orchards June - December 2016
Seth Forrence looks over the orchard from his farmhouse window. An early summer rain has abruptly turned to hail and is crashing down in waves on the apple trees outside. In the kitchen, his partner Leslie and their three young children sit in silence at the lunch table watching ice bounce in the grass. Seth has lived among apple trees for 41 years, and he’s never seen a hail storm like this. The storm passes as quickly as it came, and Seth and his farm manager, Mervan “Granny” Green, step into a row of Honeycrisp trees. Seth twists a green golf ball-sized apple from a limb and turns it over in his fingers. His heart sinks. As the apples grow, so too will their scars. “Dad,” Seth sighs into his cell phone, “....It looks baaad.”
Granny too makes a call to a fellow orchard worker 1800 miles away in Jamaica. In rapid patois, he sets in motion a sprawling phone tree connecting 200 Jamaican men across the island. A storm-damaged crop means fewer apples to pick, fewer harvest days, fewer workers needed, and ultimately less income for the farm and the Jamaican workers alike. The men recalibrate their expectations for the fall harvest, and reflexively their financial outlook for the year.
Granny, 58, began working for Seth’s great-uncle Virgil Jr. in 1979, at 19 years old. "My first year I couldn’t keep up with the work, but prayed I’d be invited back next year." Since that first difficult season, Granny has spent a good part of his life at Forrence Orchards. He's a welder by trade, whose work at the orchard has paid to educate his two children. His 28-year-old son has followed in his footsteps and works at an orchard in the Hudson Valley. With a dozen other men, Granny arrives in March to begin prepping the farm for the fall harvest. Nine months later he returns to his family in December after every last apple is picked and the farm is buttoned up for winter. Granny’s knowledge of the orchard after 37 seasons has made him indispensable to Seth and daily operations on the farm. When Seth’s daughter Lily was born, Granny was one of first at the hospital to hold the new baby girl.