What harvests hire temporary/seasonal labor in the US?
March 3, 2013 10:00 PM   Subscribe

I know about the sugar beet harvest in North Dakota and the blueberry harvest in Maine, but what other harvests hire a bunch of people for a short time, and often become a mecca for travelers looking to make a quick buck?

I also know about seasonal fishing off the Alaskan coast and tree planting in Canada.

I welcome answers from all over the US, but bonus points for harvests in/near New England or the northern Rocky Mountains.
posted by Grandysaur to Work & Money (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Apples in most of the Northeast and tobacco in the Connecticut River Valley of MA and CT. However, I don't think you'll make much money on either.
posted by Gringos Without Borders at 10:11 PM on March 3, 2013

Not US, but fruit picking is a pretty popular job in the Okanagan region of BC. A lot of tree planters switch to that when their season ends, and it seems to be especially popular for French-Canadians who make their way out west from Quebec.
posted by mannequito at 10:14 PM on March 3, 2013

In California a major seasonal labor crop is strawberries, due to the fact that they're 100% hand picked and have to be repeatedly picked every 3 days as the berries ripen during the season.
posted by RichardP at 10:19 PM on March 3, 2013

In Arizona, it's citrus picking. But it is definitely not a "mecca for travelers looking to make a quick buck," unless by that you mean "a mecca for undocumented immigrants looking to earn very poor wages under the table."
posted by celtalitha at 11:25 PM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Kansas custom wheat harvest crew? Although you might need to be a vetted member of a larger crew with longer-term relationships. I'm honestly not sure how the custom crews are formed these days (my intel is several years old, sorry).
posted by hapax_legomenon at 1:43 AM on March 4, 2013

posted by Specklet at 2:00 AM on March 4, 2013

Cherry picking in Michigan.
posted by HuronBob at 3:07 AM on March 4, 2013

I don't know if it still goes on, but up in the very far nw corner of washington state, there are strawberries and cucumbers and other types of berries that companies hire pickers for. But as others have said, it is very poor wages for very hard work.
posted by lemniskate at 5:02 AM on March 4, 2013

Apples and Hops in eastern Washington. Seasick Steve tells a story about picking apples in Wenachee, Wa. (Great audio story exactly about what you are asking).
posted by 445supermag at 6:09 AM on March 4, 2013

Prune plum harvesting and drying in Northern California in September.
posted by eleslie at 6:16 AM on March 4, 2013

Corn Detasseling, anywhere there's corn, which is mostly done by teenagers and takes no particular skills beyond the ability to get up at the ass crack of dawn and do physical labor for several hours.

Temporary agricultural work is generally done by two groups of people: migrant farm workers, who typically follow a set pattern of migration following a series of harvests, and local teenagers. The hours are long, the works is extremely physical, and the pay is very low. It is generally NOT a way to make a quick buck, and while in many states (California, for example) there are not nearly enough migrant workers to harvest the whole crop (plums have suffered, IIRC) due to tightening immigration, many farmers are hesitant to hire American-born adult workers with no agricultural experience: most are unprepared for the relentlessly physical, repetitive work and very few are willing to work for the very low pay.

Every state has at least one organization that serves migrant laborers through the National Farmworker Jobs Program, because they follow the harvests in quite predictable patterns and still require services like schooling for their children and housing. Here's some info on migrant worker employment in Montana; here's a bunch of resources from an advocate organization in Maine.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:18 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

The pot harvest in Humboldt County springs to mind. Bring your own manicure scissors, as they are hard to come by in the harvest.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:23 AM on March 4, 2013

on east coast, it's pretty common to move up the coast from GA to NH/ME, doing peaches, apples, potatoes etc -- as one crop finishes in an area, the next area north is ready to harvest.
posted by k5.user at 6:54 AM on March 4, 2013

Echoing Ruthless Bunny: the pot harvest, in much of North California, requires a lot of manual labor in trimming buds and so on. The money is quite good and the work not very strenuous, but it's quite mind-numbing in several ways. What I don't know is how easy it is to get a job without being a known person in the area.
posted by anadem at 7:41 AM on March 4, 2013

Yep, I know someone who was a trimmer at a pot farm.
posted by radioamy at 8:06 AM on March 4, 2013

David Sedaris wrote a story or two about picking apples while traveling through Oregon, although he did this in the 70s or 80s.
posted by charlemangy at 8:13 AM on March 4, 2013

Grapes in the summer, various orchards in the autumn, in the San Joaquin Valley of California. Cruise the fields and ask the honcho. You'll find the orchards in the lower foothills on the east side, from Bakersfield to Sacramento. Drive along Hwy-99 between Fresno and Bakersfield for the grapes. Once you get the lay of the land you'll see where all the stuff is. Out on the west side, I believe mechanical harvesting is the rule of the day (onion, potatoe, and such), so I wouldn't think casual labor has a big drawing. If you want a good workout, find the melon fields in mid-summer.

All this work requires a certain amont of skill, which you can pick up as you go along. Most times you have to deal with the crew boss to get hired. It's hard work for low pay, and it's not a quick buck. I financed my school clothes doing this stuff. When I was younger, my family followed crops from Summerton AZ to Redding, and all points between. In those days we got to weed and pick cotton, and thing now done with machines. The better money was at the packing houses, but you had to stand in line to get hired.

Be prepared to learn more than you figured on learning.

About the Mecca part...well, never mind.
posted by mule98J at 9:31 AM on March 4, 2013

Tomatoes in New Jersey.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:32 PM on March 4, 2013

Pears, apples, cherries, apricots in North Central Washington.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:36 PM on March 4, 2013

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