It feels like we have just signed on to be part of a reality show.

This is the true story of twelve strangers, from seven countries, picked to live and work on an orchard, to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real. Is this, The Real World New Zealand? 

Okay, maybe there aren’t video cameras in the corner, recording our every move. And maybe, instead of living in a mansion, we all sleep in our cars, but it does sounds eerily similar, don’t you think?

There is another difference, and this one might just be the deal breaker between reality TV and just plain ole’ reality, work. On the reality show, the cast attempts to not get fired from a job that has been created specifically for the TV show. In reality, these 12 apple pickers are working six days a week, for three months to ensure your 10-year-old can place a bruise-free, perfectly ripe apple on Mrs. Johnson’s desk at school.

We are contracted to fill a specific number of bins each day, rain or shine, and if we start getting lazy, we actually do get fired and have to leave the orchard. Getting fired from this reality means becoming a broke backpacker, aimlessly roaming one of the most expensive countries in the world. Not exactly the kind of reality I want to find myself in.

Real World New Zealand has the added bonus of geographical diversity added to the mix. The cast of pickers hail from Germany, Spain, Italy, France, Holland, Canada and the United States. The 12 of us spend our days sweating in the orchard, picking apples as fast as we can and trying to keep pace with our contract.

The government states that we must make at least minimum wage each day. Orchards know from experience that people pick more fruit if they have the ability to make more money, so rather than paying us per hour, we are paid per bin. Now, our paycheck is quite literally in our own hands. The more apples you pick, the faster you climb your ladder, the more money you make.

If we don’t fill enough bins to meet minimum wage, than the orchard has to cover the difference in our paychecks. Orchards really don’t like to do this and usually only give you a week to get up to pace.

In order to reach minimum wage, of $14.25 an hour, we each must fill about three bins per day. Each bin weighs 770 pounds. That is not a typo, each bin weighs 770 pounds. To avoid getting fired, we must singlehandedly harvest 2500 pounds of apples each day. 

Our group of pickers are all newbies to the trade. We are all climbing the learning curve as fast as possible, but we haven’t yet figured out how to pick to minimum wage standards. Today, I filled two bins myself. I really don’t want to get fired next week. 

When the apple picking ends for the day and we are all covered in pesticide residue and sweat, we come home together and wait in line for our turn at the single shower. You would be surprised at how civilized life can be managed with 12 people, 2 toilets, 1 shower and 1 kitchen. 

The French couple make their dinner first, followed by us and the Germans. The Italian/Dutch couple usually don’t eat until close to bedtime. I had envisioned meal and shower time as an all our brawl for space, but the 12 of us make it look effortless and fun. Maybe the U.N. should take a few notes from apple pickers.  

As the clock strikes 9:00, we start dreaming of sleep. Little by little, we all manage to find our way through the darkness and back to our cars, where we snuggle in for the night to rest our weary bodies.

7 thoughts on “Apple Pickers in New Zealand

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