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Tough work: Apple picking is "an art form" | News

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Tough work: Apple picking is "an art form"

ALPINE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WZZM) -- We're now about three weeks into the apple harvest, but the Michigan Apple Committee reports labor is down about 20 percent this year and farmers in Alpine Township and Sparta say they're feeling the pain.

But Amy Irish-Brown, a Michigan State University educator, and Gretchen Mensing with the Michigan Apple Committee both say they're confident the state's crop will get picked; growers will just have to work harder to get it done.

But May has his doubts and stands to lose $100,000 this season. He has nine workers but still needs nine more. Many people assume if you need work, than just pick apples.

But the job is more difficult than you may think, so WZZM 13 sent reporter Stacia Kalinoski out into May's orchard to show what the work is really life.

We start with two bins and two different apple pickers. Felipe Jaramillo has already filled his bin three times in 3.5 hours. That's 70 bags of apples.

A new guy on the job is still working on his first bin, 3.5 hours in. May says three new apple pickers who started work Wednesday morning aren't even going to make minimum wage because they're too slow at the job.

May needs the help, as do other growers we spoke with. Last year's devastating crop left their usual crews fearful there wouldn't be work again this year.

"A group of 11 people come with me every year and they're working in the state of New York right now. They didn't want to come back," said Jaramillo, who came with his wife and daughter from Texas.

You'd think at $20 per bin, anyone looking to make money would want to fill their shoes. Stacia Kalinoski did just that and found out picking apples really is, as May says, "an art form."

The trick to picking the fruit without the stem or the spurs of the tree is two twist.

"When you yank that apple you will get finger bruises on that apple," he said.

But the twist takes practice and is what slows new workers down. Stacia also learned you'll also bruise the apple and others just by lightly tossing it in the bag.

"Lay that apple in that bag," explained May. "You're handling eggs right now."

Jaramillo and his wife don't stop, climbing ladders and picking two apples at a time. They fill bags of apples, carrying up to 40 pounds at a time for eight to 10 hours a day. They will both fill six to seven bins by the day's end.

You wonder why the average person doesn't show up to work again. "It's part of life and even though you're worn out at the end of the day, just go to sleep, next day work six days. Because that's what we came for: To work," Jaramillo said.

He says his family depends on a good Michigan apple crop. "Yes, because we can save a little bit so we can pay our bills, pay our taxes."