Those Were the Days

Machine harvesting is garlics equivalent to the Industrial Revolution.

During the hot and dusty Marlborough summer days of the 70’s and 80’s garlic was dug by a potato digger and left to dry in dirt encrusted furrows before the casual labour force descended on garlic fields like mice to a wheat store.

Seasoned families who used the proceeds to outfit their kids for the school year, adolescents wanting spending money, youths in need of funds towards their first vehicle and seniors looking for a prop-up to their income all lined up in the dark outside the paddock to harvest the season crop, waiting for the supervisors to open the gates at 5.30am and let them in.  To be honest, a number of folk descended on the paddock in the dark, climbed the fences and set themselves up in a prime spot, close to an empty bin, with rows of garlic sorted, cleaned of dirt and neatly laid out with a collection of white buckets surrounding them …ready for filling once it was light enough to clip the stalks without cutting off fingers!

They were never encouraged to break the rules, but what to do? Such initiative and eagerness to work.  

For the uninitiated, it didn’t take long to realise that the large garlic bulbs filled the buckets quicker. Leave the small stuff to the youngsters after blasting them with a steely ‘hands-off’ glare.

The work was hot, there wasn’t a lot of sunscreen being slapped around and terry towelling hats ruled. People worked until the field was harvested, occasionally working a night shift until 9pm if required.

Those were the days when everyone knew the supervisors by the clicker in their hand and how they loitered by the collection bin watching their patch, scanning for the enterprising people half-filling the buckets with dirt … 1 click on the card per bucket, $1 per bucket, more clicks meant more money.

Those were the days when ‘hands free’ meant the kids weren’t working hard enough to lay the dug garlic into lines ready for the clippers.

Those were the days when there weren’t signs everywhere reminding people to take care and not to walk in front of the loader carting the full bins, or to take care and not cut themselves with sharp secateurs, or to take care and not trip on the uneven ground, or to stretch often and take a break so that body parts could stay refreshed … the signs let people know where the toilets were.

Those were the days when everyone patiently lined up at the caravan when they’d had enough, with their IRD number in hand, and their clicked cards indicating the amount they would receive.  No money on the property, they were paid by the bosses wives in cheque form, which they had to take to the bank to be cashed or deposited by hand … no fast track options, no bag drop offs and certainly no ITM machine.  The bank staff always knew when there was a garlic harvest happening by the waves of garlic scented hot air that wafted over them and lingered well after the transaction was completed.

Those were the days when the bosses identified the great workers and offered them an extra week of work (paid hourly) cleaning up the field and picking up all the garlic left behind, working on it quickly so the neighbours didn’t have time to sneak over and fill their pantries with illicitly gained produce (but they did anyway).

As we marched towards quicker-paced lives and the ‘time means money’ ethos the crazy heydays of hand-harvesting commercial garlic crops were left behind.  

Technology moved on and bespoke machines took the place of people especially as the crop fields got bigger and moved out of the town boundaries and the number of commercial garlic growers dwindled.

Count yourself one of the lucky ones if you can reminisce about garlic harvests as they were, because those were indeed the days!