If you were to look at the schools in a small town in Idaho, you would see that they were empty, and they have been that way for the past two weeks. Every year, near the end of September, the farmers are harvesting their fields that they carefully tended all summer long. And for Idaho, one crop in particular stands out: potatoes. And for the high school-aged students, it means that it's Potato Vacation time.
Now, I know what you're thinking. 'Two weeks off of school? Just because the potatoes are ripe? I'm moving to Idaho!' But there is a reason for the break. All of the farmers hire high school students to sack potatoes for two weeks, twelve hours a day. This year, yours truly worked "in potatoes" (as they say around here.) I decided to tell you what it's like to sack fifty-pound bags of potatoes and/or pick dirt clods out from between the potatoes as they move by on a conveyor belt.
The first thing that I think of is the dirt. Potato dirt is very fine; it settles on anything that has a surface. Standing above the conveyor belt, breathing in the dirt, is a very uncomfortable feeling, but you can't help it. At night, when you come home and blow your nose, your boogies are black. When you shower, the water rushing down the drain is black. The dirt gets in your ears and eyes. It gets on your hands, even if you wear gloves, and it will be all up your arms. Somehow, it will find its way into your sealed lunchbox and onto your carefully packed sandwich. It doesn't really matter, though. You've been inhaling dirt for hours, why does it matter if you eat a little more? There's just no winning. Dirt, dirt, dirt.
The sun shines down on you with intensity worthy of summer. Some days remained cloudless, even breezeless. Being as pale as I am, my arms turned an angry red after just one day. Now however, I have a farmer's tan. I proudly show my friends my white skin and my slightly-less white skin, which they respond to with far too much surprise.
Finally, I must make a confession: I am weak. I am wimpy. I am un-strong. I did not enjoy trying to lift fifty-pound sacks of potatoes all day (Note: They didn't have handles). Once I finally got the sack into a somewhat acceptable carrying position, I would struggle, red-faced and puffing, to take the bag to the trailer, where I would drop it clumsily along with everyone else's sacks. I probably looked ridiculous. That was the worst part of the work. The actual sacking wasn't too hard, just boring (though the soles of my feet were in constant pain), and picking clods was even easier.
Yesterday, I proudly accepted my paycheck from my employers. It was defiantly worth it; the dirt, the burns, and the work did have a nice payoff. Now, off to spend my money . . .
Largest Potato Found: About the length of my forearm, and a little wider.
Scariest Experience: My glove got caught on the conveyor belt, and my arm was dragged along for a bit while I tried to figure out what to do. Luckily, my glove ripped and saved me. My finger wasn't even cut.
Dumbest Thing I Did: I cut myself on the bag-taper. Of all the heavy machinery and dangerous objects, I cut myself on the bag-taper.
Most Interesting Find: I picked up a horseshoe that was hidden amongst the potatoes. No joke.