November 2013 Certainly something different
I considered myself very lucky to get some local work while staying with Chris in Bundaberg. Packing tomatoes at a nearby vegetable and fruit producer was something of an experience, I met some lovely people, got shouted at (“for packing rubbish”), worked 16 hours one day, nearly crippled myself (from standing still in the same place for so long), back spasms (from bending over a grading table at a shocking angle), met ‘the queens of the tomato packers’, and learnt some Taiwanese.
So pay attention, the whole operation starts in the light of the doorway, here is the Bin Tipper, the bin tips out the tomatoes and they go on rollers into the washer and dryer onto the next set of rollers.
On this next set of rollers you can have up to four people standing, two each side, here you remove as many rotten, broken, mouldy, insect ridden, too small, blossom end rot affected, mottled, caterpillar eaten tomatoes as you can. From here the tomatoes go onto the main conveyor belt below.
This is all computer controlled (and I use the term ‘controlled’ loosely), the tomatoes sit on those black cuppy things you may be able to see and they get dropped down the yellow holes depending on what colour and size they are. At the centre back left of the main conveyor belt, (see the blue lines) you can see all of the separate work stations of the packers. 16 on the left side.
The main conveyor is to the left, the tomatoes drop down the chute and hurtle along another smaller conveyor belt and onto your rollers, everything still on the rollers once they pass you goes into the first grade box (right of photo, see the silver flap). Therein lies the rub. What you can’t see is all the other boxes that are introduced and have to be balanced somewhere, two can fit on that silver affair on the right if you are careful, one goes to the bottom left just where that silver corner juts out (that’s for second grade) and a bucket on the floor to the right. So…. when you begin they start you with 1/4 ripe because that is the easiest, one box on the silver affair for all of the green tomatoes (could be up to 40%), box on your left for second grade, bucket on the floor for rotten, small conveyor just behnd rollers returning to main machine for all wrong sized and wrong coloured fruit, AND small conveyor just above light also returning to main machine for fruit not up to second grade standard to go to processing! So while they are moving past you at a rate of knots towards that first grade box you are picking out the second grade, rubbish, green, wrong colour and wrong size and ones to be processed, EASY PEASY. Of course you can stop your conveyor if you are struggling, but then where do all the tomatoes go that are still moving towards you from the other conveyor, well on the floor eventually so this is frowned on.
Here are the first grade boxes moving up to the chute to be filled (we hope) with first grade tomatoes. Of course when the machine is not working properly (often in my case), the box fails to stop, about 10 go empty on through the system and the tomatoes dive down the chute and onto the floor, and they keep on coming like a marauding army even when the rollers are stopped and you are trying to dig tomatoes out of the machinery to enable the boxes to flow properly. Once it is fixed you have to fight your way through tomatoes 4 deep, spilling out in all directions and catch up. Usually a lovely Taiwanese girl comes racing over and lends a hand, thanks for that.
Again the individual workstations are on the left, workers mark the boxes with chalk as they get put here so the Quality Assurance people can tell WHO PACKED THIS BOX, that has green tomatoes that are the wrong size in it!!!! It has your station number on it and what size and colour the tomatoes are supposed to be. So that as you are fighting an avalanche of tomatoes, someone comes up to you with a handful of tomatoes and proceeds to tell you that one has an insect bite in it, one is machine damaged, another is too big and one has a sting mark!!! Oh and while this is going on, buckets of sweat pour off you in every direction and you don’t even have time to pick up your water bottle and take a drink. Or even worse one of those slow flies finds your leg and drives you absolutely crazy (you could give in and swat at it but your gloves are full of tomato juice), or a tomato gets stuck and split in the machinery and always manages to squirt its contents directly into your face so you go home covered in tomato pips. The joys of employment.
Joking aside, I was very grateful to be given the chance of work, I made some great friends and had an interesting experience.
Here you see me on a rather bad day. I was sweating so much that I had wiped my face with my gloved hand and rubbed tomato juice into my face, my eyelids swelled up and, well, you can see the colour I am.
What I really love about this photo is the girl sitting with her hand on her head to the right of the picture. This is a typical pose of a tomato packer during breaks (which I must say seem to be over much too quickly).
So what do you do when you are a tomato packer looking for something interesting to do – you collect tomatoes of course.
One above was for David Evans
And now I finally have all of my ducks in a row.