An Iowa Onion Trimmer

Curing Onions

Curing Onions

Between picture perfect onions and the compost heap lies an opportunity.

A friend grows onions using organic practices as part of a Community Supported Agriculture project. Onions are harvested from the field then dried in the greenhouse for storage. Sorting, trimming the tops and roots, and removing excess skin comes next.

As an experienced onion trimmer I work for farmers I know and trust. My compensation is an hourly rate above the current minimum wage plus all the seconds I can use. It’s a good deal, so I take it when offered. For an hour or two after a full time job at the home, farm and auto supply company, and on weekends after a shift at the orchard, I work in the onion shed.

Onion Trimming Work Station

Onion Trimming Work Station

The work is seasonal and temporary. Cognizant of potential competition from other itinerant workers, I work as quickly and as well as I can. The daily chore serves as respite from an intense schedule of lowly paid work that provides income destined mostly to corporations in exchange for stuff needed to operate the household: utilities, insurance, taxes, fuel and the like. I will have worked 100 days in a row by the November election — I’m not complaining, just sayin’.

At the end of each shift in the onion shed, I take home ten or more pounds of seconds. I remove the bad parts in our kitchen and am left with half the original amount in fresh onions. There’ no long term storage for these so they go into the ice box until used. If left on the counter, bad spots would quickly re-emerge.

Onion Shed

Onion Shed

I made and canned the first batch of vegetable soup with three pounds of fresh onions and a bit of everything on hand from the farm and garden. By the time the onions at the farm are in storage, there will be enough canned vegetable soup put up to last until the next growing season. Soup that can make a meal.

With the concurrent harvest of tomatoes and basil from our garden, I plan to make and can pints of marinara sauce using a simple, four-part recipe of tomatoes, onions, basil and garlic. Onion trimming blocks out time from vegetable processing, and some good ones will head to the compost bin before I can get to them. I am hopeful about getting a dozen pints of marinara sauce canned.

The life of an itinerant low wage worker lies on the margin between harvest and the compost bin, That’s true for a lot of professions, not just onion trimmers. If you think about it, that’s where we all live our lives in the 99 percent of the population that isn’t wealthy.

I’m okay with working a job with friends doing work that directly impacts our family’s sustainability. It may be easier to take a big job with responsibilities and varied compensation, but I’d rather deal with the questions like whether something can be made of each onion I encounter.

The pile of second represents hope in a tangible and meaningful way. What’s life for unless that?

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

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