Monday was a very interesting day in the life of Alana. First of all, it was my mom’s birthday!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOMMA! I LOVE YOU AND MISS YOU SO SO MUCH!
Second of all, it was the day that I had to work at Nature’s Pack, the fruit packing company owned by Nature’s Pride. I arrived to work bright and early at 8 o’clock, just like every other day. The receptionist, Daniella, who is very nice and accommodating, gave me my Nature’s Pack coat and safety shoes. However, the sizing is much different over here. There is still the typical XS, S, M, L, XL, but pant and shoe sizes are a lot different. Most of the time, the tag will also give UK and US sizes, so when I told Daniella that I would need a size 8 for my safety shoes, she gave me a size 36, reading the 8 (which was actually the width of the shoe) on the box. I later learned that I wear a size 38 in European shoes, so I had shoes that were two sizes too small. Of course, me being me, I didn’t want to say anything since it would inconvenience everyone forcing them to bring me back to the reception desk to get a new pair of shoes.
In my two-sizes-too-small shoes, I followed Mo, the manager of Nature’s Pack. To enter Pack, you must first go through a room that is sealed off to account for the temperature difference between Pack and the rest of the building–Nature’s Pack must be about 40 degrees to keep the produce refrigerated. First you scan your key fob which acts as your punch card. Then you must place your hands under the scanner. Once the machine recognizes that there are hands there, it squirts out soap and you are able to get passed the revolver where there are faucets to wash your hands. Next you must place your hands under another scanner that squirts out disinfectant and activates another revolver allowing you to enter the packing room.
Of course, you may only enter the packing room after you have put on your super sexy hair net. Unfortunately I do not have any photos of me wearing said hair net because I could not bring my phone to Pack. Darn. One thing that I think is very well thought out is that there is actually a hair net system. There are 5 colors of hair nets worn by the workers at Pack: white, yellow, blue, red and purple. The white and yellow are worn by the regular line workers–white for first shift and yellow for second. Blue are worn by the line leaders and red by team leaders. Team leaders are in charge of a whole area that consists of a few lines. The purple hair nets are worn only by employees that have licenses that allow them to drive forklifts and other heavy machinery in the packing room.
First, Mo gave me a tour of Pack as a whole. He didn’t go super into detail on any lines in particular because I would get that later, but he did give me some general information. From Mo I learned that one side of Pack packs mostly the less popular exotics such as ginger, carambola (starfruit) and kumquats. Because most of these fruits are small and they are the orders for them are in smaller quantities, this side of Pack is run manually. The workers must walk and pick up/set down boxes by hand rather than conveyers bringing boxes to them. The other half of Pack runs automatically along with the workers. This side packs mostly avocado and mangos, Nature’s Pride’s two most popular products.
Mo also showed me the box-making area (I’m sure there is a more technical name for that). It is floating above the packing room and it is 5 levels high. There are big machines that press and fold the flat printed cardboard into a box with 5 sides and a bottom. These boxes are then carried by conveyer belts to their destinations, whether that be another conveyer belt or the manual side of Pack.
Mo then handed me off to the team leader that is in charge of the manual lines. He gave me a quick tour of his area and also told me some information about what he does as a team leader. He showed me a bulletin board where all of the workers may submit their ideas. Every Wednesday morning, the team leaders take the ideas from the bulletin board and look them over in the team leaders’ office where they decide whether or not to go forward with each idea. I thought that was very cool that Nature’s Pack allows workers at every level have some input on the operations that occur there.
Then it was my turn to help. I was given boxes of plastic baggies of portions of green beans that had been flowpacked (I’ll explain that later). The customer wanted the bags in plastic crates rather than the cardboard boxes they’d previously been ordering them in, so my job was to neatly transfer the green bean packets from the card board to the plastic crate. Sounds pretty simple, right? Yeah, well I managed to completely embarrass myself by dropping 4 boxes of green beans on the ground because another worker handed them to me and they were too heavy. Stupid American. The beans weren’t bruised but my ego was.
After about a half hour of re-packing green beans, I went to the label room where the labels for the boxes, bags and individual pieces of fruit are printed. The team leader, Fatima, explained the program that they use to sort the orders and get the barcodes and other information that the customer wants on the label. Sometimes they use the Nature’s Pride “EAT ME” label and sometimes they use a label that the customer provides.
I was only at the label room for about 20 minutes when the next team leader picked me up. This team leader works only with avocados. There are 5 avocado sorting lines. First the avocados go through a huge state of the art sorting machine. The machine uses several different mechanisms including springs that test the pressure of the avo and several cameras that take 10 pictures of each avocado to detect the color and if there are any stains or skin flaws on the avocados. If there are stains or skin flaws bigger than about half an inch, the avocado is thrown out. Nature’s Pride’s number one priority is quality, quality, quality. The team leader cut open a few avocados to show me and they were literally beautiful: perfectly ripe and soft and the most perfect shade of green with absolutely NO brown. You can’t get avocado like that in the U.S.. The avocados are also weighed and measured and sorted by size (there are 5 sizes). The avocados that the machine deems worthy then leave the machine through several exits that are manned by workers who pack them in boxes of 20. There are then several stickering lines where each individual avocado in every box is given a label. The process of packing mangos is very similar, but I did not tour that area.
After my lunch break (on which I switched shoes and got band-aids for the huge blisters on my feet, making me much more comfortable), it was my turn to work the avocado packing line. I was given an exit and instructions to examine each avocado before packing it and sort out any bad ones that the machines missed. Then, I had to pack 20 avocados in the box, each laying perfectly in the right direction so they could be stickered properly. The ladies on the line did all of that very well and very very fast. The team leader adjusted the machine so that my exit would only output 30 avocados every minute, and that was a perfectly steady stream of avos for me. However, most of the women on the packing line were packing at a rate of 60-70 avocados per minute. On an average day, Nature’s Pack packs 900 avocados per hour.
After my mind had been sufficiently blown by the avocado machine, I moved onto flowpack. The flowpack team leader was really cool. He lives in Rotterdam and told me some fun things to do there. He also was a marine in the Korps Mariniers for quite awhile and told me about that.
Flowpacking is the process where produce is packed in sealed plastic bags by either a machine that weighs the amount of fruits or vegetables, drops it in the bag, seals it and cuts it loose to repeat the process or workers must pack a certain number or weight of fruits or vegetables in a small box to be put in a bag, sealed and cut from the remaining plastic. The tricky part of working on a flowpack line is that you have to work as fast as the conveyer belt moves. I definitely could not keep up at all. I worked on the avocado flowpack line for probably 8 minutes and was completely flustered. I couldn’t help but think of this Drake and Josh episode…
After flowpack, I went to berries with another teamleader. The berries department is even colder and I slipped on a strawberry dangerously close to stairs, so once again… Stupid American. Berries are sorted, weighed and packed 100% manually I spent about 20 minutes making mixed berry cups to be shipped to Bama Trading in Norway. By hand I placed a cup on the scale, zeroed it, measured 35 g of blueberries, added strawberries until the scale said 100g, placed on a lid and gently shook the cup to mix the berries. Over and over and over. I now understand why berries are so damn expensive at the grocery store.
Here are some final take aways from my day at Nature’s Pack…
- I most definitely will finish my college degree. Not that my degree was in jeopardy, but next finals week when I’m wondering if it is all worth it or if I could drop out and pray to God that I married rich I will remember freezing my ass off with 1 inch in diameter blisters on my feet, wearing a hair net, carrying heavy boxes and sorting fruit (that I can’t even eat) in a dangerous environment for 9 hours a day.
- We take for granted the food that we eat. It is so easy to go to the grocery store and buy an avocado, but I’ve never thought before about how many people slave over this piece of fruit that my privileged self can have in 3 minutes if I was motivated enough to get of the couch and hop into my Ford Fiesta to drive a mile to Hansens and buy it. I haven’t even seen anything about the months of labor and precious water that it takes to grow this produce in often underdeveloped countries, and I already have a higher appreciation.
- I need to learn to speak up for myself because I can still hardly walk a day later.
- Drake and Josh is real life.
- I was not bred for the factory life. I’m too weak, lazy and spoiled, but this was a good reality check to make me a little more grateful for all of the great things God has given to me and done in my life.
On our way home from work, Aunt Shawnie and I called my mom to wish her a happy birthday. It was so good to hear her voice. We then picked up Ivo, changed and headed to Rotterdam. Facebook friends of Shawn who are originally from New Lisbon and Kendall, WI were in town for a jazz festival, so we met them for dinner.
Ivo took us to his favorite Italian place in the Netherlands. It was a very nice atmosphere, other than the bathroom which played creepy Italian church music weirdly loud and made it difficult to pee in peace. I let Ivo order for me (although I did say no seafood), and he did a very good job. I ate a margherita pizza with Italian sausage, bacon, garlic, zucchini and arugala (which I ended up picking off and giving to Ivo). Starving after my exhausting day at Pack, I devoured the whole thing–except the crust like always.
Rotterdam is a really beautiful city. In WWII the entire thing was destroyed by bombs, so it is all very new and modern. Street art decorates the lively city.
Once we got home I headed straight to bed. I think I’m almost safe to say that my jet lagged days are behind me… at least until I go home and have to go the other way.
**Disclaimer: I appologize for any typos or spelling errors that I may have missed. I’m writing this on a Dutch laptop, so it highlights almost every word as being spelled incorrectly since it is English.