Thursday, 29 May 2014

Canadian Pickers: Rhubarb Express

Canadian Pickers:  Rhubarb Express
The Product
     Rhubarb season is upon us.  I am in the third year as CEO and President of my own thriving business, Rhubarb Express.  Yes, I am living the dream of many retired people supplementing my pension income nickels and dimes at a time. I have trained as a rhubarb picker for about 53 years.  That is only a little bit of an exaggeration.  I started work early in life--Turnip Tags at age 3, Rhubarb at age 5.
     According to anecdotal research, my rhubarb patch has been on the family farm since the 1940s.  It thrives there on the hill in full sunshine, growing in spite of me, not because of me.  All I really have to do is pick it.  Rhubarb is a very low-maintenance crop which is good because I don't really have a green thumb. Occasionally it gets a dose of organic top-dressing.
Rhubarb Hill
Rhubarb Internship:    
      Like many an upstart businesses, I have taken advantage of the intern approach to free labour.  My interns, eager to advance in their chosen careers, serve in many capacities.  Tom, my longest-serving intern, has been a part of the business since its inception 3 years ago.  He is improving each year but has not yet made the payroll. 

Field Hand
     My other intern, Nugget, is working toward her degree in security, a  vital role in the Rhubarb Industry.  This is her second year as intern and she will receive her first paycheque at the end of the 2014 season.  
K-9 Security
     Rhubarb picking is a comprehensive career challenging both strength and endurance which appeals to the macho side of any intern. 
Macho Rhubarb Intern
Research and Development:
     The Rhubarb Industry offers cerebral challenges as well.  My intern, experienced in the discipline of engineering, takes the lead in Research and Development finding ways to improve rhubarb production and harvest.  Recently he has repurposed a canvas wood tote purchased at a Gorham's Bluff yard sale as a Rhubarb Field Tote.  Current estimates reveal that the introduction of this little item has improved harvest time by 20%.  What an impressive return for a 25 cent investment!  
The Happy Innovator
The Rhubarb Field Tote
      R&D intern Tom has recently introduced a new practice to alleviate CEO backache.  Tom does all the bending and picking of the rhubarb and places it on the Rhubarb Cutting Bench (hood of the Pathfinder) to save the back of the CEO.  The CEO stands and cuts the leaf off the stalk, ensuring that she never has to bend over. 
Rhubarb Cutting Bench & Escaping Intern
Employee Benefits:
      As President and CEO of Rhubarb Express, I recognize the importance of a contented workforce.  I allow 5 minute breaks twice daily in the meticulously-maintained Staff Lounge.  
Staff Lounge
     And I provide a substantial lunch bordering on the gourmet at a subsidized rate for all interns. 
Subsidized Sardines
      As a caring and concerned employer striving to allay any feelings of insecurity within the staff, I ensure that workers can count on having the exact same lunch for the 6 weeks of their internship. 
Food Security
     Despite my attentive consideration of staff morale, I have been informed of employee discontent and subsequent underground union meetings.
International Brotherhood of Rhubarb Pickers (IBRP: Local 001)
Tools of the Trade:
     I try to run my business efficiently to realize the best possible financial return for the company.  The interns keep the expense of labour down and the tools of the trade are simple and low-cost.  I inherited the rhubarb knife from my father and the gloves were a gift from a friend.  To be honest, I prefer to work bare-handed and only wear the gloves if I am going somewhere special and it matters to have clean fingernails and hands.  Rhubarb does stain. 
 Tools of the Trade
      The banana box, free in the back room at your local supermarket, is the PERFECT container for transporting rhubarb from field to market.  It is sturdy, has handles, and holds about 30 pounds of rhubarb which can be easily handled by a macho intern or an aging CEO. 
Banana Box 
      Because my rhubarb patch is about 100 kilometres from my clients, Rhubarb Express must maintain a reliable distribution system.  What could be more reliable than a 1998 Pathfinder?  It is a little hard on gas, but rhubarb delivery dates are carefully planned to coincide with weekend outings to the cottage. 
Distribution System
Product Delivery:
    And here we have about 200 pounds of rhubarb packed snugly in my trusty, rusty Pathfinder ready for transport to Fredericton.  Please note my Contiga teacup in the foreground; this is an essential item for any CEO at work in the field. 
Weekly Shipment
My Clients:
      My primary clients in Fredericton include the Fredericton Direct Charge Coop, a major supermarket with more than 9,000 members.
     ...and Real Food Connections, a grocery store that carries only New Brunswick products.
     ...and the Victory Meat Market, downtown Fredericton's busy grocery store in the heart of the city.
     As with any viable business, it is crucial to keep accurate records of sales and expenses.  I keep impeccable accounts at Head Office in Fredericton, the provincial capital.
 Head Office
Impeccable Accounts
Rhubarb Business Perks:
      Atop Rhubarb Hill, the wind is almost always blowing which works to keep away any annoying insects.  There is no machine noise and employee banter is kept to a minimum. The scenery is beautiful no matter which way you turn.  In one direction, you see the beautiful St. John River at its widest point, back grounded by the rolling Appalachian Hills and domed by the wide-open sky.
St John River/Appalachian Hills
      In another direction, you see the houses of my brother and sister.  The main road runs between the rhubarb patch and those houses and every time a vehicle passes on that road, my interns and I cease our work to see who is going by.  This attention to traffic has been labelled by some as the Long Reach Affliction.  Tom is looking for Workers' Compensation for his wrenched neck.  It takes me back to my childhood when my father would call out from one of his 3 couches in the house, or one of his 3 couches on the verandah, "What's that on the road?  What are they haulin'?" 
The Road
      Bilberry blossoms are blooming this week which means the fiddleheads are out and the shad is running.  The interns may get a break from sardines. 
Bilberry Blossoms
      There is a richness of spring colour all around which inspires mitten names and colour combinations for my knitting compulsion.    I have yet to name a pair of mittens after rhubarb.
Rhubarb Going to Seed/Mitten Inspiration
          Rhubarb pie is another of the many perks enjoyed by my faithful intern, Tom.  Like my mother before me, I always add a handful of raisins to the rhubarb pie to soak up the excess juice while baking.  I recommend that little trick to interested pie-makers! 
Rhubarb Pie
      At the end of most meals, my father would always say, "Cup of tea, piece of pie, I'll be all done."  Tom has adopted that little chant.  I don't necessarily recommend that....
Cup of Tea, Piece of Pie....


Until Next Time.....












  1. I must admit, those pies keep any idea of a strike from materializing....which Nugget and i discuss daily, by the way....

  2. Sounds like the CEO has operations well in hand. You have your intern almost literally eating out of your hand! The security force is not only dutiful but also beautiful. Your work environment is stunning, the decor divine. With all the work involved in the harvesting of the crop, you have built in a work-out room. With a bit of a trek, you even offer a lovely swimming option.
    Great article, many laughs and thoroughly enjoyable, much like the end result - the pie. Thanks for the tip about the raisins, I wasn't in on the secret.

  3. Thanks, Hayley. I appreciate the positive feedback....especially important for the elderly, you know!

  4. Wow what an enterprise. I heard today that the CEO of Target Canada got fired but I can see from this post that you are in no danger of that happening. Your impeccable records and the collaborative approach with your intern seems to be the key to success. Ruh Barb!!!!!

  5. Yes, as long as I can avoid the potential union problems.

  6. You are a brilliant writer !! Maybe you can get your article published on the New Brunswick Department of Agriculture site, to inspire others ! ...or submit a proposal to teach a Rhubarb course at Nova Scotia Agricultural College...didn't you always dream of a professorship ?

  7. As I mentioned, I do not really have a green thumb so I think the professorship is out, sadly....

  8. Laugh out loud. I have been picking rhubarb in patches from Thornbury to Sydenham. What a great season and glad there are many generous rhubarb sharers in my life.

  9. And so many rhubarb recipes to try. Today I heard about a salad dressing with rhubarb juice in it. A tangy possibility!