Life in the Pineapple Fields

What was your high school job?  Take a guess at what I did for a summer from this picture I found on a random site of Joey from “Friends” (loved this show by the way).

Found on tumblr.com

Found on tumblr.com

Yes, I had the ‘privilege’ of working in the pineapple fields for a summer.  Growing up, I usually did random jobs at our family store Hamai Appliance.  My cousin and I first started helping out when the store got a computer system and went from storing everyone’s information on 3×5 index cards to a database.   When I got into high school, I would work with the warehouse and delivery team taking appliances all over the island or unloading the washers, dryers, and refrigerators from the Matson containers in the blistering heat.  Aaaahhh fun times.

My brother's view after unloading another Matson Container!  Otsukaresama!

My brother’s view after unloading another Matson Container! Otsukaresama!

However, a good number of my friends worked in the pineapple fields or at the cannery.  I actually had cousins from Virginia come and stay a summer and that’s where they worked as well.  My dad and mom thought it would be good for me to learn the value of hard work so for one summer, that’s what I did.  We’d be at work by 5:30am and would finish around 2:30pm.    We had groups of roughly 12 youth, most of whom I went to school with.  Each group had a Luna (Hawaiian for boss) and ours was Mr. K – both he and his wife were school teachers and this was, like the rest of us, his summer job.

Contrary to popular belief, a pineapple doesn’t grow on a tree but it grows in fields.  Most of the fields we went to had 24 rows of fruit.  The arms on the fruit trucks would cover 12 rows so we’d go down one side of the field and up the other.  The crowns of the pineapples are planted and after a certain amount of time, they start to bear fruit.  A pineapple ‘plant’ will yield three pineapples.  Obviously, the pineapples in the first crop are the easiest to pick since the plants are still relatively small and this is usually the best harvest.  By the third crop, the plants could be a few feet high and growing every which way so it’s exponentially tougher to pick those fields and more often than not, since the plant is blocking a lot of the sunlight to the fruits, the yield isn’t very good.

IMG from google.com

IMG from google.com

Despite how hot it would get,  we would wear chaps over our jeans, thick arm sleeves (think basketball player arm sleeves made of the same materials chaps are), gloves, and goggles.  The sharp edges on a pineapple plant (especially a third crop plant) could cut you through your jeans and leave a ton of scratches up and down your arms so if you forgot your chaps, you were in trouble.  I always wore a long sleeve shirt because if I only wore a short sleeve shirt, the chaps would usually not come up to the edge of your sleeves and you ended up with a nice tanned arm ban.

LIfe in the Fields - pick courtesy of lanaichc.org

LIfe in the Fields – pick courtesy of lanaichc.org

We’d drive all over the island to the field we were assigned to for the day and we’ have a few breaks during the day with lunch at 10:30.  My mom always put a frozen Hawaiian Sun Fruit Juice in my lunch . . . .by lunch, it was slushy and perfect!  Most of the time, we were in fields in upcountry Maui in Haiku, Makawao, or Hali’imaile.  However, there were a few times we got to go down past Kapalua and hit the fields down there.  I remember on especially hot days, depending on which fields you were at, you could jump in the ocean or a stream and be dry ten minutes later since it was so hot!  Those were great days though and there were only a few fields with a stream or ocean nearby.  Some of the Haiku/Makawao fields were by areas with wild fruit – guava, etc that we’d eat during breaks.  Aaaahhh, fresh fruit (pic below is a guava my daughter found on the Waihee Ridge Trail hike we did last summer.

Waihee Ridge Trail, Maui HI by Mainland Kama'ainas

Guava from a tree right off the entrance.

The high school groups would pick pineapple that would be canned so the full-time groups were the ones that got the ‘nicer’ fields where they would pick fruit that would be sold at the airport or tourist locations.  We’d each have a row and we’d basically walk up and down the rows picking the fruit, separating the crown and fruit,  and ‘placing’ both on a boom in front of us.The end goal was that the fruit wouldn’t get as bruised if we were to twist the crowns off and place both crown and fruit on the boom.  However, we all got pretty good at ‘snapping’ the crown and pineapple apart with one hand (hold the pineapple upside down by the crown and quickly move your hand back and forth or twist your wrist right to left and you can separate the fruit and crown quickly), since this allowed you to pick twice as fast or ‘flipping’ the pineapples into the boom – basically spinning them so the crown would hit the edge of the boom and flip off.  We usually got a nice yelling if we were caught doing anything but nicely twisting the fruit apart since it would potentially damage the fruit.

At first, we’d slice up pineapples quite a bit during breaks and all eat a piece but after a week or two . . . . you just get tired and sick of eating pineapple.  I actually didn’t eat pineapple for the remainder of high school and even now, will only eat it sparingly or when I blend it up in a smoothie . . . . . too much of a good thing I guess.

About the only way I can eat pineapple now - image from google.com

About the only way I can eat pineapple now – image from google.com

Maui Pine really doesn’t have operations like this anymore ~ I believe they only keep a couple of fields open for the fresh pineapple you see at the airport but other than that, their operations have scaled back quite a bit.  It’s unfortunate since I know how many people worked there and what a good experience it was to work there for the summer.  There were youth groups from the mainland that would work there as well.  They lived in a ‘camp’ down Haleakala HWY on the way from Hali’imaile to Paia.  They’d work during the day, take a few classes (most were high school kids that needed to have a ‘break’ from their reality), and have the weekends to go around the island as a group.  I actually enjoyed my summer there and kind of wish that there were more opportunities like that for kids nowadays.  Seems like such a distant world.

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2 thoughts on “Life in the Pineapple Fields

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