There is a saying in business circles that every crisis provides an opportunity.

Victoria Leov has never been one to sit at home wondering.  When she lost her hospitality job as a qualified pastry chef from the first COVID lockdown she set about turning a negative situation into a positive experience.

As border closures and business downturn from the pandemic impacted heavily on the hospitality industry where her experience was of value, Victoria realised her qualifications weren’t much good for most of the job listings she could see.  So without many options in her chosen career at this time, rather than sit at home moping about it she decided it was a great opportunity to try something else and seek a new adventure.  Having backpacked in Europe she understood the enjoyment in meeting new people and visiting unfamiliar places, and of course doing the same thing within Australia is much easier.

Seizing the opportunity

Coffs Harbour was one place Victoria had never been, so when she spotted blueberry picking jobs there she grabbed the opportunity.  Having done some basic farm work previously she knew the work would be physically challenging until she became hardened to the tasks she would learn.  Picking berries was not as difficult as she first expected, but alternating between two fruits, blueberries and raspberries, took a bit of getting used to. 

Victoria understood that under piecework conditions her income would be limited for a beginner but was still a little disheartened when she received her first pay cheque.  However, by the second week she had already doubled her first week’s earnings and that drove her to work faster.  By the one-month mark the experience she had gained provided her with the skill to continue picking faster, ultimately making more on piecerates than she would have on hourly wages.

Berry picking work on the Northern NSW coast can be interrupted by rain.  The fruit can’t be picked when wet so starting late some days can be frustrating.  Boggy ground makes walking along the bushes a sloppy experience and mud becomes a compulsory fashion accessory.  

Taking care of workers

Being expected to work hard in humid conditions is typical of farm work, but the contractors and supervisors that Victoria worked under were constantly making sure that pickers like her were taken care of. Despite the frustration and lowered expectations from interrupted working hours, she felt the contractors and their farms did their best to provide as many working hours as possible.  Some days up to 11 hours of work was offered.  Being available seven days a week for the short season was encouraged and anyone who offered themselves for as much work as possible were rewarded with extra hours.

One of the implications of the job that Victoria did not expect was the understanding of quality control. The fruit being picked had to be approved by the people ultimately buying it to eat, so she learned it was very important to the farmer that her fruit was to be picked clean.  And she was the one responsible for the berries in her tray.  If the tray was not of sufficient quality it would have implications for the price the farmer received for his fruit, or if it was even saleable at all.  That responsibility generated pride in the quality of her work.

Enjoy backpacking at home

Amongst all the hard work, Victoria has enjoyed the experience of meeting people from different countries, both working beside her on the berry farms and socialising afterwards.  In that respect it was similar to her backpacking experiences.  She has also appreciated learning a little about the agriculture industry, growing and harvesting fruit most people only see in the supermarket.

Victoria has been surprised just how much she had missed working outdoors, and pushing herself under piecework conditions has also helped her to realise her own potential.  In fact her experience so far has changed her plans of only staying for one season.  She is not afraid of hard work and is now earning a good income, so she is considering other seasonal fruit picking jobs elsewhere in Australia. 

Help with seasonal jobs is available

Now that she has learned of the Harvest Trail program that connects people like her looking for seasonal work and the farms that need workers, she knows exactly where she can get the information and employer contacts needed to plan where to travel to next, and the new Coffs Harbour office is right on her doorstep.

Farms around Australia are very welcoming of the attitude of Australians like Victoria.  There is no doubt she will have little trouble picking up more work – and great experiences – wherever she chooses to go.