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Shoveling in the Dark
3 December 2012


It had been drizzling on and off all day and into the night.  The thick tropical canopy hid the clouds and the clouds hid the stars.  The sun had set a couple hours ago and it would be many more hours before a sliver of moon would rise behind the clouds.  It was so dark I could barely see my own feet as I trudged over the uneven ground.  I was tired and ready for bed but the long day wasn't over yet.  First, I needed to get a shovel and maybe a helper or two.

During a typical harvest a professional coffee picker can pick about two hundred pounds of coffee per day.  This year some pickers are getting three, four or five hundred pounds of coffee per day.  Even a relatively small crew can easily pick a couple tons of coffee every day.   Multiply that by the coffee we also process for other farms and it turns into some very busy days.

Another Kona coffee farmers told me that he hasn't seen a harvest like this in 30 years.  I believe him.  It's not that the harvest is particularly heavy, although it is definitely on the heavy side, it's that the harvest is compressed.  Normally the harvest season can last six months or more.  Some years we've picked coffee all year long.  This year the harvest started late and seems to be happening all at once.

About an hour before sunset the day's coffee starts being hauled in from the fields.  I'm glad I built our loading deck extra sturdy because I underestimated how much coffee it would need to hold.  I may have to make the deck bigger next year.  For now, we just pile the bags deeper until we're ready for pulping.

Pulping is the process of removing the coffee bean from the surrounding fruit.  80% of the harvest weight is lost during the pulping and drying process.  That means if we process five thousand pounds of coffee, nearly four thousand pounds of discarded coffee skins end up in my pulp trailer.  Getting rid of all that waste is not a trivial task.

The pulp trailer is an old manure spreader.  As I pull the trailer around the farm, a chain conveyer slowly pulls the pile of discarded goop out of the back of the trailer.  The spinning flinger bars then fling the goop all over the place in an attempt to spread it thin.  At least that's how it was designed to work.

This is a second hand trailer and it likes to cause problems.  The flinger bars have stopped working but that's fine because, with the coffee berry borer, spreading the discarded coffee pulp back on the farm is no longer a good idea.  Instead, I drive around in circles, leaving the slimy pulp in disorganized piles rather than evenly spread around the farm.  So it's kind of nice that the flinger arms no longer work.

The trailer's favorite trick is to eat wheel bearings.  Of course it only does this when the trailer is full.  My solution is to not fill the trailer so full.  At least that's my theoretical solution, in reality my solution tends to be "We're almost done, it can hold a little more.  Those bearings are new, surely they won't break again." Sometimes I'm not very smart.

On this night though, the wheel bearings are doing fine.  In fact the trailer hasn't caused any serious problems at all yet.  Instead, it's my circular dump track that is the problem.  It got a little too deep with slimy goop and now the truck is stuck.  I hadn't even managed to make a single pass so the trailer was still piled high with nastiness.  If I had a good farm tractor or a second truck I could probably pull the truck and trailer free.  Instead, I'm walking back to the barn to get a shovel so I can empty the trailer by hand.

This certainly isn't the first time I've had to empty the trailer one shovelful at a time.  It's really not so bad.  At least that's what I tell myself as I carefully make my way through the darkness back to the barn.  A few minutes of high-energy output and the job will be over before I know it.  It's more fun that running on a treadmill at the gym.  It's also messier which helps add to the fun.  Although I'm not sure if the "volunteers" I plan to enlist will agree.

Sure enough, once the trailer was emptied, the truck managed to pull itself free.  I decided to start a new circular track on flatter ground in the macadamia nut orchard.  I'll have to drive slower because the ground is bumpier and hitting a bump too fast is an easy way to break another wheel bearing.  That's easier said than done because emptying the pulp trailer is often the last job of the day.  It's hard to drive slow when I know there's a shower, food and a beer waiting for me when I'm done.


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