Diary of a Coffee
by Carole Prism
Hand harvesting Kona
Up at 4:30 am, stumbling around my house, aware that
folks living nearby are fast asleep. What am I doing
up at this hour? This goes against the body's biological
I am picking coffee, my first day this season. A bumper
crop, so I hear. I can see the cherry on the trees around
Kona, wondering who is going to pick all this stuff.
I guess I am one of the army of people who will.
At the pickup point at 6 am, I meet the crew I will
be working with. I am surrounded by the melody of a
foreign language. As we drive to the first farm, I see
other groups of people standing on the highway, waiting
for their pickup. Different nationalities. Kona has
become a melting pot, a global meeting spot
coffee pickers who can make terrific money during the
Have trouble communicating with the crew lead as to
where I will pick and the rules of the game. But I begin.
And what a beginning it is
I am picking cherry at record speeds (for me), getting
lost in the color, the sound of the coffee popping off
the branches, the smells of being outdoors. The farm
we are on is organic, replete with fruit trees, ginger,
all the wonderful flora and fauna that mauka Kona is
known for. The beauty inspires me. The food on the ground
could feed many families. Abundance in nature thrills
My coffee bucket fills and I begin dumping the cherry
into the 100 pound bag. Looks like a huge bag to me,
wonder if I can fill it today.
The crew is all men, they are picking at light speed,
filling those bags up and I feel like I am in slow motion.
But I continue, not focusing on the competition, but
on the plump cherry. How I love being in nature, working
with food, flowers, coffee. There is something very
gripping to me about the coffee tree, the shapes of
the tree, the flowers, the fruit of the tree (the cherry).
I am mesmerized. Time passes. I am in the zone.
It is a short day. We stop for a break and the crew
manages to communicate to me that we work 10 hours a
day, 7 days a week. I am stunned.
This day, we work 5 hours. Back at the pickup point
where we weigh the coffee, I applaud myself when my
coffee is weighed. I have picked 120 pounds. It usually
takes me all day to pick close to 100 pounds. The guys'
coffee weighs in at over twice what I have picked. I
am a wimp.
Somewhere in Time
A Coffee Cherry Picker
Today, we are on another farm. The terrain is completely
different. The crop and its attractions remain the same.
It has been a few days since I began picking coffee.
I am weary. The 10 hour days are taking their toll on
me. I seem to be getting slower. Or it could be that
I am comparing myself negatively to the speed and efficiency
of the men, who are picking sometimes over 400 or even
500 pounds a day. Though I was thrilled to be picking
200 pounds on a long day, the charge dissipates as I
see what these men can do.
The farm we are on has animals. I noticed the goats
and horses right away, then forgot about them. The coffee
is entwined with vines, so much vegetation that I wish
I had a machete to whack my way through the coffee stand
and free up the trees. I am contemplating the tremendous
farming/gardening tasks of coffee farming, lost in the
color of the cherry, when I become aware of a sound
near me. I think I am hallucinating. Someone calling
my name, softly? Crying? I look up and immediately make
eye contact with a beautiful horse who is grazing nearby.
It is checking me out. We look at each other a few minutes.
Then I am back to the picking. Moments later, I hear
the horse cantering near me. It is running in an almost
perfect circle around the area I am in. I am awed.
Lucky I live in Hawaii, in Kona. I can spend the day
in the great outdoors, surrounded by this amazing land
and animals and make money while being enthralled with
Mother Nature. The horse continues its run then the
sound fades. I am back totally with the tree.
At night, I lie down to sleep. Bones are weary. Shoulders
and neck ache. I close my eyes. I still see the cherry.
Perfect images of a strand of the deep red cherry on
a branch. I fall asleep with the image burned into my
I am losing track of time while picking, losing track
of days. Everything is running together in my mind.
How many days have I been picking?
I feel as if I am living in another dimension, not
the usual time/space dimension of a 9 to 5 or any other
kind of work schedule I have had. It is eerie, yet pleasant.
Along with the time/space warp I am in, I find myself
disoriented in the stand of trees I am picking. Can't
hear the rest of the crew. We are on 40 acres of coffee.
It is a forest. I get lost trying to find the 100 pound
bag to dump the coffee in. I know I am at the end of
my coffee picking adventure. I hear the words of a song
in my head "does anyone know what time it is?".
Chicago I think. My mind wanders. My fingers move without
my violiton. The tree and I are one.
I tell the crew chief that the next day will be my
last. He doesn't seem to notice what I have said. Or
maybe I have spaced out anything after that.
There has been confusion about my pay. This I do not
need. I have picked more coffee than I dreamed I could.
Yet, it is clear that I am not a champion picker. Though
my contribution to bringing in the Kona coffee crop
this year has been my personal best, if this had been
the Honolulu Marathon, I would be at the end of the
Finally, we straighten out the payroll snafu and I
walk away from the crew chief. I am thankful for the
money, for the opportunity to have been on various farms,
for the time outdoors.
I wonder how many pickers will work the season, how
much coffee is picked, what are the numbers? It is a
This weary coffee picker warrior heads home.
Long time Kona resident
Organic gardener, counselor, writer
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appeared originally in Coffee Times print magazine and
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