The Hands that Feed Us is a nine-part series of my column, Eating Niagara, in the local dailies. It’s a monthly profile of a seasonal agricultural worker in Niagara.
There’s an art to picking peaches.
It goes beyond using gentle hands and not dropping the tender fruit once it’s in your clutches.
The real trick is to not get any peach fuzz on you when rifling through the branches looking for the ripest of the bunch. The defining characteristic of Niagara’s flagship fruit can irritate skin. And if you give in and scratch, it only gets worse.
Peter Norville knows well the itch and sting of the peach fuzz rash. The seasonal agricultural worker who’s come from St. Lucy, Barbados, to work at a Niagara-on-the-Lake fruit orchard for 24 years doesn’t tempt fate or fuzz during peach season. He wears long sleeves and pants to avoid getting the fine hairs on him.
But he’ll still take harvesting peaches in summer over thinning them in spring when the immature fruit is thick with fuzz like a fur coat. Many workers wear a bandana over their face to avoid breathing in the stuff that makes a peach a peach, and makes lungs hurt.
They also gave thanks for the rainy summer, even as locals grumbled about it. It kept the fuzz down in the orchard, and made wearing long sleeves and pants more bearable in July and August.
Still, Norville, 55, always prefers harvesting other fruits.
“The nectarines don’t irritate because they don’t have a lot of fuzz,” he said.
Grapes are a cinch in comparison to peaches, too.
“It’s a great experience cutting grapes off,” Norville said. “You get them in bunches and put them in a box. There’s no fuzz to worry about.”