Originally posted in April 2009: Here’s a story about working for the Del Monte bean and pea plant in Markesan, Wisconsin. Fresh out of Wilton high school, five or six of us drove out to America’s heartland to earn a little money and have an adventure. It was fairly miserable work all around. Back-breaking, tedious, soul-killing. We wound up working different jobs and different shifts — pushing cans, operating fork lifts, end-of-shift cleanup, hosing down freshly picked peas and beans. Migrants did the actual picking in the fields.
For a week or two some of us were working the 8 am to 5 pm shift. We’d shower, eat and head out for a night of beer-drinking at a local tavern. We’d sometimes go to a place in Fond du Lac called the Brat Hut. And when we got back to the plant around midnight or so we got into a habit — for a couple of weeks, I mean — of taking out our rage at Del Monte.
A friend worked the evening shift atop a wooden chimney-like structure. His job was to clean freshly-picked beans and peas. Every night they were unloaded off trucks and sent up to his area on electrically-powered conveyor belts set at a 45 degree angle. The vegetables were then dropped into huge spinning cylindrical containers made of chicken wire. Our friend operated sprayers that bathed them in steaming-hot water.
The beans and peas were then dropped into tall metal chutes that fed them straight into a stream of open-topped, label-free cans about 20 or 25 feet below — constantly moving, spotless and gleaming. It would take no more than a second or two to fill up each can, maybe less. It went on like this all night, every night, and with a fairly deafening sound.