Competition & Cooperation in the Pea Patch
Around the middle of June, we began harvesting sugar snap peas. Twice a week, as many of us as possible head out to the pea patch and together pick our way along the seemingly endless bright green walls. With the plants thickly massed five and six feet high on trellises, walking down the pea beds feels like walking down a hallway or through a maze. We tend to find ourselves in the peas late in the afternoon, already weary from the day’s work, but full of positive cooperative energy and excitement about completing the day’s last major task. We catch only glimpses of one another through the foliage, but the rows are nonetheless alive with rowdy conversation, jokes, and the tinny music from someone’s cell phone.
The spirit of cooperation and camaraderie in the peas is both tempered and enhanced by a little friendly competition. Who will be the first to fill their bucket? Who can most quickly traverse their section of trellis? Working directly opposite a hidden coworker across the living wall, one feels a natural desire to keep pace, and verbal wagers merely formalize that drive.
But the ultimate deciders of how long it will take to pick peas, are the peas themselves. At Red Dog, peas are classed with fruit, which means that everything that’s ripe must be picked, every time we harvest. While other crops, like carrots and cabbage, will keep in the field for longer and can be harvested as they are sold, unpicked peas will grow hard and wrinkled on the vine. These occasional wizened peas serve as a reminder of the importance of not missing a single one, of letting nothing go to waste.
However many peas we find to pick, a significant portion of the harvest goes directly into our mouths. By the time we’ve all completed our slow walks down the rows, our bellies are over-full with the ones we broke in half, or considered just too perfect-looking not to taste. I brought a bag of peas home with me, but it’s been sitting ignored in my refrigerator. While delicious, they never taste quite as good as they do out in the sun-soaked late afternoon, among the boisterous crew, accompanied by the flavors of competition and cooperation.