By Glenn Ells
The packing house (the Cubans call it a benefit shed) is operating very smoothly. The only equipment that is powered by electricity is the two inspection belts and the rotating table, from which the guys pick and place the squash into bags.
The bags are piled 25 to a pallet and are moved by pallet jacks to a holding area and later into a container and stacked by hand.
There are 20 men and women on the benefit shed crew. They pack about one container each day.
In the field, the squash have been cut and placed in windrows with the stems up to dry. After two or three days, the field crew of 10 men toss the squash to catchers on a flatbed truck, who place them, carefully, to the shed, unloaded by pallet jack and workers supply the inspection belts by hand, removing culls as they do it. The people at the belts use damp cloths to remove any dirt from the squash and toss out any culls remaining.
Two people place squash from the table at the end of the belts into bags setting on scales set at 52 pounds. Their helpers
close the bags and place them on pallets, being careful to use knots on the drawstrings that can be easily undone in Canada - we use shoelace knots.
The parts I have to bring with me each year are new rollers for the pallet jacks, refills for the handwashing stations and sharp eyes for quality control. The crew is usually very well-trained and adjust easily to new orders. For example, we have a large crop, and this year the order is to toss out anything that is borderline or “not pretty.”
My most important function is to show up with lots of cold beer on the day we finish packing.
When we starting packing for the second shipment there was a bit of a maturity problem. Leta was with me at the shed and her experience with sweet mama squash soon helped sort that out - the Cubans wondered why we were cutting so many borderline squash in half.
Our last shipment leaves here on Feb. 4, so if all goes well, it should be on the way when you read this.