Eating in high places: Turkish workers take risks for the harvest

Farmers and beekeepers are looking for a good harvest in tall trees and on the face of mountains. When harvest time dawns, they climb the daunting peaks of western and eastern Turkey in search of delicious chestnuts and honey.

In Aydın, the western province responsible for about 42% of the country’s total chestnut production, “sırıkçılar” are giving chestnut growers hope for a good harvest. Named after the long sticks used to shake the nuts off the trees, these seasonal workers look almost like tightrope walkers. Workers climbing 20-meter (65-foot) tall trees without any safety precautions try to pick the delicious nuts, which are eaten on the grill or served as an ingredient in desserts in Turkey. The climbers are mostly men, while the women wait patiently below to pick up the fallen chestnuts.

A view of harvested chestnuts, Aydin, western Turkey, October 23, 2022. (AA PHOTO)

It is a profitable business, with an average of 27,000 tons of chestnuts grown in Aydın. Poles are paid up to $53.7 (1,000 TL) a day for their risky work, which is higher than other seasonal workers. Harvesting usually lasts 15 days, and during this time, farmers accompany the workers in the mountainous areas decorated with chestnut trees in Efeler, Köşk, Sultanhisar and Nazilli districts of Aydın. In addition to the height of the trees, the location on the slopes of the steep hills also makes it difficult for the workers. They climb trees in the early morning light with a simple hat and a five-meter stick, which they wear to avoid raw chestnut thorns. Below, the women wear gloves and toil to pick up every chestnut that falls. But their work is not done. Chestnuts are bagged and taken to nearby wells, where they are kept for about a month so that their thorns rot and peel off easily.

Alaattin Dinç, who has been a poleman for almost 20 years, says that it is not a job “for everyone” and that the profession is a “deadly job”. “You can fall and die or be injured by thorns. I know people who have broken their back and become bedridden after falling. It’s dangerous, but it’s our way of life,” he told Anadolu Agency (AA) on Sunday. Another worker, Yahya Bayrak, says that although it is difficult to stand upright on the branches, they are well paid. Davut Bayrak, who is engaged in agriculture, also works as a “pillar”. He says the harvest so far is good and they expect a “bountiful” harvest this year compared to last year. “I expect a double crop and we have quality chestnuts.”

Ayşe Gure, one of the female chestnut pickers, says that her work is equally difficult. “You have to bend over all the time and suffer from pain in your back. Most chestnuts fall steeply so you can roll down the slopes if you’re not careful. It is difficult, but we have to earn a living,” he says. Gure also complains that unlike men, women have to do the daily chores at home after work.

On the other side of Turkey, in the eastern province of Van, beekeepers are also taking risks to make a living. In Bahcesaray, which is famous for its “Garakovan” honey and walnuts, beekeepers climb the steep mountain and look for “rock honey” in the rock cavities on the mountain’s face. Unlike chestnut pickers, they have safety precautions and the help of professional climbers. Rock honey is valuable and sells for a high price because of its difficulty. Honey, which is the product of bees escaping from their hives and taking refuge in the mountains, is also valuable because of what beekeepers call health. Beekeepers climb the mountains for stone honey in the Altındara neighborhood, which is located about 15 kilometers from Central Bahcesaray.

A climber climbs a mountain to collect honey in Van, eastern Turkey, on October 23, 2022. (AA PHOTO)

A climber climbs a mountain to collect honey in Van, eastern Turkey, on October 23, 2022. (AA PHOTO)

This year, they saw a concentration of hives at the height of Tırpına, and when they could not reach them alone, the beekeepers turned to the help of professional climbers. They managed to collect honey in their company.

A view of honey collected from rocks in Van, eastern Turkey, October 23, 2022. (AA PHOTO)

A view of honey collected from rocks in Van, eastern Turkey, October 23, 2022. (AA PHOTO)

Fikri Cagrici, who has been beekeeping for 50 years, says that rock honey is “completely natural and smells great.” “It’s hard to come by. We risk choosing it. But it sells well. People place orders from Turkey and abroad,” he told AA. Another beekeeper, Vahap Semo, says that they discovered honey in 13 places this year. “We called professional climbers and together we climbed the 50-meter gaps. It was exciting,” he says. A kilogram of honey from rocks is sold for 2500-3000 lira. Mountaineer Omar Demez says it was the first time. “You’re climbing a straight rock to a considerable height. “I do climbing as a sport, but climbing for honey was a different experience.”

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