EPISODE 114 NUBS AND CROOKS….CUCUMBER CONTRACT DISASTER
Sept. 9, 2020
This a ‘nub’. We grew a lot of nubs. A nub is worthless.
Bob Root said that farmers have to take risks all the time. Sometimes the risks pay off but
a lot of times the risks do not. Years ago Marjorie, my brother Eric and I decided to get
into real farming by raising cucumbers for the Matthews Wells pickle factory in Guelph, Ontario.
Their pickles were sold under the Rose Brand label. Many of my readers must have eaten
these pickles at some point.
How did we get into the business? My cousin Ted Freeman, was at the
time in charge of contracting farmers to grow cucumbers. His mom and dad, Frank and Lucinda
Freeman got a contract and we decided to give it a go as well.
Now just imagine that we were real farmers who needed a source of income just to pay
the property taxes or to cover fertilizer costs or maybe just to pay off debtors who were
hounding us. Just imagine we needed the job. (Forget the fact that Marjorie, Eric
and I had other jobs that paid our bills. Imagine we were real young farmers trying
to make a living.)
“Now Alan, our pickle company really want gherkins…the smallest cucumbers, maybe
2 to 3 inches long.”
“How will we be paid?”
“AT the end of the summer, maybe October, we will calculate what we owne you after we
have measured and weighed you production.”
“You mean we put up the front end money?”
“Not entirely, Matthews Wells will give you the cucumber seeds. After that it is up
“How do our cucumbers get to the factory?”
“Once a week a truck will pick up your produce as long as the sacks are
placed at the corner of the fifth line and #5 sidereal with your name.”
“And Alan do not send any nubs, crooks or oversized. They are worth nothing.”
“Three questions, Ted, what is a nub? What is a Crook? How big is an oversized cucumber?”
“Is that a joke, Alan?”
It was not a joke but I never told Ted. Instead we got ready for our adventure in real farming.
We bought a rather decrepit Farmal A tractor for $400. First big expense. Then we hired George
Johnson to plow up our cucumber field. He did a great job. Unfortunately we did not think of
harrowing the upturned sod. So our field was a little bumpy. Then we got the seed bed ready by
hooking a single furrow plow to the tractor. Dad was helpful although he thought we were goddamned
The land was good. Nothing had been growing here but twitch grass and timothy for more than two
decades. The soil was ready for cucumbers… to fight the bad weed seeds versus good seeds war. We helped by
weeding. In no time at all the cucumber vines were stretching like long garter snakes through
Up the road, at Uncle Frank and Aunt Lucida’s farm the cucumber field was clean as a whistle.
A whole bunch of school kids were hired to pick cucumbers every day. “Get the gherkins!”
I think my uncle and aunt were amused in a kindly way. “City people will learn something
about farming this summer.” They sacked their production…gherkins mostly
We did have some gherkins but they were darn hard to find. We sacked everything
in the mistaken belief that even the lowliest cucumber was worth something. So we
bagged up quite a few of our specials…nubs, crooks and oversized. Wow, we raced
through the field picking whatever we could. The cucumbers outraced us.
Our sacked production looked good. But turned out to be nearly worthless.
“Alan, those nubs and crooks just go to the dump…along with the oversized.”
This is a NUB. WORTHLESS
This is an oversized cucumber. WORTHLESS
These are Crooks. WORTHLESS
Then we got a letter from Matthews Wells. it ran something like this. “Dear
Grower, this has been a bumper year for cucumber growth. More cucumbers
than we can handle. Only need gherkins but even ghekins are oversupplied
so we have to cut the price paid to growers.”
“Look at this! The company has cut the price in the middle of the season.
How could they do this?”
“That’s the nature of farming. Prices fluctuate. You never know what you
will be paid until the end of the season…same for grain, green beans, water melons,
cattle, sheep or hogs. The only farmers that get a guaranteed price for their production
are the dairy farmers.”
“But we have put a lot of money into this cucumber field. We bought a tractor,
a plow, some sacks, fertilizer, and that old wood wheeled buggy to drag the sacks
up the road. Then there is our labour. Surely our work is worth something.”
“We’ll just have to wait and see…come October we will know. That is when
the checks are sent out.:
YES… and sure as God has made little green apples, a check was sent
to us. I think it was for $35.00. I think the price of seed was taken off at the
end of season. Take price of seed off this check.
Three people, tractor, wagon buggy, sacks, fertilizer, land, … front end costs
were about 20 times the final payment.
A lesson learned and never forgotten. I am sure our uncle and aunt were
amused…gently amused….not viciously amused. They had also had their contract
reduced. I am not sure if even they made a profit. I know it was the last
year any of us grew cucumbers.
Cousin Ted will correct this account. He was embarrassed by our failure for
it reflected on him I imagine. We were a joke and even laughed at ourselves.
Ted went on to build his own successful business. He got out of the pickle game.
Springtime nearly here in our cucumber year This is our transport system. The wood wheeled Democrat hooked
to our lovely Formal A garden tractor.. In the background id a barn i was building atop our old barn foundation.
I hope you love the skill being applied. The barn collapsed eventually.
This is my cousin Ted Freeman (right) and Eric Skeoch .. handshake had meaning. Ted took us through the pickle factory
before we signed the contract.
Dad and I … picture taken a little earlier when I was still in high school. Dad
did not carry that stick to give me a rap on the ass. He spent most of his time
laughing at our ignorance about farming.
P.S. Perhaps I should not write this postscript. Eric got married that summer and
asked me to be best man. I took a sack of our nubs, crooks and oversized to the
wedding feast at the Old Mill in Toronto. Some people were offended. I think
I know why now…but did not at the time.
P.P.S. Worse happened. I loved our little Farmal A tractor. When winter
came I tucked it in the cedar hedge beside the back house. When spring
came I discovered the block had cracked. No one ever told me that
the tractor had no anti freeze. I nearly cried. The final blow as it were.
This is a picture of a nub and an oversized cucumber. And also a picture of a very stupid farmer.