Working the Beet Harvest: First Impressions

Edit: Photo added! This was my first break on Day 1, before the beet pile reached its max height of 30 feet. It’s so cute and little.

Hello everyone! Still alive after Day 4 of the beet harvest, woohoo! I’m typing this up while eating dinner, that should already tell you something about what this work-camping opportunity is like.

I will be doing a thorough write-up of my time here, never fear! But 12 hour days of physical activity leave little time or energy for anything else but sleeping, eating, showering. So that write up is going to have to wait until I day get a day off. In the mean time, first impressions quick-like as I’m tired and want to crawl into bed:

On 12 hour days:

The first 12 hour day was fine. The second day wasn’t bad. By the third day I was feeling quite sore from all the shoveling. This morning it was hard to get out of bed, but I wasn’t as sore. I am getting eight hours of sleep a night which I feel is crucial. If I shorted myself on sleep (to have more free-time outside of work) I’m pretty sure work would be a lot, lot harder. Amazon is sort of the same way.

On the work:

It’s physical work, but not 12 straight hours of it โ€“ thank heavens! The shoveling of mud and beets is the most labor intensive (neither are very heavy, the mud is scraped not truly shoveled like snow for instance and the beet shoveling is maybe a few times a shift). And between shoveling you’re helping guide trucks around which is a little walking but not a lot. There are also periods where you’re waiting for trucks to finish unloading or new trucks to pull in, so there is regular intervals of rest. Which is very good, because 12 hour shifts would not be sustainable if you had to constantly be in motion.

Cleaning the beet piler happens once a shift, it takes maybe 20 minutes and is a lot of shoveling and scraping. I think most would consider that the hardest (and least pleasant) part of the job.

S. Kaeseman asked in the comments last post about what age can pull this job off: Several of my co-workers are in their forties and doing fine. Another work-camper on my shift is in his 50’s and he’s holding up well, he is in reasonably good shape. There’s a couple in their 60’s working the night shift โ€“ I haven’t gotten to speak with them but I still see them at shift change so they didn’t quit. Like with Amazon, I think what kind of shape you’re in and what kind of work you’re use to is more important than actual age.

On the conditions:

Most pilers are located outdoors, you’re exposed to the elements. Temps have been 40’s at night and 60’s during the day generally โ€“ so day shift gets warmer conditions (I’m day shift). Today it rained for about an hour in the morning when it was 45 or so out. So we worked in the mud and got wet and it made shoveling challenging and overall it just wasn’t a fun time. The piler stays open unless there’s thunder or heavy rain. Some farmers stopped harvesting though so it was slower and we were able to go slow to avoid sliding around.

There is no break room, lunches and breaks happen in your vehicle. There are porta-potties on site, and so far they’ve been kept very clean (yay). There is water available inside the weigh house (which is also where you punch in and out).

You need to watch out for the truck drivers! Some of them have no previous experience driving a truck and are unpredictable. Some are driving old trucks or not well kept trucks. Yesterday a truck started spraying hydraulic fluid when raising it’s bed. Today a truck driver fell asleep behind the wheel while waiting in line to dump. We’ve had trucks get flats. Trucks bump into the machine. Trucks stall out. Trucks slide in the mud. Trucks forget to put their brake on. Truck drivers not follow directions.

You get the idea. In short: we’re all working long hours and it’s easy to get tired and careless. The longer everyone goes without a rest day, the more tired everyone gets. There’s a significant potential for getting hurt on this job. It’s important to pay attention.

Oh, and yes it’s dirty work. Everything you wear will get dirty.

On coworkers and management:

On our crew of four working piler 10, there’s me an one other work-camper, and two locals. We all get along fine. Communication between team members is important to keep things running smoothly.

My foreman seems like a nice enough guy. The management above him have also been fine. They’ll stop by two or three times a shift to look things over and make sure everything’s running smoothly, but don’t micro-manage. They’ve also helped clean the machine with the rest of the crew.

* * *

Okay it’s 9:30 I’m done, haha. This post isn’t getting as much editing as my regular ones do, you’ll have to excuse any errors or odd sentence structure. So far the job is fine overall, but if we go another four days without a break my tune may change. We’ll just have to wait and see. Goodnight!

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At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.


  1. Marybebth Bowman on October 8, 2017 at 2:03 pm

    I am on Day 4 of the Sugar Beets Harvest at the E GF location. Been working nights despite the long hours and weather its been an experience that I can say that I did. Been following your blog for years and really enjoy your adventures and the info as well.

    • Becky on October 15, 2017 at 6:02 pm

      Hopefully by now you’re done too Marybeth! Hope you carried that good attitude through to the end, it helps a lot.

  2. Debbie Granger on October 7, 2017 at 11:21 pm

    Boy, I feel for you. I bet you’re beat! Or, beet. ๐Ÿ™‚ I start Amazon in Murfreesboro
    tomorrow for the night shift. Will be thinking about you, doing tougher, dirtier, colder! work!

    Read your IO about your phone and internet. What phone do you have? I have been getting a run-around with Verizon on their Chat. I have a jetpack for my internet wifi for my computer, plus a flip phone. I’m thinking it’d be cheaper to get rid of the jetpack (charged for two devices) and just have the smartphone as my internet hotspot. I don’t want to pay a fortunre for a smartphone though. I’m not even a phone person. Just thinking of the $$$.

    No hurry on this answer, I know you get lots of comments from your huge fan base and I know you must be pooped!

    Thanks, Becky

    • Becky on October 15, 2017 at 6:01 pm

      An iPhone SE. Had it almost a year and a half now, been happy with it. It’s definitely not cheap, but as it’s also my GPS, camera, and hotspot, the price was well worth it to me.

  3. Becky on October 7, 2017 at 7:37 pm

    Hello everyone! No time to respond to every single comment, but know that I have read them all and appreciate the time you all took to write them! I miss you all, thanks for following along!

    For those who asked about photos:
    Company has a no picture policy, proprietary equipment and processes and all that. Phones are not allowed while you’re on the piler. I do have a pic and short video taken from a distance (what you can see from the road going past) that I’ll put up at some point. But you can learn more about what a piler looks like by visiting Crystal Sugar’s official YouTube channel:

  4. Shirley Joiner on October 6, 2017 at 7:24 pm

    Becky, I may have missed this in a previous post, but are these beets used for eating on the table or for making sugar?

  5. Darren on October 6, 2017 at 1:22 am

    Becky, hope your doing well and getting rest!! Lack of sleep, as you know can lead to mistakes and injury! Drink plenty of fluids and try to get a balanced meal once a day. (can you tell I’m a Paramedic? LOL). Take care of yourself and keep us all informed on how your doing!!

  6. S. Kaeseman on October 5, 2017 at 2:43 pm

    Becky, Thanks for the info on the ages of people working. I really appreciate it, means I maybe able to do it one day if life continues to go well. Glad you are making it. Please be careful as you always seem to be. Understand the 12 hour shifts, look forward to more when you get time.
    S. Kaeseman

  7. Treasure pillow on October 4, 2017 at 7:13 pm

    Great job! Becky, I am glad to read your post, I really appreciate your honesty and your job! Take a rest and be careful.

  8. MnDreamer on October 4, 2017 at 5:43 pm

    It sounds like you’re doing great, Becky– good for you! Keep getting your rest and do be careful! You’ll be done and in the money before you know it ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. David on October 4, 2017 at 5:24 pm

    Good description. I drove โ€œbeet truckโ€ for two years. Beet fields are where old worn out trucks go to spend their golden years. And if the field is muddy, you drive through the field with a tractor pushing you. And if you are unlucky, you get a rock in your windshield which entertains the diesel pump cashier lady while you take off your clothes down to bare chest trying to get the glass schards off you. If you are looking for entertainment on your day off, just make a round with one of the drivers, from piler to field and back to piler. And donโ€™t forget to see a truck that has a latch break and all the beets spill out on the scale. Oh the memories!

  10. John on October 4, 2017 at 3:50 pm

    Nice write up. I like the information you include. Thanks for you effort. It is appreciated.

  11. Dwayne on October 4, 2017 at 1:07 pm

    Becky-did that job for 3 years (starting at age 61). Just happen to have another job right now that pays $15 an hour and it is home. So I cancelled out this year (had been signed up). Agree with you, worse thing about the job is 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. But only for a few weeks. The trucks are not really the danger, biggest danger is sliding on the ground or tripping over the spilled beets. When the beets are going up the conveyer that do a lot of bouncing, this is to knock the mud off of them. They fly out of there, you learn where not to stand to get a headache. In the three years working only one person got hit by the 15-20 lb. beets (wearing hardhat). You just stay out of the way and when they are lifting their loads you stay WAY away from the possible tilt over. Never happened while I was working, but have heard of cases.
    If you do want to do this you sign up in January and put Becky’s name down as a referral. Then she gets $50.

  12. Linda Sand on October 4, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    I’m glad you are prioritizing sleep. Being alert appears to be crucial in this job.

  13. Bill on October 4, 2017 at 10:21 am

    I always appreciate your honesty. You don’t try to sugar coat things. Good luck, stay safe.

  14. David Michael on October 4, 2017 at 9:24 am

    Thanks Becky for your timely comments. I enjoyed working at Amazon when I was age 75 a few years ago as a scanner. Now thinking of doing the Beets next year at age 81 to go along with a trip there to hunt pheasants. I find beng in good shape more important than age. 80 is the new 60! Wishing you well!

  15. Kathy on October 4, 2017 at 9:19 am

    I am also working my first beet harvest. We are in Hillsboro ND. I am 58, my friends from Amazon days are in their mid 60’s, and another workamper at our piler is 73. I am very sore, but Advil is my friend. I don’t think I would want to do this at age 73. I am also very grateful that I got day shift.

  16. Rob on October 4, 2017 at 9:12 am

    Several 60+ people at my site, the two retired ladies on one piler are doing the best job!

    The hours and the day sleeping are what bother me the most.
    I knew that a 12 hr day left nothing but sleep & work before I agreed, one of the retired ladies equated this to working at Amazon…

  17. Elisa on October 4, 2017 at 9:03 am

    You are a trooper, Becky! Stay alert and take care of yourself. Glad you got the day shift! Get some rest!

  18. Kent on October 4, 2017 at 8:33 am

    Thumbs up Becky..

    Not a job I would want..

    Very impressed at your tenacity…

  19. Dawn in MI on October 4, 2017 at 7:31 am

    People falling asleep doing what can be dangerous jobs around equipment and big trucks is scary. Please stay vigilant.

  20. Page Harrie on October 4, 2017 at 6:59 am

    One of my coworkers here at Adventureland is working the beet harvest at a different location. She is 81 and in her 5th year working the harvest.

    Be safe!

  21. WendyLooWho on October 4, 2017 at 6:39 am

    Hi Becky,

    I really enjoy following your travels and the updates you send. Good luck with the beet harvest. All the best, Wendy

  22. JimM on October 4, 2017 at 6:19 am

    Are you allowed to take pictures? Will we get to see any?

  23. RGupnorth on October 4, 2017 at 4:53 am

    Pretty tough to go from not phyically working to 12 hour days. Sleep is critical. In my 20โ€™s I worked 12 hour days 5 to 6 days/week for years – lots of wear and tear on the body and your social life.

    Use care.


  24. Shelly Sizemore on October 4, 2017 at 2:03 am

    So good to hear from you, Becky. I’ve been super curious about the beet harvest and the daily grind. Take care ๐Ÿ™‚

  25. Dave on October 3, 2017 at 10:06 pm

    Wow! That place seems like an accident waiting to happen. Hoping you might be able to snap a few pics when you get a chance. I can’t even imagine what a beet piler might look like. A shot of the guy asleep at the wheel would have been good too. Or how bout a video of the inexperienced moroons trying to back up their big trucks? This could be a reality show. I’m guessing everyone’s nerves will be a little frayed when this is all over but you’ll have a fat paycheck and another bullet point on your already diverse resume. Really appreciate your dedication to the blog in the midst of all this.

  26. Lindsey on October 3, 2017 at 10:01 pm

    Be safe! Thanks for the details. We’ll mark this one off the to-do list ๐Ÿ™‚

  27. Kevin on October 3, 2017 at 9:46 pm

    Yikes! Truckers falling asleep and inexperienced drivers – that’s scary stuff! Get plenty of rest so you can stay alert and safe.

  28. Rob on October 3, 2017 at 9:07 pm

    stay safe… not sure about this one

  29. Judith on October 3, 2017 at 8:57 pm

    I’m glad it’s going ok. I hope you have a Good paycheck with this. I will keep you in my prayers for your safety. Rest well and thank you so much for the update.

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