I was busy in the kitchen, cooking carrots that I had grown with butter and basil, also from the garden. Gary walked in and said "I made arrangements for you to ride on a combine." I can't say I was happy about this - he made arrangements for me to do something I hadn't thought about wanting to do. But he knows I'm interested in all that goes on around her, so he was right to think I'd be interested in the combine. There was work being done on the field behind his property, I was just a little wary about who the people might be running the machines, whether I was really welcome, and the unknown of what it would be like.
It helped that the driver and maintainer of the combine was a 20 year old girl, named Mercedes. I liked her right away, so I knew it would be ok. I am impressed that she has been doing this for 5 years, and she services her own machine, owned by the people who own the crop (but not the land). Here she is:
It turned out to be quite comfortable. The cab was clean, enclosed, and air conditioned. She said it was like driving a big house around. Not unlike a car, you go forward, backward, turn, etc. Hers goes 3.5 mph which is faster than another one that was on the field.
Mercedes described the process for me. First the field is cut. Then a machine called a "swather" comes through and rakes it into rows - hence the expression "cutting a wide swath". Her machine drives over the row, and pulls it up and separates the seed from the straw. So it seems misnamed to me - it isn't combining anything, but rather separating. The seeds go into the hopper in the combine, and straw is left on the ground. When the hopper is full she dumps it into the truck sitting there for that purpose.
This field was harvesting rye seeds. She said more lucrative crops are "meadowfoam" which has seeds that are used in cosmetics. They contain an oil which stays on the skin better than some other oils. The plant looks soft from a distance, hence the name, but she said it isn't really soft. Another more lucrative product is "oilseed radish" which creates a cover crop that restores soil. She said there is a big market for it in Central America.
She told me that after her work is done, the straw is either plowed back into the soil, or it is baled up for other purposes.
I had a lot of fun asking her questions and hearing about what is ahead for her. Her husband is in the military and they are heading for Korea soon.
Thanks to Gary for making this possible for me.