A Hard Days Work
By Juan Mendoza-Tovar
It’s 30 degrees in Peshastin, Wash. and for this time of the year, it’s warm. The snow has began to melt as Miguel Mendoza shows up for another days work. He’s greeted with the familiar tracks left behind by deer the night before and the sounds of the quiet wind. It’s pruning season which means there will probably only be one other worker out in the orchard along with him.
For the months of December through March orchards all around the Wenatchee Valley and the state of Washington, just like the one Mendoza works at, are in pruning season. This means it’s time to get the trees ready for the upcoming harvest. Any given day, these orchardists could be working on various things. Sure, there is consistency… until there isn’t.
For most jobs, the weather doesn’t play too much of a factor of whether or not you’ll go to work or not. However, for the agriculture workers in the deeply rooted fruit orchards that surround a large part of Central Washington, weather is key.
First step, check outside.
If there’s rain, then there’s no work. While these men and women may work in wild conditions, the rain is never okay. Ladders can get (and will get) slippery and that is too much of a dangerous game to play.
No rain today.
Instead, there is little snow and there is a small glimmer of sun that hits the rows of trees. Mendoza walks around his next tree. It’s a pear tree desperately needing attention. Its branches are overgrown and are beginning to wrap around its neighboring tree.
“Take a glance at how this looks before,” Mendoza says. “Give me 20-30 minutes and this tree will look ready for the spring.”
He begins from the bottom of the tree, quickly looking over all the branches. If he seems anything unfit, then it gets cut, simple as that. He’s no newcomer to this, for almost 30 years Mendoza has worked on these trees in many orchards, not just this one.
“It’s wherever we’re needed,” he says. “One week I may be in Peshastin and the other I could be working in Wenatchee, it just depends.”
That is how it works for pickers and pruners and mostly everyone in the world of agriculture. Since tree fruits are the one of the most essential influences on the economy in the Wenatchee Valley, hundreds of workers call this area home for the spring and summer.
Mendoza was once one of these workers as well. In his first few years of work after coming to the United States from Mexico, he came alone to work and make an income for his growing family.
“After a few years of going back and forth, we were able to find a place to live and finally get us all together,” he says.
His story is like many: an immigrant chasing the American dream.
For him, the orchards have become a way of life. This is no easy job, but as long as the trees blossom in the spring, he’ll be just fine.