President Fox greets workers at G&G Orchards
YAKIMA, Wash. - Mexico President Vicente Fox and Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire were greeted at G&G Orchards in the rolling hillside west of Yakima, Wash.,by owners Rene and Carmen Garcia, as well as a number of local Hispanic leaders, including Sergio Marquez, who heads the Hispanic growers' agricultural cooperative.
Marquez noted that Fox is the first Mexican president ever to come to Washington state, saying, "We should be proud for Mexicans here today."
Fox commented during the introductions that the Hispanics present were all from Michoacan state, the Mexican region from which many Yakima Valley farm workers emigrate.
The first stop on the tour was an apple orchard, where Jaime Nava was pruning a Golden Delicious apple tree. Nava is a native of Puebla, Mexico. In Spanish, Fox asked several questions about the process.
Nava told him they must prune the trees to ensure the apples get enough sunlight to grow and achieve their color. He said he would spend about a half-hour pruning each tree. Carmen Garcia then pointed out that the work must be done by hand, and theworkers cannot wear any gloves. The apples are only harvested once, and may be stored for up to 10 months. Nava said he only goes back to Mexico once a year, around Christmas. He has six children, some still here in the Yakima Valley and others in Phoenix, and three grandchildren.
Fox and Gregoire then walked down the road to a cherry orchard, where a woman was pruning a cherry tree. Carmen Garcia told Fox the cherries would be ready to harvest in mid-June.
"Apples and cherries together?" Fox asked about the harvest. Garcia said workers will be pruning or harvesting both crops at the same time. Gregoire thentook this opportunity to lean in and point out to Fox that an estimated 20,000 workers would be needed in Washington state to begin harvesting crops this summer, in time for the cherry harvest.
Fox asked several more questions about cherries, including whether they store them and about the level of competition. Carmen Garcia said they do not store cherries. There is more competition for apples than for cherries, she said, but this year will mark the first cherry harvest for this orchard.
Fox and Gregoire then went inside the apple packing shed, where at least a dozen workers, surrounded by fruit boxes, packed shiny red apples amid the whir of machinery. The Garcias introduced them to their family. Then, both Fox and Gregoire took the time to shake each worker's hand along the packing line as they worked their way through the warehouse. Toward the end of the tour, Fox leaned in to one man and said, "We're with you guys."
"Thanks for your support," the worker replied.