family background/Lisa is a third-generation farmer who started in high school and is now the orchard operations supervisor. Lisa is the granddaughter of Frances and Tony Peña, daughter of Maria Peña and Roy Aceves and works with her sister, Rosa, and brother, Rogelio.
crops/pears, apples, cherries and stone fruit
How did you get your start?
I grew up on the ranch, and my dad is a ranch manager. When I would see him out harvesting or changing irrigation, or during frost season when the alarms would go off, I would wake up and go help him turn on wind machines and light the smudge pots.
It was fun to me, and it was a good time. And then when people were out harvesting, I would always walk out and be like, “Oh, what are they doing?” I was curious as a kid.
Once I was in high school, I started working with my grandparents, and I would help them thin. I would help my grandmother move her ladder or reach the fruit on top of the trees so that she wouldn’t have to.
What did you enjoy about working in ag?
The main reason I started working in agriculture was because I saw all the work my dad had, and I wanted to help him.
So, I asked him, when I got out of high school, “Do you need help? Are you guys hiring?” And he’s like, “Well, yeah.” I started working in a crew, thinning, and then I slowly worked up to the crew boss for thinning. Once packing season came around, I was on that crew for a year or two.
Then I became the packing boss, and I was able to get that off his plate. Slowly but surely, we just meshed. It kind of made work a little bit more relaxing, being here on the ranch with everybody.
There are more people involved — like my sister, she works on the ranch with my brother, my grandfather and my father. We’ve all made it work.
What do you do now?
Over the years, things have changed and I’m now the orchard operations supervisor. At the beginning of the year there’s heating season, then pollination time where I work with mason bees. And then, from there, I work with the thinning crews, doing reporting, such as labor costs.
We start our pesticide program around March, and I work with the foreman to make changes so we don’t have the same mistakes as prior years.
One of the things I do to get ready for harvest is to work with Gerber (the baby food company now owned by Nestle). They will walk with me through our acreage and look at the trees and look at the ground with me, and they will analyze everything.
At that point, I communicate with them to see what varieties they want, how they want it, how much of each fruit they need. For instance, I may need to communicate with my boss that Gerber wants to take all of our Goldens, show how many acres we have and the map I created to show them the surrounding land. That way when they accept it, we can send it.
And what’s your role during harvest?
I get stuff ready for harvest, like helping in the cherry crew hiring process. When we’re harvesting, I’m also doing packing stuff. I’ll get a message from Columbia Fruit saying, “Hey, we’re packing this Friday,” then I drive up to Wenatchee to watch our fruit run.
I look at cull bins, I double-check that they’re not throwing away any fruit that I would consider good. I talk to the supervisor about what they’re throwing out, that way they can explain what they see.
As a packing boss, I go out to warehouses and I oversee other people packing our fruit. But we also pack fruit here for ourselves. Like today, I need to go to the shipping dock and make sure that the orders are going out properly.
I go over all the packing reports to help us with next year’s harvest and understand what changes we need to make.
What do you enjoy about agriculture?
The one thing I like about agriculture is that there are so many different aspects to it. From being in the field enjoying the open air and working with people… then there’s the soil part of it, where you come out and test soil.
You can become a fieldman, where you’re working with tree health, where you take leaf samples and work with water management. There are people who just want to come out here and drive tractors. There’s a little bit of something for everybody.
I’m pretty sure that anybody could come out here and find a career in agriculture. It’s not just coming out and picking apples, or putting some fruit in a bin, there’s a reporting part of it, which is accounting. It’s not just agriculture; it’s bigger than that.
What would you advise other younger growers?
A big percentage of what I’ve learned was on the farm and being in the field, hands-on. But I also learned through training from G.S. Long, the Washington State Tree Fruit Association and the Produce Safety Alliance, and I also do FSMA (Food Safety Modernization Act) training. It’s good information.
My advice for younger people who are interested in agriculture would be to come out to a field and work for a few days. You could do research, figure out what piques your interest, see what grabs you, and then go from there.
Look for trainings, look for different classes that are available, or contact an orchard and ask if they do what you’re interested in. Say to them, “I want to have a better understanding.
Is it OK if I come out and see what you do?” I’m pretty sure they would let you come out and learn. Don’t sit on it — just move forward and find the job you want.