Eighteen orchard workers from Wenatchee, Washington, and surrounding areas were honored this spring for the commitment they made to furthering their education.
They were graduates of Wenatchee Valley College’s Hispanic Orchard Employee Education Program’s advanced horticultural class.
And a commitment it is.
Throughout the winter, class members study long and hard several days a week after work to improve their English and math as well as horticultural expertise.
“You made a huge commitment to even start this program,” Naná Simone, keynote speaker at the graduation ceremony, told the class.
Simone, who grew up in California, is an integrated pest management consultant who works with Hispanic orchardists. “I think about the commitment I made to get into this industry as a woman, and a person from a city who didn’t grow up in agriculture, and as a newcomer to Washington, and it wasn’t always easy. But, then, I think of you.”
The graduates’ time and energy is limited and taken up with many other responsibilities, such as their farms or businesses and their families, she noted, and they’re also experiencing hard economic times in the tree fruit industry.
“The last time you were in school before starting HOEEP was probably a long time ago,” she said. “And yet, you signed up with this program, and you stuck with it. I know you’ve been challenged over and over again and have learned much that will be of value to you. You have supported each other, rather than competing with each other, to take advantage of this program. I am filled with admiration for you.”
Simone urged the graduates to seek out other educational opportunities. “Learning is a lifelong process and it’s essential to success in the tree fruit industry as well as other careers. Your education will enable you to be more successful in your endeavors as well as in your ability to contribute to your community.”
Alejandro Valenzuela, who works for Zirkle Fruit Company at Rock Island, was nominated by his classmates for the “most improved” award, which goes to the graduate who makes the most progress during the course. Valenzuela, 56, took the advanced level class without doing the first year of the class.
Instructor Francisco Sarmiento said Valenzuela decided by himself that he wanted to take the class, “and we gave him the opportunity because he showed interest—and here he is.” Valenzuela, who grew up in Durango, Mexico, said he wanted to learn more about agriculture and work with more confidence.
In Mexico, he attended high school and received technical education in auto mechanics, building technology, and carpentry. He worked in textile dyeing before moving to the United States in 1990.
Since then he has worked in agriculture, first in California and then in Washington State. In 1993, he earned his General Education Diploma in Spanish at Washington State University.
At Zirkle Fruit Company, he is a farm laborer, doing pruning, thinning, and harvesting, though his ambition is to become a winemaker. He makes various fruit wines as a hobby, drawing on the knowledge of chemistry he gained while working in textiles.
Class members receiving awards for outstanding achievement were José Madrigal, Angel Suárez Mendoza, and Tomás Valencia. Perfect attendance awards went to Ignacio Castro Sánchez, José Galván, Jorge Mendoza, and Valencia.
Also graduating were: Luis Cárdenas, Carlos Barragán, Santiago Dávila, Benjamín Garnica, Juan López, Juan Martínez, Jesús Peregrino, Humberto Ramos, Gregorio Reyes, Catarino Robles, and Noe Suárez.