Summer Cherry Harvest in Oregon

by Stephanie, Graphic Designer-Brand Manager 

Every year my family comes together for our annual sweet cherry harvest on our 30 acres of land in The Dalles, Oregon. It never fails to be hot, dusty, stressful, and altogether a rewarding and fun experience. Here’s how my day broke down on July 4th this year, our first day of cherry harvest.

4:15am: Alarm comes on. Half-conscious, I hit snooze and fall back asleep.
4:24am: Alarm comes on. For three more minutes I sleepily try to barter another few moments of sleep before I realize why I’m getting up at such a hideous hour.
4:44am: I’m out the door with a travel mug of coffee and a handful of grapes, dressed in clothes to get grubby, and ready to start Harvest 2007.
5:00am: The entire crew meets by the giant pine tree on my Dad’s property to discuss people’s roles, what fruit we’re picking that day (Bing cherries), and how we’re picking them. Everyone caravans over to what we call Field 3 with clouds of dust filling the crisp morning air. Mt. Hood gleams pink and orange in the early light.
5:20am: We have about 68 pickers this year, divided into “teams”. The pickers each grab a ladder and head off to their designated orchard rows. I’m a “bin-checker” this year, which means I record the number of buckets each picker on my team picks (say that 5 times fast), while making sure that the fruit is being harvested properly and that everything runs smoothly with our team.

Ladders and Mt. Hood

6:15am: My stepsister Brooke drives by and calls me some ridiculous nickname, as is our harvest tradition. She came up from San Francisco to drive tractor for the harvest this year, which she’s done every year since we first started about 5 years ago. Half the reason we have so much fun is because she and I goof around whenever feasible. Call it sisterly bonding.

Brooke on Tractor

7:05am: The fruit is looking pretty decent this year. Not as big as in years past, but not too shabby. Via our walkie talkies I find out that as usual, the outside orchard rows that a couple other teams are picking have small fruit and have some bird damage. But the cherries in my 4 rows? Gorgeous. Try not to pick at least one.

Bing Cherries on a Tree

7:30am: My team is doing a great job. They’re working fast and I’m having way too much fun pronouncing their names, albeit with an Italian accent instead of Spanish. Many of our regular pickers are back this year from their homes in California, so remembering names hasn’t been too difficult.

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[/coolplayer] 8:45am: A weak horn honks in the distance. That can only mean the taco truck is here, barely navigating the winding dirt roads out to where we’re located. I yell out “Lonche!” for lunch and everyone runs to where the dilapidated grey van has parked. I’ve been dreaming of the taco truck’s tamales all day, and am not disappointed by 3 hot ones wrapped up in foil. A few other checkers and I sit in the shade of a tree and savor the authentic goodness. I was so excited I forgot to take pictures.
9:20am: Everyone’s faithful sidekick Porter lays down in the shade next to me, panting from his travels throughout the orchard. He loves all the new smells and activity that come with a field full of people on a hot day.

Porter

10:05am: It’s hot. Like, stupid hot. Today’s high is supposed to be 104 degrees and it’s already… well I don’t know, but it’s hot.
10:15am: Dad radios in and says our quitting time will be noon today. Anything later and the fruit becomes too soft and prone to damage. The stems pull out too easily and the flesh bruises with the slightest touch at that heat.
11:00am: Bathroom break. I run up to a porta-potty (that doesn’t stink!) and find vague amusement at the hand washing station parked next to it. I refrain from drinking the water.

No Tomar!

11:15am: I’ve held back all day, but now I’m eating cherries. Especially our Rainiers, which we use as pollinizers in the Bing blocks. They have a little wind damage from the high winds we had earlier in the season, but again they are simply lovely.

Rainier Cherries

11:30am: To keep the harvested cherries from getting too hot, we cover each full bin with a square piece of foam that’s been soaked in water. Before they’re loaded onto the truck at the bottom of the hill they’re sprayed with water again to keep them cool until they reach the warehouse 25 miles away. There they go through a system that cleans, cools, sorts and packages the cherries for distribution. They’ll be in a grocery store near you within 48 hours.

Cherry Bins with Foam

12:00pm: Quitting time! We bring out coolers full of cold soda for the workers and gather up all of the near-empty water coolers and cups. Pickers run up to their checkers and enthusiastically ask what their total bucket count was for the day. My best guy had 34 buckets, but another on a different team had an astounding 71. I yell a tired “Hasta manana!” to my team and shuffle back to my hot car, ready to go home for a shower and maybe an air conditioned nap.

The Fruit Company® got its start in 1942 when Roy Webster began selling apples and pears from his orchards located in Hood River, Oregon. The area was perfect for growing fruit thanks to the volcanically enriched soil and glacial water from the nearby Mt. Hood. The fruit was exceptional. The company was passed down from father to son and today is owned and operated by Roy's Grandson Scott Webster.

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