Many of the orchards in Chelan valley are a family affair, with women playing a critical role in running smooth operations and growing the business. In our “Women in Agriculture” blog series we sit down with them to discuss their roles and thoughts on the industry.
This month we checked in with Nita Pace who works at Chelan Fruit.
Chelan Fresh (CF): Hi Nita and thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Can you please tell us about your role at Chelan Fruit?
Nita Pace: Of course! I am a Supervisor for the pear line at Chelan Fruit in Chelan, WA.
CF: How long have you been with Chelan Fruit? Is this your first position in the agriculture business?
NP: I’m going into to my 6th year at Chelan Fruit but I’ve been in this industry for over 30 years now.
CF: Wow, that’s great! What does your current job entail?
NF: I’m responsible for a 70-person production crew as well as the day-to-day operations of packing the fruit and making sure we’re following our packing instructions for quality and grade of fruit. Chelan Fresh gives us packing instructions for their client orders, and I’m also responsible for making sure we pack everything for the benefit of the grower as well.
CF: What do you look for in terms of packing instructions that benefit the grower?
NP: We’re looking to ensure that everything that meets our standards is actually going in a box and that we’re not throwing away packable fruit. We double check our grade and fruit by weight just to be sure.
CF: Are the packing instructions from Chelan Fresh quite specific?
NP: Chelan Fruit works hand in hand with Chelan Fresh. Each of Chelan Fresh’s customers have a certain pack type, it’s all quite customized, so it’s part of my job to make sure that the fruit for their customers gets packed according to their specifications.
CF: What happens to fruit that does not meet the standards?
NP: That fruit would go to processors for juice, peelers, canners. We also have a quality grade specifically for canning pears. No waste here!
CF: Does your crew only pack pears? It is a year-round job?
NP: It’s full time! We pack pears from August to mid-January, apples from mid-January to the first week or so of June, and then we go into cherries. When cherries are done in end of July we start the whole process over again.
CF: When is vacation time for you then?
NP: We usually take some time off at the end of cherry season, before we start packing pears again.
CF: Are there many women working in Chelan Fruit? And in your job field?
NP: Yes, the company has a lot of female supervisor. There’s a good balance of men and women in this job and we are all treated fairly. It works well.
CF: You mentioned earlier that you have been in the agriculture industry for 30 years. Can you tell us about what you did before starting at Chelan Fruit?
NP: I was born and raised on a farm here in Chelan, grew up in Manson. We had a family orchard. I have been in the valley for 55 years now.
CF: You must have seen a lot of changes in the agriculture industry in 55 years…
NP: Yes, absolutely! It’s really interesting to watch the way it’s changing. It used to be just apples and a few pear varieties. Then cherries came in and other crops started coming in over time. If you take a drive around our valley now, you can see all different crops being planted. I think it gives me a better understanding of the industry.
CF: What is the favorite part of your job?
NP: The best part is when the fruit is coming in fresh from the field. If you ask me there’s nothing better. I love the sight and the smell of the fresh fruit!
CF: How do you enjoy eating it?
NP: Oh, I’m a “right off the tree” type of person. That probably comes from growing up on an orchard. You have to get it right off the tree!