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Vicki Olson Carr | Winter is a busy time for fruit packers

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One of the joys of living in central Washington is watching the seasons roll by in a continuous pattern year after year. Watching the work in fruit orchards that flows along season after season is another comfort to many.

In the spring, orchard workers are busy thinning apples and blossoms. In the summer, the orchards must get adequate water and sometimes protective netting. Workers also drive tractors up and down rows to mow and spray. Hundreds of pickers flood the orchards in late summer and fall to harvest apples and other fruit that have made this corner of the world famous.

In early winter, fruit growers and orchard workers take a short break from all this hustle and bustle. The dormant trees also have a break to refresh and restore from the inside out. Tree pruning begins earlier these days, weather permitting, to help sustain ag workers and their families during this quiet time.

This season of the year, however, is the busiest for fruit packers and shippers. Controlled atmosphere warehouses are filled to overflowing with central Washington’s top-quality fruit, and packing supply companies are a madhouse of activity.

Fruit Packers Supply, Inc. is a major supplier of packing goods. The company has been supplying packing goods in Yakima for 60 years, has over 25 employees and serves around 30 packers and shippers in the Yakima Valley and south.

Shawn Ward is the regional manager for the company’s two outlets in Wenatchee and Chelan Falls, which serves North Central Washington from Quincy north to the border.

“We have about 30 workers and serve around 20 packers and shippers. One of our main challenges is keeping pace with the huge growth in the fruit industry around here,” he said.

Supplies include pouch bags, trays, foam pads, corner boards, shrink wrap and beautifully designed and labeled cardboard boxes for cherries, apricots, pears, peaches, nectarines, apples and potatoes. Beautifully designed boxes for shipping wine is a new product also.

The company’s fold-and-glue box machines can turn out 900 box tops or bottoms an hour. When Gebbers Farms or Chelan Fruit call in huge orders, Chelan Falls plant manager Warren Little must locate temporary workers fast.

“Sometimes it feels like I’m running a Job Corp down here,” Little said. “But it’s gratifying to hire someone without a job, see them turn into a good worker—and actually turn their life around.” The local fruit industry needs all the workers it can get.

 

Vicki Carr writes about the Chelan area. She can be reached at vbcarr@nwi.net.