TONASKET — Hector and Victor Maldonado are hoping to salvage the summer yet, despite three blocks of pear trees and cherry trees water-logged under the past couple weeks of flooding.
“We are impacted, but many more are affected worse than us,” said Hector Maldonado at his family's orchard north of town on Highway 7. “It inhabits our ability to farm, to spray and to mow and it might compromise the quality. So the inability to move forward concerns me, with pests and diseases we cannot control.”
About 20 acres of fruit trees are not accessible due to flooding. Along with the orchard the family owns on Highway 7, they lease land in several other areas, for a total operation of about 250 acres.
“We lease some acres in McLaughlin Canyon that we can't get to because the road is closed. It's DNR land and this is our first year operating it. Most of it is underwater,” said Maldonado. “It receded, but now it's going back up. We want, and hope, that by the time the water recedes, we can go in there and access our farming and grow quality fruit.”
“Many people were more adversely affected than we are,” Maldonado emphasized. “Our homes are up higher.”
Maldonado said one concern was losing trees that have been oversaturated for days; especially the young ones which are more susceptible.
Hector and Victor’s father, Aristeo, began growing fruit there in 1996.
“In '97, we had a little less flooding than this. But now this is worse,” said Aristeo, who has worked through many challenges over the years. “We are trying to survive in this time. In 1998, the price of Reds (apples) went down, so I took the tractor and took out all the old Red trees and planted Galas and pears and cherries. We had to diversify how we are, so we are prepared for everything. If the apples don't do good, maybe the pears or cherries will.”
Aristeo said another advantage of diversification was the crops coming in at different times.
“We don't need as many pickers,” said Aristeo, who for the most part needs only to rely on family members. “At first there were nine children here, seven men and two women. Now here are four family members. The children 16 and older help control the quality. Everyone is involved with the planting and the harvesting. Everybody has something to do. The grandpa who is 88, he waters the cherries. Nobody needs to try to take the hose from him.”
Aristeao and his wife Evelia involved their children early, and now the grandchildren. “We gave them the choice when they graduated high school, work in the orchard or go to school,” said Aristeo.
They were all required to return to work in the orchard during summer vacations.
“It was very difficult because we had no money at the time. Business wasn't very good,”said Aristio.
They all earned degrees, with some choosing to join their father in orchard work after college.
Victor’s degree in horticulture lends expertise in hands-on crop maintenance and supervision.
Hector has two master's degrees in business; U.S. and international, which makes him well-suited to handling that side of the family business.
Another, Flor, graduated with a degree in quality control and organic farming.
Lucio graduated from Gonzaga Law last Saturday; oldest son Ulises earned a Ph.D., Rene works in management at WorkSource, Gabriel is a police officer in Arizona, and daughter Evelia works at the Tonasket Preschool after earning her master's degree with special needs children and works at the Tonasket Preschool.
“They all started working here in the orchard,” said Evelia, who worked alongside her husband, with the children in a playpen among the fruit trees when they were small.
“They survived,” said Evelia, whose father came to join them when the orchard was new, to help prune and however else he was needed.
“It’s easier now, I’m not responsible for the orchard,” said Aristeo. “Now Victor and Hector are.”
Hector rolled a small bud pulled off a waterlogged pear tree between his fingers.
“This too shall pass,” he said, looking out at the trees.
Another family business north of the Maldonados getting hit with floodwaters is Crescent Valley Farms, a marijuana growing businesses owned by brothers Stephen
and Andrew Grimes, along with their father and Steven's wife Katy and her family.
The 22-acre spread used to be all fruit trees.
“We lost some rhubarb, though I'm not sure completely,” said Katy. “Other than that, we haven't lost anything. Thankfully we hadn't planted it (the marijuana crop) yet, so we took it from the greenhouse to higher ground and put it up on pallets.”
Grimes described the day the water arrived in full force.
“I went into the greenhouse in the morning to water, and there was no water. A few hours later, the water was past my knees. It was a crazy day,” said Katy. “But all our product is safe, and all our plants are safe.”
Katy said they usually plant the mother plants in the greenhouse, but this year they didn't. Last year, plants were in the ground May 15.
“We were going to plant part of the crop with light deprivation hoops May first or 10th. Thank God we didn’t,” said Katy. “There have been lots of blessings in disguise. My motto is, 'Everything happens for a reason.’ I just keep calm and carry on. We can't have crop insurance, so it's scary. If the water doesn't go down in time, I don't know what we're going to do.”
Like the Maldonados, they diversify.
A crop of cherry trees uphill of the river remain dry, and chickens roost in cozy homes in an empty field of several acres of possibilities.
“It’s all licensed for marijuana, so we could put in two more plots, but we might get some cows,” said Grimes. “We have meat chickens, and my husband is about to barbeque our first one up now.”
The garden was planted that morning with squash, cabbage, kale, onions, lettuce, brussels sprouts and corn.
“We are trying to become self-sustaining. The asparagus is all underwater, it will be interesting to see what happens when the river goes down. I'm bummed about the wild asparagus. I had a whole Mother's Day Dinner planned.”
“We were going to plant May 15, but now we're hoping to go for June 10,” said the young woman with bright smiling eyes, a firm handshake and a grin not unlike Goldie Hawn’s.