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Cherry harvest in the Gorge brings in hundreds of workers

Some workers are vaccinated, others KGW talked with are not interested in the COVID-19 vaccines.

PORTLAND, Ore. — The cherry harvest is beginning in the Columbia Gorge and hundreds of farm workers are arriving from out-of-state to help.

At Orchard View Cherries outside of The Dalles, teams of workers from California have already arrived and more are on the way.

Many KGW talked to Tuesday are vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, but many others are not.

Company President Brenda Thomas said she’s hosted several vaccination clinics and hopes everyone gets the shot, but she will not require it to help with the harvest.

“It's personal choice. We try to influence, try to educate, and be vaccine believers but I also believe people have to have their own opinion," Thomas said. "I am not going to change their opinion. We decided it was not gonna be a requirement."

She gave workers the option to decide if they wanted to share whether they were vaccinated. They could also choose not to disclose that information. 

Thomas said 40% reported they are fully vaccinated and 15% didn't want to say one way or the other.

Andres Ramirez is in charge of a team of pickers. He says he's vaccinated. 

“If you haven’t taken the vaccination, take it," he said. "It’s gonna be good for our kids, for our future. I took it for my kids. And everybody else.” 

When Orchard View Cherries hits full harvest next week on June 21st, the company will employ 1200 workers in the orchards and packing house.

"That's when we start picking the max volume we pick every day, it will be the max packing we do every day, the max shipping every day,” said Thomas.

It’s a multimillion dollar operation that lasts just seven weeks.

Thomas said this year's cherries are in excellent condition and she expects a big year.

She also hopes vaccinations and masks will keep everyone safe.

A national team from FEMA is offering Johnson & Johnson or Pfizer shots in The Dalles. It's set up a clinic Tuesday through Sunday at St. Mary's Academy from noon until 6 p.m. 

KGW stopped by the clinic Tuesday and found a steady, if not overwhelming number of people. Fifteen received shots during the first hour of operation.

"We do have farm workers coming in who maybe have been in another county and haven't gotten their vaccine, or some kids who put it off and now they're ready to make the move and they're here," said Amy Marquez with One Community Health, a local federally qualified community and migrant health center holding vaccination clinics in many areas.  

Those who get their shot at St. Mary's Academy will get a $50 gift card from Wasco County.