The five-county region known as Columbia Gorge, straddling Oregon and Washington, produces more than 250,000 tons of apples, pears, and cherries each year. The community estimates that about 10,000 to 12,000 migrant and seasonal farmworkers, most from Mexico, come to the area each year. They pack fruit, work in orchards, plant trees, and harvest. The seasonal agricultural industry in the Gorge also includes fishing, mainly by native communities.
“Concern for our migrant and seasonal workers was raised early on in the pandemic in different virtual meeting rooms,” says community health worker Claire Rawson of The Next Door, a health and social services nonprofit in Hood River and the Dalles, Oregon. “We knew this segment of our community had a potential to be hit especially hard by COVID-19.”
The region has a strong tradition of collaborating across sectors, languages and cultures and engaging community members to support better health for all, including migrant and seasonal workers and the region’s year-round Latino population, which today makes up about 25% of the population. Rawson was tasked with coordinating communitywide efforts to support migrants and seasonal workers, alongside a taskforce focused on this population.
Partners in the work include community-based nonprofits and advocacy groups, health organizations, governments, school districts, Oregon State University Extension Service, orchardists and other business owners, and community members.