Yakima tree fruit safety advocate ‘won the lottery’ with her job

Jacqui Gordon doesn’t know where she would be if it weren’t for all of the support she has received from other people in the Washington state agricultural industry over the past 10 years.

The Ecuadorian-born horticulturalist came to the United States in 2011 as an intern for the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission (WTFRC) and used her internship experience to earn a master’s degree from Washington State University in 2016. 

Immediately after graduation, Gordon was hired as the director of training, education and member services for the Washington State Tree Fruit Association (WSTFA), where she has made an immediate impact by developing a series of bilingual training and outreach programs for growers and packers around the state.

But she admits she never would have reached such heights without the help of mentors like Ines Hanrahan, Jon DeVaney, Karen Lewis and Laura Grunenfelder. Connecting with Hanrahan, the WTFRC executive director, and Devaney, the WSTFA director, proved to be the catalyst for Gordon to become one of the most influential young women in Washington agriculture.

“I owe everything to Jon and Ines,” said the 35-year-old mother of two. “They saw my potential, and now I’m using that potential to make a real difference.”

Five years into her career, Gordon feels an obligation to repay her supporters for standing beside her. She also credits them with giving her the confidence she needed to pursue a very different career path than was available to her in Ecuador. 

“I couldn’t have done any of this by myself, and I feel it is my legacy to continue what others have done for me,” she said.

After focusing on agricultural technology during her master’s program, Gordon’s attention shifted to promoting food and worker safety upon joining the WSTFA, an eight-person nonprofit based in Yakima. 

Her bilingual food safety training videos — the first of their kind for tree fruit industry growers and packers — have been so popular that the program has expanded to include human resources, recruitment and onboarding videos. 

Through several grants from state Labor and Industries, WSU and the Washington Department of Agriculture, the WSTFA has produced 15 videos for fruit growers and packers. The bilingual videos have been produced since 2018, and out-of-state growers are now expressing interest.

“Finding good-quality training videos is really difficult, so we partner closely with the industry so we can give them something of value,” Gordon said, adding that the WSTFA also has created a series of popular food safety posters in English and Spanish. 

“We take their feedback and then develop materials and workshops based on the industry’s needs to help producers with their training efforts and regulatory requirements.”

Whether she is making workers’ lives better through safety training or improving compliance in the state’s orchards and packing houses, Gordon knows she is making a tangible difference through her work. 

She is proud of what she has accomplished, but she is equally excited about what the future holds.

“I feel like I won the lottery with this job,” Gordon said. “It really is perfect because I get to do something I love every single day. But, honestly, I wouldn’t be able to do my job without such amazing partnerships. The collaborations are what have made these programs a success.”

This article appeared in the Capital Press newspaper in July 2021.

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