Ever since Tonasket, Wash., orchardist Flor Maldonado was young, she knew she wanted to be involved in the family business.

The 28-year-old co-owner of Maldonado Orchards remembers playing inside apple bins while her parents, Aristeo and Evelia, worked their 45 acres near the Canadian border. It feels like only yesterday that she was riding on the back of a four-wheeler with her mom during the day and going to industry meetings with her dad at night.

“Going out to the orchard was like a reward for me,” she recalls. “I would always get my homework done quickly so I could go outside and help my parents.”

Maldonado gravitated toward agricultural science in high school, and in 2016, she earned dual degrees from Washington State University in organic ag systems and ag food security. Today, she’s playing a key role in the success of her family’s organic apple, pear and cherry orchards along the Okanogan River.

“I knew I could help our farm be more sustainable if I went into the science side, but my experience at WSU really opened my eyes to how much potential there is with organics,” said Maldonado, who moved back to Tonasket in 2020 after working in food safety for three years at Kershaw Companies in Yakima. 

Maldonado’s long-term vision for the business is to establish a packing line in Tonasket so local growers don’t have to pay to ship fruit to the Wenatchee area for packing and distribution. She and her brothers, Hector and Victor, also plan to modernize the orchards to maximize density.

“I want to take our farm to the next level, and I think I know how to make it happen,” she said. “I’m pretty young, so I can keep doing this for a while.”

Maldonado admitted that it took her time to develop the confidence she would need to gain respect from the male-dominated workforce typically found in the fields of Central Washington. But working alongside mentors like Kriss Zerr at Kershaw helped her establish an air of authority with the Latino laborers.

“Kriss showed me how to command respect,” Maldonado said. “Being a female in ag can be very different, especially on the farm side, so you always have to speak up. She taught me that my voice is important, and that I have to use it.”

Maldonado’s experience at Kershaw helped her develop a rapport with her employees, and that has carried over to the past 18 months at Maldonado Orchards, where she is known for being friendly, trustworthy and hard-working. 

“I think my personality has helped me become a good leader, but most of all, I try to lead by example,” she said. “I like to get my hands dirty and do the same physically demanding jobs as the guys.”

Looking back on her first five years as an industry professional, Maldonado is proud of what she has accomplished, both for herself and for the family business. But she knows her work is just beginning.

“I know I’m young, but I have gained a lot of great experience over the past five years,” she said. “I now have the confidence I need to grow our family business and also be an inspiration for other women in agriculture. I’m pretty excited about the next few years.”

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