Think Out Loud

Fruits of their labor: a farmworker and educator reflects on agriculture in The Dalles and Wasco County

By Gemma DiCarlo (OPB)
Dec. 15, 2022 1:02 a.m.

Broadcast: Thursday, Dec. 15

Farmworker and educator Elda Dorado spoke with host Dave Miller at The Dalles High School on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022. Dorado joined the show to talk about her time in agriculture and how she helps fellow farmworkers in her current roles as an ELL assistant in the county school district and as a bilingual home-school liaison for the local Migrant Education Program.

Farmworker and educator Elda Dorado spoke with host Dave Miller at The Dalles High School on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022. Dorado joined the show to talk about her time in agriculture and how she helps fellow farmworkers in her current roles as an ELL assistant in the county school district and as a bilingual home-school liaison for the local Migrant Education Program.

Sheraz Sadiq / OPB


Agriculture is a key part of Wasco County’s economy. According to the USDA’s most recent Census of Agriculture, it made up nearly 10% of Oregon’s fruit, tree nut and berry sales. A large part of the county’s agricultural workforce is made up of migrant and seasonal workers. Migrant workers typically travel from other states or countries and take up temporary residences while working for a farm or orchard. Seasonal workers, however, typically maintain a permanent residence but may work for only a few months when fruits need to be harvested or trees need to be pruned. In 2018, the Oregon Health Authority estimated that there were more than 22,300 seasonal or migrant farmworkers in Wasco County — more than any other county in the state.

Elda Dorado has worked in fruit tree orchards in the Columbia Gorge for more than 30 years. She joins us to talk about what’s changed during her time in agriculture, and how she now helps fellow farmworkers in her current roles as an English Language Learners assistant in the North Wasco County School District and as a bilingual home-school liaison for the local Migrant Education Program.

Note: The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. Coming to you once again from The Dalles High School in the Columbia River Gorge. We’re going to start today with farm workers. According to the USDA, Wasco County makes up nearly 10% of Oregon’s fruit tree, nut and berry sales. A lot of that work is done by seasonal or migrant farm workers. The Oregon Health Authority estimated recently that there are more than 22,000 of these workers in Wasco County, more than any other county in the state.

Elda Dorado has worked in fruit tree orchards in the Columbia Gorge for more than 30 years. Now she helps fellow farmworkers in her current roles as an English language learner assistant in the North Wasco County School District and as a bilingual homeschool liaison for the local migrant education program. She joins us now to talk about her work. Thanks very much for coming in.

Elda Dorado: Thank you very much for inviting me.

Miller: Can you give us a sense for the work you’re doing specifically for the children of migrant farm worker families?

Dorado: For the farm workers’ children, we offer services for them as they travel all over all the way from California and Washington and several other places. They come in and join the group during picking in The Dalles season. From the migrant education program, we offer summer school which includes services for the kids who have to move to be with the family.

Miller: How many times might they move in the course of a year? How many schools or school districts might they end up in?

Dorado: Well, some of these people I have contact with have said they come from California. They start with oranges and cherries in California, they work their way up, and then they come here to The Dalles and then they go to Washington.

Miller: Just following the sun and the blooms?

Dorado: Yes. Some people come back and do pears here in Hood River. So it’s just a long way. so the kids sometimes move two or three times so they are losing some education. So the purpose of the migrant education program is to help these kids, to give them something that they’re losing. We also have a problem program where we go to the camps and then we help the kids that have to stay home because they have younger siblings or because you have to work. When you’re 12, you can come and pick some for your family. You participate in the income.

Miller: That’s in the summer?

Dorado: That’s correct, in the summertime.

Miller: But during the fall or the spring, they’re expected to be in school somewhere?

Dorado: Yes, they’re expecting to be back. Sometimes just the parents come back. They go back to California, leave the family and just the mom and dad come back and do some other seasonal work around that time.

Miller: Is it a challenge for you sometimes to get kids to engage in yet another school since they’re moving around so much?

Dorado: Some kids do experience fear. There’s always a new person in a new program. It’s a new school. And of course, the pressure the parents give, like “you have to get up at five o’clock in the morning or four o’clock in the morning because you’ve got to be in school because I have to go to work.” That’s something really hard for the kids and the kids that don’t get the chance to go to school, like I said because they have to be with the younger siblings, we try to go to the camps and do some activities with them.

Miller: This is in the summer?

Dorado: In the summer.

Miller: What are your goals for those activities?

Dorado: My goals for those activities [are that] I want the parents to be included and not feel like somebody just to provide. I want them to be included to be part of my kid’s life.

Miller: And also part of their education?

Dorado: Correct, because they glued together with the kids. What’s going on? What are we doing this for? We started this year and I think it was very, very successful for the kids and families being together and doing activities.

Miller: When you talk to the parents, what do you hear in terms of their hopes for their kids’ lives and their expectations for the work that their kids will eventually find?

Dorado: Well, I think most of the parents, including myself, would like to see my kids go to college.

Miller: In other words, the hope is don’t follow in my footsteps. I’m doing this work very hard–physical labor in the hot sun or in the cold–and I don’t want you to do it too?

Dorado: I wouldn’t say that because I think being in the fields is hard but it is also rewarding because the kids see their dad and mom doing this hard work. They think, “I’m going to do it for them, we’re going to do it together.” It’s hard for the parents to include themselves in education because they work all the time.


Miller: Is there also a cultural sense, maybe a fear of being too closely embedded in the school district? I mean, if you didn’t necessarily go to school yourself and you see it as a very white world, is there a fear of being present?

Dorado: I think it’s a fear that we have, including myself. I was a parent myself for young kids and like you said, I was doing the farm work. So you always feel like you are less than people because we are the minority. So we always have this fear in ourselves, which I don’t think is the right way, but a lot of people feel that way.

Miller: What do you tell families to encourage them to participate in school life and school culture and their kids’ educational lives?

Dorado: I always tell the parents, “These programs are for you guys, these programs are for your kids. You guys need to be included. That way, you guys know what’s going on. If you have a question, ask. Even if you don’t speak the language, [there’s] always somebody that can answer your questions.”

Miller: What was your own experience of arriving in this country like?

Dorado: Well, I’ll be honest with you, it was hard. I was really young. I was only 14-years old when I arrived in the United States. I came with my brother. It was a hard experience. I tried to go to school, but in those times there was no help for the bilingual.  There was no bilingual program or anything. So I struggled when I came to high school, I struggled because I didn’t have any help. So I sat in the classroom and cried. That’s what I did. That was my experience in 1991.

Miller: Wow.

Dorado: So I quit school and started taking second language classes at the college and that’s how I opened my mind. I wanted to quit, run away and take off because I thought it was really hard, but after I started going to school and noticed there were other people in the same boat and that opened my mind. I thought that I could do it and it wasn’t impossible. And look at me, now I’m here.

Miller: What kinds of agricultural jobs have you had over the years?

Dorado: Most of the time I have done cherries in summer. But I have done apples, I’ve done blueberries, peaches, olives, and I did oranges for one year.

Miller: Have you seen changes in worker protections or working conditions over the time that you’ve either been picking yourself or when working with people who are picking?

Dorado: Yes, from my own experience here in The Dalles, it has changed a lot. When I used to work, it was a long day. Now we don’t work that hard, we don’t work that long and we don’t have to work that much. We changed the system, including where I work, on how to pick cherries. The reason why is because it’s more productive if you work different ways instead of making people walk. People are tired so you have to find a way to do it. We have to provide water now; somebody has to be trained for pesticides; and somebody has to be trained for worker protection standards. So all that is a benefit for our people who come and help us every year.

Miller: What kinds of support services were there for farm workers when you started?

Dorado: When I started, hardly anything. It was hard to even have housing. It was housing, but it was only for some people; it wasn’t required to have the housing they have now. It wasn’t required to have toilets the way they have them now. It wasn’t required to have sinks like they have them now. So it has changed a lot over the years.

Miller: What you’re describing without any of those things, it seems like a tremendously difficult life, even in addition to the work itself.

Dorado: It was hard because it was difficult. For women working in the fields, oh my God, they had to go a long way to get a toilet. Now for a certain number of workers, you have to have a toilet. So for certain among the workers, you’re going have to have a sink. So things change and I’m glad it did change.

Miller: What you’re describing is a lot of improvements. What do you think still needs to be improved?

Dorado: From my own experience, I work for a person that has only 250 acres, which is not a big, big farm, so I know every single one of the people who come and work there. But the big operations do things in different ways. I haven’t been there, but I think the more I think it’s about treatment. Treat your people the right way. They are the people who come and make our paycheck. So if someone sees that something needs to be done, I encourage people to ask their boss. Sometimes we just need opinions.

Miller: But I imagine sometimes they’re afraid to ask their boss because they fear for their job. They could be replaced by somebody else?

Dorado: Well, at some point you are right, but now these days it is hard to get people. That’s the reason why the H2a has come to be in place.

Miller: Those visas are agricultural visas.

Dorado: Right. You see a lot of people coming to this country under that rule. That rule has different rules that they have to follow. So if you have people from the H2a you do have to have different housing and stuff like that. It’s expensive, but you have to have these requirements.

Miller: I’m curious what you’d want people listening now—who maybe don’t have a connection to agricultural work these days besides being consumers of food, the end product–to know about the lives of farm workers right now in Oregon?

Dorado: I would like to give a message to everybody to consider these people as hard workers because it’s hard work and I would like them to be respectful to these people. [Keep] in mind that if it weren’t for these people, we wouldn’t have any food on our tables. I always encourage everybody, including myself, we have to have respect. We have to welcome them because these people are bringing food to our table. Yeah, I know that they get paid, but not very many people want to go do it.

Miller: Will you be picking cherries again this summer?

Dorado: If everything goes well, of course I will.

Miller: Why do you say of course?

Dorado: Because it’s something that I do and it’s something that motivates me to help these people. My passion is to help these people because I was in that boat once so I don’t want these people and these kids to go without education or without a piece of something that they can get. It’s just hard to see people not doing well and I want them to do well.

Miller: Elda Dorado, thanks very much for joining us today. I really appreciate it.

Dorado: Thank you.

Miller: Elda Dorado is educational assistant in North Wasco County School District and part-time orchard worker.

Contact “Think Out Loud®”

If you’d like to comment on any of the topics in this show or suggest a topic of your own, please get in touch with us on Facebook or Twitter, send an email to, or you can leave a voicemail for us at 503-293-1983. The call-in phone number during the noon hour is 888-665-5865.