Rainier Fruit Company employs a small army of several thousands of people to pick its fruit. They head to the fields each year from the first organic cherry pick in early June to the last Pink Lady harvest in November. Each and every piece of fruit is hand-harvested by dedicated and hard-working individuals who brave early mornings in the elements to help put tasty and nutritious fruit on store shelves and tables.
For some, apple picking is a fun fall-time tradition with the family. For Rainier, it’s serious business. Thousands of hands are required to harvest roughly 1 billion apples per season. Though automated picking robots will likely become a viable option in the future, today there’s no machine that can truly match the skill and grace of the human touch. Many varieties even require every single stem to be clipped during harvest to avoid punctures in their fragile skin.
Though much of the domestic industry utilizes machine harvesters for fresh blueberries, Rainier is an exception as a 100 percent hand-picked blueberry producer. Why go the extra mile? Hand-picking blueberries preserves more of the light blue dusting called bloom, a naturally produced coating that protects the fruit and increases longevity—similar to the wax produced by other fruits. In tandem with using the best genetics available, this produces a tasty, premium pack.
Cherry harvest is an early morning sprint to beat the Washington summer heat, which can reach 90° F before 10 a.m. This must be balanced with selecting only properly ripe cherries to keep consumers coming back for more. The most skilled pickers can harvest nearly 1,000 pounds of fruit per day—as long as a stray summer rain shower doesn’t shut down the whole operation. Some would call cherry harvest an art, and others would call it a rodeo!