The vast fields that span throughout eastern Washington are largely occupied by farmlands in which crops are grown to be distributed on a global level. In order to harvest all these crops a large labor force is required. This labor force is predominantly made up of Hispanic immigrants who have come to Washington State in order to make a living doing agricultural work. The demand for these workers is very high in the Walla Walla area, extending through tri-cities and Yakima Valley. Due to this high demand for farm workers, the market can become very inefficient as growers are scared to lose workers and end up paying them low wages to stay on even after the peak crop harvest time has passed. Most of the labor recruitment is generated through word of mouth or through contractors who take large cuts of the workers’ pay. Two Walla Walla residents took notice of these inefficiencies and decided to create a new web app called Harvust which helps connect farm workers looking for jobs to employers.
My name is Lee Pollard and I am a rising senior majoring in Psychology with a minor in Spanish. This summer I took on an internship position with Harvust in which my mission has been to serve as a bridge between the Hispanic community and the platform. My primary project for the summer is to interview Hispanic workers who are currently working or have had experience in agricultural work and compile this data in some form. Understanding the lives and struggles that this community undergoes will allow the app developers to cater towards them in in a way that maximizes their benefit.
The position originally caught my attention through its involvement with the Spanish language. Ever since getting back from abroad last year I have yearned for opportunities to continue utilizing and improving my conversational Spanish skills. This position has been a great way for me to take my Spanish out of the classroom through many interactions and one-on-one conversations with migrant workers.
This position has presented me with much more than just an outlet to practice my Spanish. Although we work as a team, my project has been primarily made up of independent work. In order to reach out to the Hispanic community I have had to use connections through networking. The Hispanic community has always struggled with anxiety surrounding legal status, and especially with the current political state of our country, they are increasingly wary when people come around asking them questions. Building trust between our platform and the community has been crucial for my role and I have had to do so through networking. For example, the process leading up to my first round of interviews involved bouncing around through various connections. One of the cofounders of Harvust was friends with a woman who had connections at the labor camp in Walla Walla, so I scheduled a meeting with her. She suggested I go to the labor camp day care center and talk to her friend that works there who could help me connect with families, so I did this and was able to perform various interviews in the day care center with parents as they picked up their children.
Working with Harvust has also provided me experience with a legitimate startup business. Harvust is only a few months old, so I have learned a lot about how a business grows from the takeoff. The two cofounders are the only people who are dedicated to working full time on the project. We meet three times a week to discuss various topics and the progress we have made individually along with another Whitman intern who is working on a coding project. I have learned a great deal about economics and marketing in relation to how a startup business functions at its early stages.
Experiences like Lee’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Victoria Wolff