Winegrape industry celebrates Latino student achievements

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Over 200 wine industry members gathered Friday, March 23 at the Walter Clore Center in Prosser to celebrate the 2017/2018 classes of the Latino Ag Education Program (LAEP). Dr. Carli Schiffner, WVC Vice-President, and Professor Trent Ball, Director of Agriculture Department at Yakima Valley College, joined LAEP Faculty, Leo Garcia and Francisco Sarmiento, to award graduation certificates. Nearly 40 students, half of them women, graduated from two course levels: Level One, Introduction to Viticulture and Level Three, Vineyard Management and Integrated Pest Management.

Level One introduces students to the “whys” of production and management practices of winegrapes including: wine industry historical perspectives, vine physiology, canopy management, soils, irrigation, nutrition, thinning, harvest, marketing, and vineyard management. 

The Level Three course in Vineyard Management and Integrated Pest Management provides intensive technical instruction to prepare employees as pest management scouts and introduce basic vineyard economics and management. This course prepares students for mid-management and management positions.  

After heartfelt speeches, accolades, and inspirational keynote from Roldan Moreno (Olsen Brothers Vineyard Manger and LAEP Program graduate), the graduates, their families, and other industry members celebrated with live music from Mariachi Mexico. 

“Fellow LAEP graduates, it doesn’t stop here. Let’s put into practice everything we learned the past five months and continue to let our employers know how valuable the LAEP program is in continuing our education,” said 2018 Level Three graduate Jorge Mejia from Kiona Vineyards. 

LAEP is offered by Wenatchee Valley College and sponsored by the Washington Winegrowers and Yakima Valley College. The program is designed to equip Latino employees in viticulture the technical expertise that will allow them to flourish and grow in their job. The first LAEP class began in 2007 and since the program has graduated more than 350. 

Leo Garcia and Francisco Sarmiento, faculty at Wenatchee Valley College, teach the courses. Sarmiento and Garcia’s cultural and employment background as well as Spanish fluency allow them to uniquely relate to, serve, and instruct the Latino students. 

The 2018-19 LAEP program is planned to begin this November.

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