Washington State University’s Bernardita Sallato was not expecting to receive the Latino Leadership Award from the Washington State Tree Fruit Association (WSTFA), but the recognition motivates her to continue her outreach work with the Hispanic community.
“I was surprised I was chosen; I feel I haven’t done enough,” said Sallato, an assistant professor and tree fruit Extension specialist at WSU’s Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center (IAREC) in Prosser, Washington. “I share this award with the tree fruit industry’s Hispanic community, which has welcomed me and taught me so much. If it wasn’t for the collaboration and respect that the Hispanic community has given me, I don’t think I would’ve made such an impact.”
Sallato was presented with the award at the Spanish session of WSTFA’s annual meeting in Wenatchee, Washington. Created in 2011, the award honors outstanding individuals who have made significant contributions to the Hispanic community in Washington’s tree fruit industry. Candidates are nominated by past winners, with one recipient selected per year. WSU Extension Regional Tree Fruit Specialist Karen Lewis received the award in 2012.
“Bernardita has been involved in the development of many new programs for the Washington Hispanic community,” said Jacqui Gordon, WSTFA director of training, education, and member services. “There’s no question that her contribution to the education of the industry, whether delivered in English or Spanish, is invaluable.”
Sallato, who grew up in urban Chile, said her career in agriculture stems from an early interest in math, biology, and chemistry, as well as a desire to work outdoors. Earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Chile, Sallato directed a lab and taught classes at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile for 10 years before coming to the U.S.
“I feel I made the right career choice,” she said. “I love my work, and I’ve never regretted going into this field.”
Sallato joined WSU IAREC in 2016 as a faculty member and cherry breeding program manager. Two years later, she accepted the Extension position.
Most of Sallato’s Extension work centers on tree fruit, soil, and plant nutrition in orchards throughout central and eastern Washington. She continuously identifies the needs of the state’s diverse tree fruit industry, determining program areas that serve orchardists, managers, farm workers, and industry collaborators.
“The tree fruit industry is my clientele, and this recognition from them is very empowering,” said Sallato.
She is also studying how technology can make orchard tasks more efficient. The Smart Orchard project, which uses data collection to help growers determine whether it’s worthwhile to adopt certain technology on their farms, is one method for accomplishing that goal.
To Sallato, the best part of being a WSU tree fruit Extension specialist is the applied research and collaboration with farmers. Having the opportunity to work with small growers as well as large corporations is very rewarding.
“I serve as the ears for growers and try to find answers to their problems,” she said. “My work is gratifying because the solutions I bring to farmers can often be applied right away. The most fun part is visiting growers and sharing our experiences to identify a solution.”
The Hispanic community is a key pillar of the state’s tree fruit industry. As someone of Hispanic origin, Sallato feels an especially strong connection with them, noting the valuable exchange of knowledge and how much she’s learned about their unique culture and life experiences. She adds that building an ongoing relationship is key to success and meaningful impact.
“There is so much more we can do for the Hispanic community, and this award is a call to continue working with and for them,” she said.