chef tested hard to find and unusual products


Text by Ellen Walsh, Photos by Lisa Danko

Just East of the Cascades in the state of Washington lies the Yakima Valley, an agricultural mecca for much of the fruit and vegetables that reach retail market shelves in this country. It's not on the coast, like Seattle is it lies in the high desert region of the state, boasting over 1.6 million acres in production on over 3600 farms, and approximately $2 billion in capital investment. Much of this bountiful harvest goes to market as fresh produce. However, Yakima County boasts state of the art controlled atmosphere warehousing, only second in size to Chicago.

Yakima Valley farms support a significant food processing industry, making economic development organizations such as TRIDEC necessary to the big picture. Working relentlessly on moving businesses to the state of Washington and the lower valley, they encourage new companies with tax incentives, incubator programs, and a ready to go labor pool. Currently, 70 plants employ up to 6,000 workers.

It is an area exactly halfway between the North Pole and the Equator, so equal amounts of sunshine and darkness serve as the most important natural ingredient for the fruit and vegetable crops that dot the scenic landscape. Living in the high desert brings its own issues to the table, however, with water rights being the single most important issue to existing farmers and potential newcomers to the region.

Driving through the countryside was like being on a vacation. Beautiful mountains surround the high desert. Pasco, 400 feet above sea level, surrounds the Columbia River. Native Americans to the area believed that horses here went to heaven. It holds a special charm all its own, making it a real discovery for those looking for new nooks and crannies in these vast United States.

Holtzinger Fruit
At state of the art processing plant Holtzinger Fruit, we watched fuji and granny smith apples move throughout the plant by acres of moving "rivers", insuring minimal handling and bruising by packers. Coupled with state of the art computer technology for spotting bruises and other fruit defect, we soon got over the notion we were in some remote area of Washington far away from civilization.

Click on Images for Captions

With bins holding over 850 lbs. each, over 120,000 bins get filled and processed in a season. Employees pack and sort to custom specifications for Costco, Albertsons, Safeway, and other major chains throughout the United States. The rejects are used for juice, dried apples, pies, sauces, etc.

Classic Breads
Classic Breads, a successful organic bread manufacturing plant, owes its success to Central Washington's Incubator program. This pro business plan located in a small manufacturing area in Prosser, consisting of about six buildings, systematically brings in small businesses that ordinarily could not make it if they were forced to pay all typical and normal business overhead, i.e., rent, electricity, water, etc. The program allows them to come in at a substantially reduced rate, and stay until their overhead can handle normal expenses. They are then asked to move out, and make room for a new, fledgling business. The company then ships its 2 lb., soft crust, honey based bread ships to grocery stores all over the country, but the all organic ingredient based bread company is not without its fans, and will ship to small, private co-ops who know how to reach them. Focusing on local products, they do buy their wheat from Montana because the area is only able to produce a soft white wheat, when you need a real hard wheat for bread processing. Business owner Cathleen Williams has 10,000 acres of soft white wheat, which is exported to Asia. They are part of the state's $815 million soft wheat crop, of which over 90% is exported to Asia.

Basin Gold
A Potato and Onion Cooperative
Basin Gold is a co-op for seven member potato companies. The USDA comes in every day for complete traceability of potatoes, insuring the safety of the food supply chain. Specializing in the Russet potato, Basin Gold also harvests a red potato, and a yellow fleshed Yukon variety. They also offer a large range of packaging and shipping choices, making it the leading supplier to grocery stores and shopping clubs throughout the country.

Potatoes are one of Washington's most important crops. The largest exporter of french fries, 2002 saw Washington potato growers harvesting a crop worth more than $550,000,000. Processing and retailing turned the raw product into a $1.5 billion enterprise.

For more information on this, go to the web site for
Northwest Food Processors Association, or visit HYPERLINK

Northwest Food Processors Association
This association, established in 1914, is composed of 81 processing companies operating 175 plants in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. The state of Washington will process 25 million lbs of harvested produce a year.

For more information, visit their web site at HYPERLIN ""

Grandview Frozen Foods, Inc.
Grandview Frozen foods is the operating entity of Willow Winds Organic Farms. This plant allows the company to quickly slice and freeze vegetables. This operation is the first in the country to process organically grown foods. It currently processes organic approximately half the time, and non organic the other half of the time. There is a five year plan in place to become a fully functional organic processing plant, as organic crop yields increase. Organic crops come from all over the country for processing, but as of yet, there is still not enough demand to consume 100% of the processing time. Willow Wind Farms is so far the largest organic processing plant in the country, and is responsible for approximately 5% export to the Pacific Rim.

For more information, visit HYPERLINK

Yakima Chief
Yakima Chief, Inc was founded by 14 hop growing families, some of them growing hops in the valley for more than 130 years. These families joined together to build an organization which would market their hop products direct to brewers world wide. Yakima Chief owns and operates nine cold storage warehouses in the Yakima Valley, and their palletizing plant is one of the largest, and most advanced in the world. Their state of the art CO2 extraction facility enables them to provide extracts to brewer's specifications, under stringent quality controls.

For more information, visit them at HYPERLINK ""

Edible Arts
Owners Alice Jones and Juli Massingale were our favorite success story. After abandoning a boring bookkeeping business, this woman recruited her daughter as she started her now booming mustard business on a shoe string that redefines shoe string. Starting with plum ketchups for white meats, Alice evolved into 8 different kinds of mustards. She currently produces over 60,000 jars a year, and ordering info can be found at HYPERLINK

Pictured here is an illustration of her success. In her hand, she holds the first gallon and a half mixing bowl they ever used to fill an order.

After outgrowing the 5 gallon bowl, they saved up to purchase the 40 gallon mixing drum you see them standing next to today. Their triumph is truly the realization of the American Dream through hard work and perseverance. They do 5000 lbs of mustard a year, and their customer base is national.







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