by Ellen Walsh, Photos by Lisa Danko
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
on Images for Captions
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,
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.
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
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
more information on this, go to www.nwpf.org
the web site for
Northwest Food Processors Association, or visit HYPERLINK
Food Processors 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.
more information, visit their web site at HYPERLIN "http://www.nwfpa.org/"
Frozen Foods, Inc.
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
more information, visit HYPERLINK http://www.willowwindfarms.com
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.
more information, visit them at HYPERLINK "http://www.yakimachief.com/"
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 www.ajsediblearts.com
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.
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.