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Across our State

Marketing our ag products through the years

I read with interest that the Mount Vernon Downtown Association is attempting to break the Guinness World Book of Records by making the largest potato augratin.

On Sept. 24 they will bake this dish using 15,000 pounds of sliced red potatoes grown by Skagit Valley farms. The rest of the ingredients, 400 pounds of cheese, 200 gallons of cream, 100 pounds of onions and 50 pounds of garlic, also come from the farms in Skagit Valley. It's a celebration of from field to food and all grown locally!

That made me wonder what Sunnyside has done with all its agricultural wealth of food crops. I turned first to Roscoe Sheller's history of Sunnyside, "Courage and Water," to see what has happened down through our history.

The first incidence happened in 1910. The town raised $400 to send its band to the Spokane Apple Show. The 21 musicians dressed like farmers with blue denim overalls, red bandana handkerchiefs and straw hats. They were the Sunnyside Apple Pickers, and Sheller says they did a fine publicity job for the many apple growers here.

Just a year later the product marketed was asparagus. Denny Wood became the Northern Pacific Railroad agent. He had the local cannery pack a few cases of Sunnyside "Green" and sent 10 of them to the Northern Pacific dining car service. He reported it was eagerly used.

Asparagus became one of Sunnyside's major crops. Sheller named many early growers. Among them were Higgins, Lichty, Bridgman, Miller, Heffron and A.J. Sprong. He also said the Sheller family had a half-acre patch.

In 1935-36, R.D. Mitchell won five Grand Championships across the country with his turkeys. He had developed a strain of turkeys that were soon named as Broad Breasted, giving much more white meat to set on the Thanksgiving table. Turkey raising was a multi-million dollar business in the Sunnyside area at that time.

Another story comes from Irvine's book, "The Wine Project: Washington State's Winemaking History." This time the product is grapes and grapevine cuttings. William Bridgeman, one of Sunnyside's early mayors, opened Upland Winery in 1934. This was the first estate winery in the state. In 1940 it was Bridgeman with his grape cuttings who encouraged Dr. Walter Clore at the WSU Experiment Station to grow grapes, refining them for our climate.

I haven't found any stories about marketing our milk and cheese or our hops. If any reader has them, I would love to receive them. They do have to be true!

Sunnyside has had various festivals and many events at farm stands that sell fruits and vegetables. In addition we have our Lighted Farm Implement Parade, which markets agriculture in general and which has been copied in many other areas.

We in the Sunnyside area are blessed with soil and climate, which grows good food, and with farmers that know how to produce the bounty. The least the rest of us can do is buy locally when possible and speak up for the industry that is our economic base here.

- Jerri Honeyford, wife of Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside), writes her "Across our State" column to keep Lower Yakima Valley residents apprised of what is currently happening in Olympia.

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