When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted supply chains of food, residents could more clearly see the value of local resources, said Aslan Meade, director of strategic alliances for the Thurston County Economic Development Council.
For Tenino’s Colvin Ranch, this meant a huge increase in customers, without all the necessary infrastructure for slaughtering to scale for demand.
After the region's only meat processing facility was shut down for violations of county health codes, “not to their business but to the property they were on,” Meade said, local farmers were forced to head to Moses Lake or Sandy, Oregon for slaughtering.
Increasing the availability of local meat processing is one of many reasons Meade has worked with the City of Tenino to establish the Southwest Washington Agricultural Business & Innovation Park. Beside Tenino’s wastewater treatment plant, construction on the project is currently underway.
On Thursday, Tenino Mayor Wayne Fournier, Meade and WSU extension program coordinators from counties across the state donned hard hats and reflective vests to tour the site.
At full buildout, the agricultural business park will have an event center for educational opportunities, an office for the Economic Development Council, a hot sauce business, a slaughterhouse, a food processing kitchen space for start-up businesses and more.
Currently, the park is on track to have two buildings open by late winter or early spring of 2024.
After those are underway, the project has received $1.25 million from the Legislature for phase two work. U.S. Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Washougal, who toured the site earlier this year, has also requested $4.4 million from the federal budget for the agricultural park.
“People are too far removed from the process that keep them alive,” Fournier said. “Agriculture is just something that is distant and misunderstood by most people out there, especially folks in Seattle. But if they can get here and they can be immersed in it, they'll understand it and support it better.”
Steve Bramwell, Thurston County WSU extension office coordinator, described other locations he and program coordinators toured in the days leading up to Thursday’s visit. The day prior, they’d toured the Port of Chehalis and met with Boistfort farmer Dave Fenn to talk about grain co-op opportunities in Lewis County. Meade said Thurston, Lewis, Grays Harbor and other neighboring counties have a deal to make business opportunities that bolster one another’s chances rather than unnecessarily competing.
The grain co-op, for example, can support distilleries such as the Chehalis Tribe’s Talking Cedar, Meade said.
For Bramwell, the agricultural park represents a great opportunity in education.
“One of the things that we love to do and do a lot of in (WSU) extension is host educational events,” Bramwell said. “There's not that many places where you can take a group and have a nice classroom and actually have kind of an indoor-outdoor learning environment, especially one that's that close to a working ranch.”
To learn more about the agricultural business park, see renderings of the site when completed or find out about becoming a tenant, visit https://thurstonedc.com/sw-wa-agricultural-business-innovation-park.