DAYTON -- The first building at the Port of Columbia's new eco-food processing park -- called the Blue Mountain Station -- is open for business.
Three tenants already have set up shop in the Artisan Food Center and an indoor winter farmers market will open there next month.
The center is 6,912 square feet and includes a commercial kitchen for rent by the hour, five food processing bays and a retail area. It's at 700 Artisan Way, off Highway 12 just west of Dayton
The center will be an awesome place to start up a new business, said Suzi Tasker of Dayton. She makes several gluten-free varieties of granola packaged under the Gypsy Girl Granola label.
Tasker leased the first bay. Two others have been leased by Reggie Mace, owner of Mace Mead Works, and Little Dipper Dairy, owned by Terissa and Andy Churchhill, all of Dayton.
In addition to the food processing businesses, a group of Dayton area specialty food producers, craftsmen and artists are forming a cooperative to sell everything from eggs and cheese, to wine, photographs, wood furniture and handmade soap.
Members of the cooperative will be selling their wares in the retail area of the new building at an indoor market from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays through Memorial Day weekend. The first day of the market will be Feb. 1.
"The hope is to generate enough traffic that we can stay open more days and longer, eventually being open daily, year round," said Tasker, who manages the indoor market.
Tasker also has contacted Walla Walla Community College, offering the Artisan Food Center as a site for cooking classes as well. She hopes to get them to set up this spring.
"I don't know of anything quite like this," she said of the center.
The building was designed with windows into the food processing bays, allowing the public a peek at how the different foods are made.
"People love to see the process, from the raw ingredients to the packaged food," Tasker said.
The idea for the eco-food processing plant started almost six years ago shortly after Jennie Dickinson, Port of Columbia manager, was hired.
"We did a marketing survey and found Dayton was ideal for artisan food processing and food tourism. We already have wineries and a man producing mead. We have Monteillet Fromagerie and others making goat cheese. We're already a destination spot for foodies," Dickinson said.
The port announced plans for the Blue Mountain Station in 2008. The following year, the port received a $1 million grant from the Washington State Community Economic Revitalization Board to buy 28 acres off Highway 12 just west of the city limits.
In 2011, the port used part of the money to improve eight acres with parking, water, sewer and roads. Last spring, Western States Construction received the contract to build the Artisan Food Center, which was completed last month.
"It's been a long time coming and was frustrating sometimes, having to wait for the money to come in," Dickinson said.
The $1.25 million Artisan Food Center incorporates the latest ecologically friendly construction techniques, making it extremely energy efficient, she said. The landscaping too will be ecologically friendly, with native plants making it attractive for people who care about the environment.
"We're not zealots, but energy smart. It's good business," Dickinson said.
For more information on the indoor market in the Artisan Food Center, contact Suzi Tasker, firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the Blue Mountain Station eco-food processing park, contact Jennie Dickinson, 520-4341. Or go to www.bluemountainstation.com.
-- Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; email@example.com