WALLA WALLA -- A group of local farmers is supplying a fresh twist on a traditional crop.
The growers are feeding a growing market for fresh garbanzo beans. About 1,000 acres are under cultivation for the produce, said Ron Filan, one of the farmers involved. Growers say this is the first year beans for the fresh market have been grown and harvested in the Walla Walla Valley.
Unlike past crops harvested as dried beans, these garbanzos are immediately trucked to a hydrocooling facility at Walla Walla Regional Airport, where they are chilled to 36 degrees. The beans are then hauled by refrigerated trucks to a plant in Ellensburg, where they are cleaned, cooked and frozen for sale nationwide.
"We're excited about it," said Ryan Davenport of Clearwater Country Foods, the Lewiston-based production company that has contracted with the farmers to grow the beans. "Bringing a new product on is a challenge, but we're optimistic."
Clearwater has partnered with the Sun Opta Company, which is handling the sales and marketing of the produce. Others involved are Twin City Foods of Ellensburg, which is doing the custom processing, and Bene Mendelez of Hermiston, who is doing the harvesting.
Along with Filan, local farmers involved include Ed Leahy, Pat McConnell, Phil Reser, Curtis Coombs, Jay Nowogrosky and Byron Reser.
"We're pretty excited about it, and it's exciting to work with a new crop," Coombs said.
Another person heavily involved with the project was Doug Moser of Clearwater Country Foods, who was at Nowogrosky's fields on Spring Creek Road on Friday where harvesters were scooping up acres of beans.
Moser said he started work in 2000 on developing the method of bringing fresh garbanzo beans to market and he's since obtained three patents for the processing technology needed.
"Nobody else is doing it," he said "We're told we're the first ones in the world."