CBC students marketing upscale foods

PASCO -- Upscale vinegars and olive oils -- and agriculture education?

The Columbia Basin College ag program has a unique idea for raising money and giving students a look inside the marketing side of the industry -- by starting its own line of specialty food products.

Columbia Basin Savory Brands will be available at Yoke's Fresh Market in Pasco beginning in January. But the products likely will be for sale at more stores in the future.

Lisa Toomey, the college's special projects director, said it is part of a drive to strengthen the ag program and bring in more students.

"This is a way for us to begin to reach out to the community," she said.

The products are produced by local companies and sold to the college at wholesale costs. Any retail profit will go back into the agriculture program, Toomey said. So consumers can support two local businesses with just one purchase.

"When you buy this product, you not only support CBC, but local companies too," Toomey said at an unveiling of the product line Wednesday.

Rudy Pea, who owns Rudy's Pepper Blends, said he's letting the program sell his salsa mix because he believes in the importance of agriculture.

"I grew up a migrant farmworker, and I love agriculture so I think it'll be neat," Pea said. "I'm not making much money as it is."

The line includes balsamic vinegar, Walla Walla sweet onion vinegar, wine mustard, salsa mix, cranberry walnut candy and extra virgin olive oil. More products may be added to the line in the future.

Toomey said prices for the products haven't been set yet.

Toomey said she wants the ag students to see that niche markets and value-added products are a part of agriculture. She plans to have students involved in marketing the products.

It's all a part of her plan to draw more students into the field of agriculture. CBC is revamping its ag program and offering more scholarships to get students interested.

"Farmers here have global companies and export to the world," Toomey said. "But if this industry is going to succeed, we need new blood -- we just have to do more."