A germ of an idea Port looking to cash in on region's cash crop through value-added enterprises

By Trista Crossley


The Port of Columbia is looking to build on the success of its Blue Mountain Station by paying tribute to the grains grown in the surrounding countryside.

“I grew up on a big wheat and cattle ranch on the breaks of the Snake River, so this is my town. This is my past, my future. I really care about it. I always wished we could do something with what we grow on the hills,” explained Jennie Dickinson, director of the Port of Columbia.

The port is interested in developing an artisan grain business cluster at the Blue Mountain Station, which is located in Dayton, Wash. Dickinson said they’ve already got a craft malter, Mainstem Malt, interested in renting space, and they are looking for other tenants to take advantage of the infrastructure, equipment, and services that could be provided by the port. The port has completed a feasibility study on the grain business cluster and is asking farmers what kind of services they’d like to see there. Some of the ideas that have come back include shared equipment for grain cleaning, grain handling and storage, and packaging. 

“We decided to do the feasibility study, and as we kept talking, we liked the idea more and more of trying to focus on grain because Mainstem Malt will be using barley that’s grown on our hills and in our region,” Dickinson said. “Mainstem Malt would be the anchor tenant, and what they are doing would enhance other businesses that might want to locate there.”

Another suggestion that comes up repeatedly is having the ability to mill smaller quantities of grain — installing a small mill that could be rented out.

“In order to make a large-scale mill work, it has to run 24 hours a day,” Dickinson said. “This would more like where we had a mill that we owned that could be rented out and someone could use their own miller. Or maybe we would have somebody locally that we could contract to mill, but at a very small scale. That comes up a lot, people wishing they could grind their own grain.”

The 28-acre site that houses Blue Mountain Station has short-line rail access, providing flexibility on what could be shipped in or out. It also has city sewer and water. Besides a rentable commercial kitchen, the station’s tenants include a coffee roaster, a winery, a honey processor, a sourdough bread company, a vodka liqueur maker, and an apple cider company that makes cider from gleaned apples. While most of the businesses aren’t open to the public, their products are sold at the station’s co-op market, along with other regional products. 

The port has applied for a $5 million grant/loan package from the Community Economic Revitalization Board to construct the craft malt facility. The project, including the associated grain cluster, is expected to add more than 40 direct and indirect jobs to the community and generate nearly $10 million in annual revenues.

The port is asking anybody interested in the grain cluster to participate in the survey. Survey responses will help shape the venture. That survey and more information on the grains cluster can be found at the website, bluemountainstation.com/grain-cluster/.

“We (the port) want to be helpful,” Dickinson said. “We want to help people if they have an idea. We want to help them take that idea and turn it into a business or a side business.”