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Processor come to rescue of Skagit cabbage crop

Capital Press

A pickle company's temporary rescue of Skagit County's cabbage crop may develop into a permanent facility.

LA CONNER, Wash. — A cabbage crop that was left in the lurch when a processor went out of business is now sauerkraut.

Gielow Pickles Inc., a Michigan-based food processing company, has set up shop with a temporary facility at the Port of Skagit’s La Conner Marina. Now Gielow and the Port of Skagit are looking at a more-permanent arrangement.

“We had 47 acres of cabbage no one had a market for,” port executive director Patsy Martin said. “Gielow used a vacant building at the La Conner Marina. Now we aim to find them a building at the Bayview Business Park.

“Everybody is kind of holding their breath,” she said. “We’re in the middle of negotiation with the company, and they want to be up and running. Soon after first of year we should know something.”

Growers of the Skagit Valley’s 50 acres of cabbage and 1,000 acres of cucumber crops had been relying on Pleasant Valley Farms for processing and marketing. That company went into bankruptcy in August 2012 and was still $23.6 million in debt by March 2013. After the parent company, Cascade Ag Services, was unable to sell the company, its assets went up for auction July 30.

Kruger Foods and three banks submitted the winning bid of $4.08 million and started to liquidate the company and sell its assets.

Don McMoran, director of Washington State University Skagit County Extension, called the loss of the manufacturer a “crushing blow.”

This was the second major loss to county producers. National Frozen Foods, the last major process of peas and carrots, closed its doors in 2001 and moved east of the Cascades.

Martin said she wasn’t sure of the cucumber crop’s fate. Pleasant Valley Farms had many tanks of cucumbers on site, and Kruger bought all that.

Gielow’s operation addresses only the cabbage crop for now, Martin said, but the company also produces refrigerated and shelf-stable foods like pickles, horseradish, peppers and relish.

Kirby Johnson, vice president of Farms Northwest Inc., said he expects to salvage about half of his company’s cabbage crop, crediting the speedy response of port officials and Gielow.

The port houses 78 business, among them commercial kitchens and Skagit Valley Malting.

“We know value-added agriculture is the direction we need to head,” Martin said.

“We want a viable and thriving agricultural economy, and grains are a huge piece of that. We support the (Washington State University Extension) Bread Lab and know it will help Western Washington grains.”



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