View overlooking Tieton Washington

In central Washington state, there is a tiny town nestled in the rain shadow on the dry side of the Cascade Mountains called Tieton (Tie -uh-tun). 

Tieton is located in a sort of transition zone between the lush, green, rain-soaked mountains and the semi-arid desert region to the east. The town is blessed with lots of water for irrigation from the rivers and streams that funnel the rainwater and snow melt from the mountains into the Yakima Valley. The abundant water caught the attention of early white settlers who established farming operations alongside and near the rivers. As settlement increased, more sophisticated methods of irrigation were introduced and fruit orchards came to dominate the landscape around the town and throughout the Yakima Valley.

 

For decades farm families in the valley could depend on their orchard crops to support their families' way of life. Then Big Ag came in and started buying up and consolidating small land holdings and bringing in cheaper labor from south of the border. Life as a fruit farmer became a losing battle for many area residents and they either moved away, or remained in their town, always remembering the days when a family's hard work in their own orchards could afford them a decent standard of living.

As years passed, the population of Tieton came to be a majority of Hispanic heritage and some descendants of the original settlers felt they were being crowded out of their home town. A similar sentiment can be seen across the country in which white Americans are seeing their opportunities diminish, due to corporate greed. Not having access to the CEOs who are actually causing their pain AND who encourage the immigrants to come and work their holdings, they often lash out at the people with the least power to change anything - Latin American immigrants themselves.

 As a proud Anglo-American, I'd suggest we might do well to remember that our own ancestors faced dismal conditions in their native lands, crossed oceans and continents, and faced tremendous dangers and obstacles with courage and hard work, to make a better life for their  families.  There is little difference between these pioneers and settlers and the "dreamers" who are here now, working hard in a new land to build a better life. In fact, they should be congratulated for leaving out the genocide part of the Anglo-American immigration experience (although you wouldn't know it from the rhetoric of some politicians).  It is an interesting bit of trivia that, in a town that is 2/3 Hispanic, the crime rate in Tieton is about 1/3 of the national average. Maybe Mexico and other Latin-American countries were actually "sending their best".

 

One might expect this little town that had been passed over by the agribusiness giants and the big box stores, leaving the residents with little to hope for, and a bit of racial resentment, might be set to erupt in frustration or devolve into a ghost town.  However, in 2005, a bicyclist from Seattle had a flat in Tieton and the fact that he had to stop and really SEE this special little town changed a lot of peoples' outlook and direction of Tieton for the better.

Ed Marquand is the bicyclist in the this story. What makes him interesting is the number of subjects that capture his interest: art of all types, multiple reproduction processes, fonts/typesetting/printing/bookbinding, history, architecture, decor, culture, music, drama, etc., etc.  Most importantly, among the extensive list of things in which he is interested, is people. 

Initially, Ed saw the deserted fruit warehouse and other empty buildings near the downtown square as affordable indoor space in which to conduct some of the activities required by his existing business, Marquand Books (It is now Lucia|Marquand - luciamarquand.com), which specialized in publishing handmade, limited edition art books back in Seattle.  As he shared his enthusiasm for what he had discovered in Tieton, other Seattle professionals were intrigued by the possibilities affordable space in Tieton offered for their own enterprises. From a core group of friends and acquaintances, a set of complimentary creative businesses took shape. 

One thing Ed kept firmly in mind was respect for the wants and needs of the existing community. He was very cognizant of the fact that he could be viewed with suspicion as a "city slicker" if he didn't make the effort to bring the city fathers along on his vision and how it could benefit Tieton. Unlike some public/private partnerships you hear about today, this was not a company trying to get its hands on money in the public coffers. They were just asking for a little bit of flexibility in areas involving zoning and permitted uses, as well as some cooperation in pursuing downtown improvement grant opportunities.  This has resulted in a win/win/win for city, business and residents.

tieton soccer basketballPark with soccer field and basketball court spearheaded by Kerry Quint of Mighty Tieton Construction

  • In one example of the Mighty Tieton family and the Tieton community working in tandem, Kerry Quint, of Mighty Tieton construction, formed a not-for-profit for occasional community improvement projects. Their first was the soccer field. The second was adding the basketball court. He was successful in getting City Hall, local companies, and private contributors to make it all happen.  

 

In about twelve years, Mighty Tieton has expanded beyond Ed's publishing enterprises to include a construction company, a venue for weddings and other events, a mosiac production studio, spaces for storage of various artists' projects, a residential cooperative of artist lofts, and sponsorship of events such as the local "Day of the Dead" Festival (Dia de los Muertos) , the Tieton Grand Prix Cycle Cart Races, 10x10x10xTieton Art Exhibition featuring art of no more than 10" in any direction, as well as many more events you can check out at http://www.mightytieton.com/events/

There is still ample space available in the warehouse to be built out to new tenants' specifications.  With plenty of power, compressed air, water and sewer infrastructure already in place, creative businesses have a rare opportunity to acquire affordable space that can be molded to fit their unique needs.  It should be mentioned that prospective tenants' businesses will need to operate in accord with the spirit of Mighty Tieton and be socially and environmentally responsible.

As if all this were not enough to keep a person busy, Might Tieton serves as a sort of unofficial Chamber of Commerce. Ed likes to use the phrase "reflected glory" to refer to using whatever spotlight Mighty Tieton may garner on the world stage to present unaffiliated local small and artisan businesses. Among these are: 

TIETON FARM & CREAMERY,  TIETON CIDER WORKS  and EL NIDO CABINS

And last, but certainly not least. Tieton Arts & Humanities, a not-for-profit organization that "that creates and implements artistic and cultural programs, in Tieton, providing sustainable opportunities for local and regional engagement and celebration.  By engaging talented and creative individuals—from the Yakima Valley, the Northwest, and across the nation— we facilitate participation, collaboration, and community-based entrepreneurship among people with diverse backgrounds, ages, and education levels."  To learn more about their programs and how you can support their mission visit http://www.tietonarts.org/

 


Vacant lot reclaimed as a community garden


Ed and I enjoyed a wide-ranging conversation at Wilridge Winery (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) a lovely spot overlooking the valley, with a tasting room featuring local wines and Tieton Cider. He said that, with all the diverse enterprises and creative personalities involved in such a mission, the trick is to find people and businesses that "get it" and enjoy the cooperative environment.  Fortunately, the current collection of businesses and personalities fit together like pieces in a mosaic in which the matrix is creativity and community. It has not always been smooth sailing though. On rare occasions, some individuals with strong personalities were quite assertive in putting forth their creative "visions", but not so forceful in doing the actual work, or devoting their own resources to its success. Ed mentioned his partner used the term "too many managers".  That phrase struck me as exactly the larger problem in our country today: we strive to manage the activities of every country in the world and the activities of every US citizen, right down to what they do with their own bodies.  I propose people with a compulsive need to manage things focus their attention on their own activities and the world will be transformed.

Wilridge Winery
Wilridge Winery Tasting Room

 Another interesting anecdote involved a delightfully innovative idea to redo the facade of the Tieton Post Office in a mosaic to resemble a Tieton postage stamp. A Kickstarter campaign was started and exceeded the funding goal. Excitement grew for the project and it gained national attention. It seemed nothing could stop this artistic vision from becoming a reality. Then the phone rang.

It seems the story of the Tieton PO mosaic project had reached the postmaster general himself, and it was he who was on the other end of the line.

In what Ed described as a very cordial conversation, congratulations were given on both the creativity of the idea and achieving the funding goals. However, the postmaster pointed out, regretfully, that he could not allow the mosaic to proceed because he had tens of thousand of POs across the nation and if even a fraction of them undertook to redesign their facades, it would present a management nightmare for the postal service.  Reluctantly, Ed agreed that he saw the postmaster's point. Thus died the Tieton Post Office Mosaic project.

 As of 2017, the fruit industry and the economy in the Yakima Valley in general are rebounding and the road ahead is full of promise for Mighty Tieton. To stay abreast of the latest news, visit http://www.mightytieton.com. As a final thought, the next time life throws you a challenge. like a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, take the time to look around you. It may be the Universe tapping you on the shoulder to alert you to possibilities you otherwise never would have seen. Such is the magic of Tieton

 

To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
Ralph Waldo Emerson