BURLINGTON — Washington State University Bread Lab Director Stephen Jones pointed to a photo in the facility’s main hallway Wednesday as guests streamed by for the grand opening.
“This is a photo of first lady Michelle Obama planting our wheat at the White House,” Jones said.
Milestones and accomplishments were highlighted during the event honoring the completion of the Bread Lab’s new 12,000-square-foot facility at the Port of Skagit.
The lab portion of the facility was completed last year. A few weeks ago, the milling room and commercial kitchen were finished. The facility also houses King Arthur Flour, which offers baking classes to the public.
About 400 attended the event.
Since coming to Skagit County in 2008, Bread Lab researchers have helped farmers grow healthier, tastier and more lucrative wheat varieties. The breakthroughs have been important for local farmers, such as Washington Bulb Company co-owner John Roozen, who rely on rotational crops to revitalize their soil.
“We are growing the highest yielding barley variety in the world,” Roozen said. “We are growing it in a field that was filled with tulips last year … This was made possible by this program.”
Senior Scientific Assistant Steve Lyon said he is excited about the new state-of-the-art facility. Lyon and Jones previously worked in a 600-square-foot lab at the WSU Mount Vernon Research Center.
“I’m always asking Steve Jones, ‘What’s next?’” Lyon said. “As a plant breeder, we’ve got to stay ahead of the game … It’s been an incredible journey so far.”
WSU President Kirk Schulz spoke during the ceremony of wanting the Bread Lab to get more widespread notice.
“We have this world-class work that folks locally know about,” Schulz said. “As we see these great facilities here today, I could see a Bread Lab where people are coming from around the world because they realize just how cutting-edge the research is here.”
Some of the Bread Lab’s higher-profile work over the years has involved helping the restaurant chain Chipotle make healthier tortillas. The lab is also working with the restaurant chain Burgerville to improve its hamburger buns.
One of the Bread Lab’s most recent accomplishments was naming a new species of perennial wheat called Salish Blue. It’s the first time a WSU research team has named a wheat species.
Pierson Shimon and fiancee Stacy Okura of Woodinville attended the event, taking a look at the large ovens inside King Arthur Flour’s classroom. The couple were doing research for a farm they hope to start.
“(Okura) does a lot of bread baking,” Shimon said. “We want to have our own small farm to do our own wheat … We are doing some research today.”
Port of Skagit Executive Director Patsy Martin also spoke during the ceremony, stressing the importance of supporting the local agriculture community.
Roozen said that partnership with local entities helped the Bread Lab thrive.
“The synergism we have here is amazing,” Roozen said. “That’s what gets everything going.”