Between 1900 and 1920In the Spokane and Priest River valleys, in Washington state’s northeastern and Idaho’s northwestern corners, respectively, most Italians labored on the railroads or in lumber mills, but because land was plentiful and fertile, they ventured into farming, too. In 1907, the Spokane Chamber of Commerce went so far as to market Spokane as a “bread basket” because of its rapidly growing agribusiness in wheat and produce. Though they didn’t organize quite as formally as their fellow paesani in Seattle and Portland, a number of Italian fruit and vegetable stands were located in the Washington Market, at Washington and Main, in downtown Spokane.
In the late 1800s, Peter Pieri, a Corsican, brought a sweet onion into the Walla Walla valley, which became much favored by other early Italians, who joined him in farming it. Onion farmers in southeastern Washington, like the Saturno/Breen and Locati families, eventually banded together to become members of the Walla Walla Produce Co., one of the oldest cooperatives in the country. Those same families were also involved in winemaking.