Unusual building design paying dividends for cheese producer Appel Farms

Maria Linares loads freshly packed paneer cheese into crates Friday at the Appel Farms facility near Ferndale.
Maria Linares loads freshly packed paneer cheese into crates Friday at the Appel Farms facility near Ferndale. For The Bellingham Herald

When it comes to food production, one of the biggest challenges is keeping a processing facility clean. A local food manufacturer made that easier to do by using a nontraditional building design.

Appel Farms recently moved its cheese production operations into a new 12,800-square-foot facility at 6605 Northwest Drive, northeast of Ferndale. Unlike standard pre-engineered steel buildings, the steel columns normally on the inside are on the outside. The structure was built by Faber Construction of Lynden.

Having the columns on the outside of the building makes a difference for food producers – it creates a smooth interior that is easier to keep clean, said Rick Faber of Faber Construction. It’s more expensive to design and assemble, but the long-term benefits to the food producer will be happy health inspectors and less time spent keeping the production area clean, he said.

Ruth Appel agreed, saying that not only is it easier to clean, but not having those columns in the way allows them to create a more efficient workspace. Appel operates Appel Farms with her husband, John.

“It turned out even better than we anticipated,” Ruth Appel said.

The Appels didn’t intend to build a new production facility, but steady growth in the business made them reconsider. They started cheese production 30 years ago in an 800-square-foot building and got by through the years by utilizing nearby buildings they own. After moving into the new facility in December, they quickly realized some big benefits to having the operation in one place.

“The improved communication among workers is the first thing we noticed,” Ruth Appel said.

They also noticed improvements in energy efficiency. In cheese production, a building has to deal with a wide range of temperatures as it works with blast freezers and heat incubators. Thicker insulation in the wall and ceiling panels was installed to meet those requirements, Faber said.

The farm also has a herd of 600 dairy cows, with more than half of the milk going toward cheese production. The company’s 12-person staff makes a variety of cheeses, including havarti, parmesan, gouda, cheddar and feta. With the new facility, the company is pondering the idea of adding more varieties, Ruth Appel said. The focus of the new building, however, is to position the company for future growth for the next generation, Ruth Appel said.

Nearly three years ago, the Appels opened a retail store on the property, called The Cheese Shop. It is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz