Kalama, Washington is a small town on the Columbia River in Washington, a little less than 40 miles north of Portland, Oregon, and about ten miles south of Kelso, Washington. It is located on I-5, and has an area of about one mile, and a population of about 2600 people. Since it is in a place where the river comes close to the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, the town is only about four blocks wide, in the narrow strip of flat land next to the river. It is a small enough town that it has very few chain businesses: a Subway Sandwiches, a Chevron station, and a Motel 6. At a distance of 40 miles from Portland, it could be considered either an exurb or a small town, and due to its lack of the typical sprawl of an exurb, I consider it a small town. And like many (not not all) towns in Washington State, it is pretty ethnically homogeneous: it is over 90% white.
Seems like a pretty unremarkable small town. That is what I thought, having passed through the town of Kalama on I-5 going between Portland and Seattle since I was a small child, without visiting it, I just thought it was another small town, charming in its own way, but nothing worth stopping for. In the autumn of 2015, I actually visited there, saw that it was indeed a nice little town, with a few claims to fame, including (by some criteria), the world's tallest totem pole, carved by Chief Lelooska. It also has a museum describing the history of commerce in the Port of Kalama.
And here is an interesting fact that I didn't learn until later: Kalama, Washington, is the largest food-exporting port in the United States. A claim like that---that a little town in Washington that most people haven't heard of, is a larger port than New York City or Los Angeles---seems like it needs a few asterisks to back it up. And, indeed, there is one larger port area: the New Orleans Port Area is much larger, but includes everything from south of New Orleans to Baton Rouge, so an exact comparison is hard to make. But in terms of weight exported, Kalama does indeed export more food than New York, Los Angeles, or Houston. Another key point that this is in terms of weight: Kalama is a point for the transshipment of grains and soybean, in bulk. Other ports in the United States export prepared foods in containers, or refrigerated fruits, that might have a much higher price, but Kalama is still the largest bulk food exporter. Several nearby ports, including Portland, Vancouver and Longview have a similar profile, but Kalama is still the largest. 80% of its grain exports go to four countries: China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. This grain comes from both the Pacific Northwest, and the rest of the United States, brought in on railroad cars that feed the grain elevators.
Other than sharing about one of the many small towns of my home area that I enjoy, one of the key points to know about Kalama has to do with globalization. "Globalization" has been thrown around so much as a shibboleth, and has become such a cliché for those arguing for and against it, that the reality of what it means is easy to forget. And to me, the reality of globalization is that a small town in Washington that not even those nearby think about, is vital to the global economy. The concept of globalization is based upon small realities. And one of those is that the price of bread in Japan depends upon a few hundred feet of waterfront in Kalama, and that if nearby Mount St. Helens erupted when the wind was blowing from the east, people in Japan would start paying more for bread.