New PE Cannery Studied
Published 5:32 pm Thursday, February 28, 2013
PRINCE EDWARD – County supervisors will take a look at a possible regional cannery to serve commercial needs.
The board, at their February 12 meeting, specifically agreed to seek a planning grant with a $40,000 budget – factoring a $20,000 grant, $10,000, which must be a dollar match, and $10,000, which can be a cash or in-kind match.
Prince Edward had previously sought an $825,000 agribusiness grant from the Tobacco Commission, County Planner Alecia Daves-Johnson detailed. That request was tabled.
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“You might remember that the scope of that grant application was for some additional infrastructure at our existing cannery to further expand the ability to process and freeze vegetables and also to provide a separate space for the processing of fish and shellfish,” she told the board. “However, there are significant concerns which are limiting for further expansion at that facility and the feasibility of whether the inherent problems with that building might not…be able to be overcome to meet the capacity needs for these proposed users and to meet all of our state and federal approvals that are necessary to process food commercially became a topic.”
The grant, Daves-Johnson detailed, was tabled so that they could revisit the possibility of a new facility or renovating an existing vacant structure. Staff, she also told the board, are working on a schematic of what the new floor plan might look like, the general cost comparison between an upgrade of the facility versus a new facility, and assessing which facility would make more sense.
Daves-Johnson reported that the commercial use is “gaining momentum,” at the existing facility.
In the past year, a co-packing service offered there, Daves-Johnson said, served four clients, which processed Virginia farm products from five different farms; commercial clients at the facility processed nearly 7,500 jars of products, and earned process approval for at least 13 different recipes.
“What's occurring is there has been a lot of interest in our whole region now all of sudden since we started…It's been almost two years…and so some other counties now are trying to jump on board,” County Administrator Wade Bartlett said. “There were several requests-and it's not just in our region, it's all over the state outside of the Tobacco Commission area also.
“And the Tobacco Commission is seeing this, which is proving to them that there is a need and a potential goldmine for our farmers…and other entrepreneurs if we can get this moving, but they didn't want to fund a lot of different ones, so they're trying to shepherd, I'd say, all of (them) into a regional partnership. That's why they tabled ours and tabled a couple of other ones.”
The planning grant will address such issues as working with neighboring counties to see the best location, how to develop a regional and try to pull all the counties together and look to private and public partnerships.
Bartlett stated that they've learned that it's going to be best to separate home and commercial canners and assessed that they are all coming to the conclusion that it may be best to either build or retrofit an existing facility and move away from their existing cannery with its limitations.
He cited that it has served as a “useful purpose and may well still serve a useful purpose as a business incubator for food entrepreneurs.”
While the County may have to spend up to $20,000, they could ask other counties to participate. Prince Edward, however, is expected to ask the Tobacco Commission if they would allow them to use previously approved grant; Prince Edward's cost could be as little as $5,000.
There are some inherent problems with the existing cannery facility. Daves-Johnson told the board that there was no vapor barrier placed beneath the concrete slab floors when it was built “and so no matter how many times we have tried to put down a non-skid surface to be in compliance with FDA regulations, it pops up and peels up because there's moisture coming in the concrete floor from underneath.”
Farmville District (701) Supervisor Jim Wilck asked if they are looking at a million dollars plus to build a new cannery.
“We aren't,” Bartlett said. “I can almost guarantee you that.”
They have no idea how much a new facility would cost, he said, noting that a cannery may be part, but not all of a facility. He conceded it would be expensive, but also explained that from the indications they have, they could anticipate considerable help from the Tobacco Commission.
“Now how much? We'd have to go there…And of course the Board would make any decision to build anything,” the county administrator stated. “That would be your decision. And, of course, we want to get other communities on board and, while we might like it here in Prince Edward, it may be that the best place for this may be some other location.”
If they have other partners, he would also tell the board, they would “expect they are going to pony up some of the money, pure and simple.”
While the board agreed to seek the planning grant, it was not a unanimous decision.
“From my point of view, it sounds awfully iffy and it sounds like to me that we could end up spending a great deal of money,” Wilck said. “And we've already been down that road recently so I would vote against it.”
Lockett District Supervisor Robert “Bobby” Jones, however, assessed that it “opens up all kinds of opportunities for local agriculture and we've been working on this quite awhile now with the improvements we've made in our existing cannery and I think we're finding out our existing cannery just…isn't going to suit the bill as this thing keeps moving forward.”
If they build a new facility, Jones also suggested, it would essentially give the old facility back to the local canners.
The motion to proceed with the grant was approved with Wilck and Farmville District (801) Supervisor Pattie Cooper-Jones opposing.
The board also recognized a working group that included individuals already working on the food enterprise center project.
Virginia State University has a research project funded by the Tobacco Commission looking into the production, processing and marketing of edamame in Southside. (Edamame is a health food item derived from soybeans.)
The addition is expected to have minimal impact to the operation of the cannery.
“It has been determined that production is feasible which could provide a new product for area farmers to produce,” Bartlett's memo to the board detailed. “The next step is establishing a processing facility.”
He stated that the Virginia State project leader has requested that the county allow the location of a metal building behind the cannery-an 18 by 41 foot structure. The building would fit without impacting either of two drain fields.
“All of these funds would be paid by Virginia State University,” Bartlett said. “They also have operating funds for two years after the construction, supplied by the Tobacco Commission.”
The biggest draw from the county would be water and electricity, and Bartlett said they need to negotiate with them on the charges.
Supervisors gave the green light and will look to have the staff negotiate terms with Virginia State.