New Packing House Could Create Jobs & Enhance Local Ag Economy
Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced Wednesday that the county will partner with the Wisconsin Farmers Union (WFU) & Growers Partnership to develop a business plan for a first-of-its-kind local foods hub in Dane County.
A recent study showed possibility for the facility to increase sales for local farmers and food related businesses, create jobs, and reinvest millions into the county’s economy.
“Few people realize that agriculture is an over $3 billion a year part of our local economy and through this new packing house, we’re going to help our family farmers and food producers get even stronger,” County Executive Joe Parisi said. “This packing house will help put more food grown and raised in Dane County and Wisconsin on lunch tables and dinner plates across the region and the Midwest. We’re excited by the opportunity to partner with the Wisconsin Farmers Union on this innovative project to enhance a growing sector of our local economy.”
The Wisconsin Farmers Union was selected to execute the business plan through a county Request for Interest (RFI) process concluded earlier this month. The process served to identify owner/operator candidates, as well as growers and organizations interested in helping to make the regional foods hub a reality. The county will provide the Farmers Union with $28,000 to assist with the development of a business plan and market research.
“Wisconsin Farmers Union welcomes the opportunity to partner with the county on a project that can improve income and market opportunities for local farmers,” WFU President Darin Von Ruden said. “We expect that the planning project will provide growers with a realistic look at pricing and production levels, and explore options for cooperative ownership and investment.”
As part of the business planning process, the county will assist with site-selection for the food hub facility. The county will also work with the Farmers Union and the business plan consultant to further identify suppliers and buyers for the facility. A target launch date for the facility is late in 2012.
According to a Food Hub Feasibility Study completed by Dane County in 2011, a regional local foods hub would enable area farmers to aggregate their produce, and provide storage, packing and distribution, limited processing, and private labeling for interested large volume buyers in the Midwest. Buyers could include distributors, grocery stores, hospitals, hotels, and schools.
Food buyers surveyed identified a demand for $18-$26 million worth of produce per year, and up to 800,000 pounds of produce per week during the 40 week growing season. Report findings show that the facility would create 16 full-time and over 30 part-time jobs when the facility reaches capacity.
Dane County Supervisor and Chair of the county’s Food Council, Melissa Sargent, noted that the county’s efforts to support the creation of a regional foods hub go hand in hand with other steps taken to support local food producers.
“The county has seen tremendous success in its Food Council, and home-grown Institutional Food Market Coalition (IFM),” said Supervisor Sargent. “The IFM coalition successfully facilitated the sale of well over 1.5-million dollars of locally grown products in 2010 alone and has helped to create and retain dozens of jobs in Dane County and Wisconsin. This exciting project could mean a lot for the county and its growers.”
UW Center for Cooperatives is also partnering on the project.
# # #
The Packing House is one of a number of sustainable development projects promoted by Capital Region Sustainable Communities (CRSC), a partnership of government, educational institutions, businesses and non-profits. CRSC provided the majority of funding for the Packing House feasibility study and business plan through a federal Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant. Other CRSC projects include sustainability demonstration projects in Madison and Fitchburg, regional corridor and transit planning, and Future Urban Development Area planning throughout the county.