Local food producers will soon have a more cost-efficient way to bring their products to consumers’ plates.
The Piedmont Food and Agricultural Processing Center in Hillsborough will hold its grand opening Oct. 21 after more than a year of construction and preparation.
Center Manager Matthew Roybal said the ceremony will commemorate nearly seven years of striving to make the processing center a reality.
The 10,400-square-foot center will include, among other resources, four production areas, two kitchens, walk-in coolers and a room for clients to meet with vendors.
“It’s definitely going to provide farmers and food entrepreneurs a foot up trying to make their business a continued success, as well as allow for new businesses to pilot production,” said Noah Ranells, agricultural economic development coordinator for Orange County.
Local farmers and food entrepreneurs will be able to use the plant to prepare and package their products for sale, he said.
In order to use the facility, food producers have to go through an application process and complete orientation, Roybal said.
Rental fees will depend on the number of hours per week spent in the center and will run between $15 to $25 an hour.
In the current economic climate, resources that help small businesses save money are critical, Roybal said.
“The most important thing about this center is that we’re here to serve and help small businesses get off the ground,” he said.
The project evolved because county and institutional buyers like universities, hospitals and schools were looking for a way to buy more locally produced food, Ranells said.
Roybal said local interest in the project has been overwhelming.
The center has received 48 applications and more than 200 inquiries from local food entrepreneurs, farmers and organizations.
Audrey Lin, co-owner of Two Chicks Farm in Hillsborough, plans to use the center’s resources next spring to help with canning.
Before the center, Lin and co-owner Debbie Donnald would can their products at a church’s kitchen.
She believes the center will be an important resource for the local food community.
“I think it is important for people to support local farming because as gas prices go up and people are trying to ship food from far away, local production is going to be important,” Lin said.
Cathy Jones of Perry-winkle Farm in Chatham County agrees.
As a member of the Chatham County Agriculture Advisory Committee, she recommended the county support the center more than a year ago because of the advantages it offers.
“Any time that a consumer buys a product that they can identify as being from their community, it increases awareness,” Jones said.
The processing center, a joint project between Orange, Chatham, Durham and Alamance counties, received $1.4 million in grants to help support renovation, equipment purchases and first year costs, Ranells said.
Though the counties pledged to cover any costs that exceed budget, Roybal said the center will open up well within the grant money budget.
The center hopes to become a non-profit entity in the next few years, Ranells said.
Though the processing center will serve 22 counties extending from Winston-Salem to Wilmington, Roybal encourages anyone in the state to apply.
Roybal hopes the facility’s expertise and guidance will have an impact on small businesses.
“It’s not just what you’re making, it’s how you want to sell it,” he said.
He said the center’s opening is just a part of food localization.
“There is still a lot more to do to promote local foods and to ensure that local food entrepreneurs and farmers understand the full range of opportunities that they have,” Ranells said.
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