Old plant could grow into 'food hub'

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By Larry Chambers, Staff

INDEPENDENCE — Robert Smith, representing Grayson LandCare, approached Independence Town Council at its June 10 meeting about the possibility of leasing the old Robert Shaw building.

Town council bought the former manufacturing plant building in March 2012.

Smith told council members that the number of food growers in Southwest Virginia has expanded enough to warrant the hiring of support personnel to provide logistics, facilities and marketing to take advantage of economics of scale, shared capital equipment and wholesale buyers.

Smith said, “these services and many others are best provided through the formation of an agricultural cooperative.”

According to Smith, Grayson LandCare plans to apply for the USDA Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP) grant in the amount of $133,000. LandCare would have to provide $33,000 of the grant in local funds.

“Initially, the building will function as a food hub to aggregate, cool, store, package and transport produce to be sold wholesale in the Commonwealth of Virginia and in the region,” Smith said. “Locally produced food is currently in high demand, but there is a disconnect between the producers and markets which we intend to fill.

“We believe that a cooperative will encourage many individual farmers to join so they can increase the size of their gardens to supplement their income, that small farms will be encouraged to increase production and hire employees, and that underutilized and open land will be brought into production.”

Concerning the Robert Shaw building, Smith said, “Grayson LandCare would request a lease agreement so that we might develop this cooperative. This cooperative will create more income for farmers, recession-proof jobs which can’t be out-sourced, create more local food products, building the farm economy and increasing availability of local food for Independence residents.”

Smith said only about 20,000 square feet would be needed to begin the operation. He also said a woodcrafter was interested in expanding, and he would utilize about 10,000 square feet.

Council Member Jason Cassell commented that, of all the proposals that he had heard for the building, the cooperative made the most sense. “Agriculture is big business in Grayson County,” he said.

Mayor Butch Reeves thanked Smith for his proposal and said council would take his request under consideration.

Town Manager Jerry Hughes said after the meeting that the only use for the building currently is as a warehouse for area businesses.