Putnam joins nearby counties in seeking funds for food center

Business leaders are seeking money for a multi-million dollar project that would provide financial support for farmers and other agricultural businesses in three counties.

Cheryl Lynch, a consultant for the Palatka branch of the Small Business Development Center of the University of North Florida, said a coalition of businesses from Putnam, St. Johns and Flagler counties are seeking $2 million to fund the creation of a First Coast Fresh Food Innovation Center when she spoke at the Board of County Commissioners meeting Tuesday.

The project comes after years of discussions with politicians, state agencies and the Institute of Agriculture and Food Sciences at the University of Florida.

“We’ve done studies, we’ve got costs under control and we’ve identified the management — 15 who would manage the facility and all the programs that would be part of it,” Lynch said. “So now, we’re just looking for money.”

Of the $2 million needed to fund the project, Lynch said, up to $800,000 would be used to pay for construction. The rest of the money would pay for equipment, the cost of which could fluctuate due to current tariffs on steel.

The First Coast Fresh Food Innovation Center would allow burgeoning businesses to grow in an environment conducive to its progress, Lynch said. In the case of a St. Augustine business interested in participating, she said, it currently has to wait about six weeks before a processing company can handle its stock, and often, its production is put to a halt.

The center would help address that along with providing opportunities for businesses to eventually own proper storefronts.

“We’ve provided a dozen support letters from businesses that are ready right now that, as soon we’re opened, they can be on the list to start producing,” Lynch said.

Commissioner Jeff Rawls said he believes the center has a lot of potential for county businesses and wants to make it a priority for future county discussion.

“We can get key players to the table and get them to buy into this. And I don’t know if this is something we can look at for appropriations next year,” Rawls said.

Commissioner Terry Turner agreed, albeit with some reservations about the $2 million tab.

“This is not new, and we wish we can get the money to fall out of the sky on top of you. Obviously, if we could, we already would have,” Turner said. “But I think I speak for everyone that this would be a good project for Putnam County, the area and the participants in it.”

The coalition looking to create the center has been looking for funding sources for the project, including through grants and appropriations bills and other options. But it may be looking at an uphill battle. 

Most recently, State Rep. Bobby Payne, R-Palatka, submitted an appropriations request to fund $637,570 for the First Coast Fresh Food Innovation Center. It died in committee May 4.

Palatka Daily News

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