Alachua County wants to support local ranchers and food systems with a proposed meat processing facility in Newberry.
The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) has already dedicated $2.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to build the site, but on Thursday BOCC Chair Anna Prizzia released a full position statement on behalf of the commission.
Prizzia said the facility would align will several board priorities.
“I think that this is a really great opportunity to create a win-win that is going to provide a real opportunity for a resilient local food economy while also protecting the rural character of Alachua County,” Prizzia said in a Friday phone interview.
In a county meeting, the BOCC heard that ranchers must wait six months to a year to access USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) approved meat facilities. Prizzia said a facility in Alachua County would relieve that bottleneck.
The proposed facility will be USDA approved with a full-time inspector on site. Prizzia said the USDA seal allows ranches to sell their products to wholesale and retail outlets, providing financial support for ranchers and local food for consumers.
Prizzia said the project also protects local food systems.
“I think that COVID-19 put a stark spotlight on the fact that our local food system is the system that provides us with the most security—especially in situations like a pandemic or other things that shut down national and international supply chain,” Prizzia said.
She added that the local infrastructure needs bolstering, not just for meat but for vegetables and distribution.
Several partners have joined the project. The city of Newberry will provide the land at its 93-acre Newberry Environmental Park. UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) and Santa Fe College have signed agreements to use the facility for research and training.
Prizzia said State Sen. Keith Perry, R-District 9, and state Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-District 22, will both support a $2.5 million legislative match in the upcoming session. The facility will cost around $5 million to become operational.
Alachua County still has several steps to go, and Prizzia said the goal is to open by 2026—the deadline for using ARPA funds. She said the county needs to finalize a memorandum of understanding with Newberry for the land, get additional dollars from the state, find a third-party operator and then complete engineering studies.
Like the Alachua County Sports Complex at Celebration Pointe, the county will contract the actual work of running the processing facility.
Prizzia said federal grants were available last year for this type of project, but the county wasn’t ready to apply. She anticipates a new grant cycle will open.
“We've met some milestones that would allow us now to apply for funding should it become available again, but I know it is a very, very strong priority of the federal government,” Prizzia said.
Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe addressed the facility at the 2023 legislative delegation meeting on Jan. 10 with Clemons and other members of Alachua County’s state representatives.
“This meat packing facility that the county is working on has the potential to turn that small cattle farmer into a profitable business,” said Marlowe, a fourth-generation cattleman.
Marlowe also directed the delegation to Newberry’s proposed regional wastewater treatment facility—a single center that would treat the water from High Springs, Archer and Newberry. He said the wastewater facility would serve as the cornerstone of the environmental park, allowing the meat processing center to set up shop along with other businesses.
- Newberry to buy 93 acres for wastewater facility (mainstreetdailynews.com)
- High Springs enters dialogue for joint wastewater (mainstreetdailynews.com)
- Local leaders ask Tallahassee for water, workers (mainstreetdailynews.com)
Prizzia’s Thursday statement noted that Alachua County and its seven surrounding counties contain three of Florida’s top 10 livestock-producing counties.
“Restoring local processing options to our local ranchers will help restore competition in our agricultural market and expand local market opportunities for our small and midsize ranchers,” Prizzia said. “Processing options help protect their livelihoods, farmlands, and our local food security while ensuring that farmers receive a fair share of the total value of their labor.”