New facility will help tobacco farmers transition to organic produce

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- A push to help struggling tobacco farmers transition to new areas of agriculture just took a big step forward in Brunswick County with the help of state funding.

On Thursday, Gov. Ralph Northam announced Southern Virginia Vegetable Packing, LLC will construct a new, 45,000 square-foot, $4.2 million produce processing facility, creating 40 new jobs over three years. The stop kicks off a statewide economic development tour for Northam.

The investment comes as local farmers are at a cross roads. Since 2001, the price and the amount of tobacco sales in Virginia has been cut nearly in half as the market for organic produce booms.

“The last few years have been a huge decline and the farmers needed something else to get into,” said Brunswick County farmer Richard Hite Jr., who is currently transitioning from tobacco to organic produce. “This is an avenue to allow my family farm to continue and stay in business. My children will be able to farm.”

The new facility will support more than 22 farmers located in Amelia, Brunswick, Dinwiddie, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Prince George, and Surry Counties during its first season.

Moving forward, a non-profit is working to help more farmers participate in the market.

Old Dominion Organic Farms will operate the facility. Owner Jordan Brandon said it will provide more efficient packing, cooling and distribution of vegetables and create access to markets previously unavailable to local farmers.

“Having this facility will allow the small guys to be able to compete with everybody else without having to make the investment in a cooling and packing facility that is prohibitively expensive otherwise,” Brandon said.

The project was made possible by state funding, including the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund.

Northam said 109 businesses have received these grants under his administration–a total investment of nearly $10 million that has helped create nearly 3,500 jobs. Northam said that’s a historic number of projects through this fund.

“As the Commonwealth’s largest and oldest industry, agriculture is an integral part of Virginia’s economic wellbeing—especially in rural areas,” said Northam. “I commend the members of Southern Virginia Vegetable Packing and all of the public and private sector partners who have made this project a reality. They have set an example for how we can all work together to support Virginia agriculture and the communities that rely on this important industry.”

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