(Photo by Jill Bock, Staff)
It is that marketing concept which brought together 27 vegetable and fruit farmers from Southern Illinois and Southeast Missouri. Several years ago, the group formed a cooperative to market their produce to urban grocers.
Now another cooperative effort, this time involving government agencies and federal funding, will provide the farmers with a vegetable processing facility for their crops beginning in 2004.
A check was presented Friday afternoon to the Bootheel Resource Conservation and Development Inc. from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development program for $83,418 for construction of the building. This money, along with other funds, will be used to construct a 50-by-75-foot building along Highway 61 in New Madrid. The entire project is expected to total $160,000.
According to Ferg Hunter, who serves as secretary/treasurer of the RC&D, the building will be leased at a nominal fee to the co-op members. The facility will serve as a receiving site for their produce, where it will be sorted, prepared and packaged for market.
The facility will include two truck-height loading docks, an office, meeting room and produce cooler.
"We hope to begin work immediately," said Hunter about the construction.
Darvon Green, who serves as the co-op manager, said the facility will enable the group to improve their inventory and distribution of the two kinds of squash, okra, peas, watermelon, cantaloupe, tomatoes, peppers and eggplants they produce.
While the facility is designed to enhance the profitability of the farmers' efforts, Green added it eventually will help the local economy. Explaining the initial operation will be small "we hope in the future to bring economic to local community through employment opportunities as this develops," Green said.
Among the local and county officials and politicians attending the presentation and viewing the construction site were representatives from Sen. Christopher Bond and Jim Talent's office along with State Representatives Lanie Black and Peter Myers.
"This is not the culmination," said Myers to the group. "It is just the beginning. We are going to have to keeping working harder. Vegetable production is a part of the future of Southeast Missouri."