Looking toward possibly creating a regional processing and distribution center, local farmers are considering partnering with food purveyor J. Kings Food Service Professionals, which is in contract to purchase a 108,000-square-foot building on Sound Avenue to expand its distribution services across Long Island.
In late December, news broke that the Long Island Farm Bureau - serving as lead agent in collabration with others - was . While original plans slated the facility at Enterprise Park at Calverton, John King's idea to lease some space to farmers, coupled with the extensive time and money it could take to create a brand new facility at EPCAL, has some considering the Sound Avenue space.
Last Wednesday, Vito Minei, executive director of , said about 60 farmers showed up to an informational meeting to discuss the idea. King, Minei, and others were clear to point out that the idea at this point is in its infancy and dependant on more feedback. But Minei said he likes what he's seen so far.
"I'm very much encouraged that we have the potential for a private partner," said Minei on Monday, adding that a partnership with a private interest could help secure future funds. "This would elevate the credibility of our application tremendously, instead of waiting at EPCAL to approve plans, or waiting for a private investor to come along."
King said he is in contract to purchase the former Blackman Plumbing Supplies building at the corner of Osborn and Sound Avenue, looking to expand his Bay Shore manufacturing operations.
Because he wouldn't need the full 108,000 square feet - he said he will have about half the space available - the Sound Avenue location could serve as a hydrocooling and packaging plant for East End farmers, allowing for faster and fresher distribution to shelves.
"Most of them already know who we are," said King, who owns a house in Shelter Island. "So if they want to consider something, rather than $1 million more in feasibility studies, howabout we do it?"
According to an official in the State Economic Development Office, the grant funding obtained could be used to subsidize the lease of the space for farmers, or purchase equipment, among other uses.
Beyond produce growers, members of the wine industry expressed interest in the potential, seeing a central distribution point and cold storage space for wine barrels.
"Here's a building that doesn't need to be knocked down and destroyed," said Ron Goehler, president of the Long Island Wine Council and owner of . "The hard part is getting individuals that think smaller than the rest of us to see the big picture."
Goehler pointed back to a lobby day to Albany he took last week with Joe Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau. Goehler said, "listening to people in the governor's office, they're extremely excited about getting things off the ground quickly as long as it can get funding."
Minei said that moving forward, an accurate measure of interest in the project has to be calculated, as well as how the project could benefit farmers economically. Of the 60 or so farmers who attended, Minei said about half raised their hands when asked if they were interested in the project. A survey for farmers - asking general level of interest, nature of the need for a distribution/packaging facility, and more - was handed out and has been widely distributed since. That night, Minei said, 18 responses came in before anyone left.
"Now we have to survey how this will draw economic wealth into the region by moving products out of the region," Minei said.