The project could bring at least 19 jobs and millions of dollars to Flagler County’s economy
By Andrew O'Brien, Palm Coast Observer
September 21, 2011
Farm to Flag, an agricultural initiative being spearheaded by County Commissioner Milissa Holland, is under review by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and could literally help Flagler’s economy to grow.
Farm to Flag is a 501c4 not-for-profit with the objective to create a business model that will restore viability and sustainability of small- and medium-sized farms, not just in the tri-county area of Flagler, Putnam and St. Johns counties, but throughout the United States.
The initiative’s business entity, First Coast Fresh, is designed to supply locally grown fresh fruits, vegetables and meats to military and public institution customers in 11 counties in Northeast Florida, within a 100-mile radius, according to the project’s executive summary.
By the fourth year, First Coast Fresh could make approximately $1.2 million in revenue. The entity would be run by a board of directors.
According to Holland, the projectis seeking approximately $16.5 million in funding.
Holland said the concept arose eight months ago when she was visiting Tallahassee for other government-related work. Since then, partners such as the Center for Business Excellence, the Florida High Tech Corridor Council, SCORE, and the University of Florida have developed an intricate plan.
The comprehensive proposal was submitted Aug. 17 to the USDA. Holland said it could take a few months to hear back, but she expects an outcome before the end of the year.
First Coast Fresh was set up as a franchise, Holland said, which would allow the entity to sell the concept to other regions.
If the project is approved, a housing facility would be built for sorting, washing and processing. That facility could employ at least 19 people at competitive salaries, Holland said.
Agriculture accounts for more than 12% of the county’s economy, according to Mark Warren, with the University of Florida Flagler County Extension Service. He said the county has the infrastructure to meet the demands if this project is funded.
“In Flagler, Putnam, and St. Johns counties, we have approximately 35,000 acres of irrigated farm land and roughly 80,000 acres of fenced land in various degrees of improved pasture,” Warren said. “Our current productive capacity for the scope of First Coast Fresh far exceeds the predicted demand ... In the meantime, risk exposure would be reduced, local food options improved, and jobs would be added.”
The project is backed by several political leaders, including U.S. Rep. John Mica and Sen. Bill Nelson.
Nelson wrote in a letter of support: “This project will add value to the community by increasing farm incomes and farm-related jobs by promoting healthy lifestyles while gaining access to high-quality foods.”
Though the project isn’t a definite, Holland was confident.
“It’ll take time to build the infrastructure, but we have the land available,” Holland said. “We could fast track this and get it up and running by the end of next fiscal year.”
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