Canton food hub developers trimming expectations
Sunday, February 24, 2013 - 4:23 pm

By JIMMY LAWTON

CANTON -- Developers pushing for a $2.6 million food hub in Canton will need to revisit their plan after state funding fell well short of expectations.

The project was awarded $350,000 through the state’s competitive grant system earlier this month, but the application requested about $1.6 million to be leveraged with an additional $1 million in private sector funding.

The project was put forward by Sparks Management Co., a for-profit venture started by United Helpers, and North Country Pastured, LLC., a DeKalb based agri-business that operates a slaughter house.

The partners also worked with several local agricultural groups including Cornell Cooperative Extension, GardenShare and Northern Gown Food Cooperative, to create a plan that would provide and new outlet for farmers, create jobs and sustain itself.

Stephen Knight, CEO of United Helpers, said he was pleased with the state’s award, but acknowledged it would not provide enough funding for the original vision.

“I think any monies that are allocated to this project are gratefully accepted, but we have to come up with a model, ultimately, that will sustain itself,” he said. “We put together a plan based on a certain scope and now that we know what we are going to see for monies, we have to make sure our plan is realistic.”

Knight said there may be funding available through other resources, but did not elaborate on what entities might be tapped. He said stakeholders would be meeting over the next few months discussing options.

The original plan called for a 9,000-square-foot facility that would distribute locally grown and raised products to regional wholesalers, restaurants, grocery stores, schools, hospitals and other institutions.

According to the plan, the facility would consist of a commercial kitchen, cooler and freezer space, areas for cheese, vegetable and meat processing, and a loading dock for shipping.

The hub was expected to create 15 new jobs in the first year and provide expansion opportunities to a variety of small ag-businesses.

Knight said it was too early to comment on what aspects of the original plan will survive, but he said the reduced funding has not changed his view that the North Country needs a food hub.

“There are so many moving parts involved, that it’s hard to say. But, I will say that we hope to continue moving forward,” he said. “I think its worthy. It’s an opportunity to leverage our rural area and our local expertise and create jobs.”

Attempts to contact Renee Smith of North Country Pastured, were unsuccessful.