The United Counties of Prescott-Russell is proceeding with a $36-million public-private partnership to build an “innovative food hub” for processing and distributing meat and vegetables from area farms.
Councillors voted unanimously in favour of the project during a video-teleconference session on April 22.
The municipality will be the major shareholder in the facility, which is expected to employ 65 people. Its location within Prescott-Russell east of Ottawa has yet to be determined.
“It is time for municipalities to launch innovative projects that will generate new revenue streams that will help cover municipal expenses with funds other than government subsidies and property taxes,” Prescott-Russell warden Pierre Leroux said in a statement.
The business model is considered unique in Canada but is modelled in part on U.S. food hubs where producers send their cattle to slaughter, after which meat products are packaged and distributed in a predetermined market. In this case, the hub will process all types of meats as well as vegetables, for local and national markets.
According to the municipality, the hub will support the growing “farm-to-table” trend among consumers who favour local producers. The intent is to help red and white meat producers and vegetable growers overcome the challenges of production and processing and ensure the growth of their businesses. This will potentially lead to more predictable sales, reduce food waste and will favour the creation of new products during the processing stage.
While the hub is intended to address business challenges that have long faced local producers, its importance to the local farm economy has become that much more urgent with COVID-19, said Stéphane Sarrazin, chair of the United Counties’ economic development and tourism committee:
“We have learned from the current pandemic situation. Due to the increasing uncertainty across international markets, food self-sufficiency has become more important in terms of availability, freshness and traceability.”
A call for tenders to find private sector partners will be issued shortly. Construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2021 with a fall opening in 2022.