Former tobacco growers who are now raising vegetables had cause for celebration on Sept. 23.
That’s when regional farmers, local leaders and state dignitaries gathered at the future site of a 45,000-square-foot, $4.2 million produce processing and packing facility, to be operated by Old Dominion Organic Farms.
This public-private partnership of Southern Virginia Vegetable Packing LLC and the Brunswick County Industrial Development Authority was initiated to help farmers take advantage of the demand for organic vegetables. In its first season, the venture is projected to add nearly $24 million to revenue generated by Virginia-grown vegetables, create 40 new jobs and support more than 22 farmers in Amelia, Brunswick, Dinwiddie, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Prince George and Surry counties.
“Historically, farmers in this region have grown tobacco, but we know the demand has declined and prices and production have dropped by nearly half since 2000,” said Gov. Ralph Northam. “But in those same two decades, consumer demand for organic vegetables has exploded, at times growing at more than 10% each year. These changing markets, as painful as they can be, present a long-term opportunity.”
Brunswick County Farm Bureau member Jordan Brandon, operator of Old Dominion Organic Farms, proposed the idea for a new facility after experiencing increased demand for organic products. But moving from tobacco to mainly organic vegetable production required new infrastructure, special equipment and knowledge of organic regulations, he said.
“I didn’t want to step on the conventional vegetable market, but major chains were asking us to grow more organic produce,” he said. “If we can get through the barriers of entry, there are opportunities for farmers on the other side.”
Jordan hopes construction of the processing and packing facility will begin this winter.
Organic produce grown by Lunenburg County Farm Bureau president Richard Hite will be processed at the facility. His father and grandfather were tobacco farmers.
“Tobacco contracts were cut so bad, I needed another avenue if I wanted my children to be able to farm too,” Hite said. “I started growing it, and I liked it. This is great for the farmers in the area, for the community and the guys who work for us.”
The project is supported by $435,000 in grants from the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund, awarded to the Brunswick County IDA and the counties of Brunswick and Lunenburg. The project also is supported by a $500,000 grant from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission.