Brighter times for So. Md. meat? (Editorial)

by | Apr 12, 2019

Is it possible Southern Maryland might finally be on its way to building a much-needed meat processing facility and agricultural center?

We certainly hope so.

The Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission said late last month it received two competing bids for its $1 million grant to build such a facility: One from St. Mary’s County’s government and another from a Charles County businessman.

Both have proposed operations that would include cut-and-wrap and value-added processing, a commercial kitchen, warehousing, classroom and retail space and other features.

St. Mary’s County would build two facilities in the Charlotte Hall area, where it would relocate its popular north county farmers’ market. The businessman, Les Gooding, proposes to rehab a large tobacco barn he owns in Hughesville.

A new processor, complemented by an Amish slaughterhouse opening soon in Mechanicsville, would be a gift, eliminating long, discouraging drives for many Southern Maryland meat producers, who often travel to rural Virginia or overbooked slaughterhouses in northern and western Maryland to have animals processed.

The commission’s Southern Maryland agricultural center would conceivably end that, and officials see it as the beginning of something larger: An expansion of the commission’s Southern Maryland Meats brand, built around the region’s producers, and a stabilizing presence for a vulnerable, suburban farming community.

It would also be a relief for those of us who have watched the commission struggle over the last five years to see the project through, a journey that hasn’t always been encouraging. It was at the same place nearly four years ago when it announced under former Executive Director Christine Bergmark it was evaluating 10 earlier proposals for the center. Bergmark resigned a year later, and the commission’s plan shifted through several smaller iterations before arriving at the ambitious plan we see now under Executive Director Shelby Watson-Hampton.

Ideally, the agricultural center won’t just help meat producers, who will be able to make wonderful value-added products such as jerky, bacon and charcuterie without miserably long drives. It should attract anyone who’s interested in agriculture and local food, including restaurants and other potential customers that have the ability to strengthen the region’s agricultural economy by voting with their wallets.

The commission’s review committee was scheduled to examine the proposals if not choose one on Thursday, April 11. Let’s hope there’s more good news to come.

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