Md. commission to reveal ag center pick next month
HUGHESVILLE, Md. — The Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission has selected a bid for its $1 million grant to build an agricultural center and meat processing facility in the region and will present its choice to the commission’s board next week, an official said.
SMADC staff will reveal the chosen bid at its Hughesville office on May 2 at 9 a.m., said Craig Sewell, the commission’s marketing and livestock specialist. It will be the first of at least two necessary board meetings. The commission must also get approval from the board of the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland, a government agency that boosts social and economic development in the region, Sewell said.
The commission said last month it was evaluating two bids to build the agricultural center and processing facility in Southern Maryland. St. Mary’s County’s economic development department and Les Gooding, a local businessman, both submitted bids in late February.
The proposal from St. Mary’s County would spread the agricultural center across two separate and nearby locations in Charlotte Hall. Its processing facility would be built on a county-owned, 48-acre parcel at 37766 New Market Road, and it would feature a certified cut-and-wrap facility with smoking and curing rooms, classroom and kitchen space for workshops and training, and a meat sales and custom butcher counter.
A building for value-added products, including a commercial kitchen and classroom space, and another for fresh produce, fruit and flowers would be built on a second county-owned, 15-acre site nearby at 29110 Redstone Lane in Mechanicsville. Les Gooding of Hughesville Properties LLC submitted the second bid. He proposes converting a large tobacco warehouse he owns on Old Leonardtown Road in Charles County into the new facility.
Though it will serve many different kinds of farmers and food makers, the agricultural center and processing facility was initially proposed as a way to help local meat producers who often drive more than two hours to have their animals slaughtered at busy, overbooked facilities in rural Virginia and northern Maryland.
For years, the commission was committed to building a slaughterhouse in the region until Amish farmers in St. Mary’s County announced last year that they were building their own. The commission eagerly encouraged the effort and suggested they expand the operation. That process is nearly complete. Brothers Christian and Elmer Hertzler have built the facility in Mechanicsville and await USDA certification, a process that could take several months.
The brothers have been doing custom slaughtering and butchering for a growing number of Hispanic consumers who flock to the region’s Amish growers for the freshness of their farm products.
“They come in here, and they buy whole hogs like crazy,” Christian said. “The custom thing got so big, it kind of got out of hand.”
The Hertzlers were initially motivated to build a slaughterhouse to accommodate that growing demand, he said. When SMADC learned of the project, they urged the Hertzlers to get more ambitious and develop a USDA-certified business that could satisfy the urgent demands of the region’s meat producers. Together, they toured slaughter facilities across the state, and the process inspired Israel Fisher, who owns the land underneath the slaughterhouse, to get behind a larger project.
Their slaughterhouse will work as a link between the producers and the value-added and retail facilities SMADC is working to fund with its grant. Christian questions whether the slaughterhouse will be able to satisfy that demand, however.
“We won’t be able to do all the beef in the area,” he said. “Not even close.”
The facility, with a working kill room, chiller and other features, won’t be hooked up to the electrical grid. Special sunlights have been installed to amplify the light outside. The facility will offer slaughter and cut-and-wrap services for producers. Christian said he imagines it will employ about eight people.
He said he’s not yet sure when the facility will be ready to open.
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