By Kalinowski, Tim on January 30, 2019.
A new fruit and vegetable processing and storage facility set to be built in Lethbridge County could be a game changer for local growers.
Lethbridge County council gave rezoning approval earlier this month for Prairie Hills Fruits Ltd., owned by Picture Butte farmer Rex Vandenberg, to build a new berry processing and storage facility which will support small-scale growers in the region and create local jobs.
“By having this facility in Lethbridge County, we are doing value-added right here locally,” said County Economic Development Officer Martin Ebel. “That means we add the additional value here, and the additional jobs are here. And that’s the kind of thing not just Lethbridge County, but many of the municipalities in the area are trying to do: value-added agriculture right here where we are growing and producing the items.”
The proposed 19,000-square-foot facility is still waiting for the County to issue its final development permit, which should occur sometime this month. After that is received, construction will likely begin this spring. The facility should be open for storage purposes by July, and will start out storing and processing Prairie Hills Fruits own haskap berry crop first before expanding into other processing lines, confirmed Vandenberg.
“I think this is a great initiative for the county,” Vandenberg told The Herald, “but we are not only for haskaps – that is just for us in the beginning. Our hope is to set up a processor for all the little producers; for any kind of fruit or vegetable.”
Vandenberg felt the facility, once it was fully certified and up and running, would help create new market opportunities for growers.
“We can grow anything in this part of Alberta; any type of fruit or vegetables,” he said. “But where can you get them processed? We have all these garlic growers in the region, too, and they are all doing it themselves. Our idea is we’ll do the processing for them. It could be a game changer for a lot of smaller-scale producers; that’s who we are after. We are not after the big guys. We are here for the small guys.”
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