Agriculture Innovation Center
A strong agricultural sector builds sustainability and resiliency into communities, and the Wayne Tomorrow! Initiative sees agriculture as an important driver of future economic development in Wayne County. The COVID-19 Pandemic revealed underlying weaknesses in the nation’s food and farm system, but also exposed more people to the wonders of fresh, local foods.
With empty spaces on store shelves and interrupted supply chains, people started to look to their local farmers, and the county food pantry system still continues to supplement shelf staples with local produce, milk and eggs thanks to generous community contributions.
Food Prescription Program
Wayne Memorial Hospital has also launched a Food Prescription Program for individuals with specific health conditions like diabetes and heart disease -- people who can access supplemental, nutritious food obtained through a doctor’s prescription and paid for with the program’s vouchers. The Agricultural Innovation Center would also support access to nutrition education and information on how to prepare and store food. The Ag Innovation Center concept creates a place for people to get their fresh food and other staple items from a “Food Pharmacy” with space for education on food for health and nutrition.
Space for Education & More
The concept for the project also includes a shared space for aggregating, processing, packaging and distributing local farm products, which can help multiple smaller growers and producers meet the demands of wholesale and institutional buyers. It calls for a certified kitchen to serve new and existing local food entrepreneurs and value-added businesses; as well as a place to teach consumers about food preparation, cooking and nutrition.
The facility would incorporate a variety of educational opportunities for both agricultural producers and consumers with Penn State Cooperative Extension and other partner organizations offering informative programs.
The County with the help local foundations has funded a feasibility study for the project, which recently concluded.
The Commissioners accepted the Agricultural Innovation Center (AIC) Feasibility Study, prepared by the consultants at ACDS, LLC, and authorized the next phase of the project on Feb. 17, 2022.
ACDS officials find the development of this multi-use facility that will serve as the new headquarters for the County Food Pantry and multiple other interests to be feasible. The project grew directly out of the Wayne Tomorrow! collaboration
“It has support from both county leadership and the community, and there are foundations eager to fund projects that are transformational for the county,” notes the Executive Summary.
The study also states grant funds are available to fund land acquisition, infrastructure improvements, construction, and operations. Several properties provide suitable options for new development or redevelopment.
Below is an overview of noteworthy feasibility findings:
Still, there are risks that need to be mitigated for successful implementation, including management, regional labor conditions, supply chain issues that increase construction and equipment costs, macroeconomic trends that may limit facility usage, and food safety regulations.
“These are not insurmountable challenges but will require strong leadership and a qualified management team. Moreover, it is important to secure anchor tenants before delving further into the next steps for bringing the AIC to fruition.”
According to the study, the next steps for this project involve ironing out the details for property acquisition, environmental assessments, utility infrastructure expansion, and securing grant funding.
Then the project partners should work with anchor tenants and key stakeholders to finalize the engineering and design of the proposed Wayne County Agriculture Innovation Center.