The Treasure Coast Food Bank has been awarded a $2.4 million contract for the conversion of its former warehouse into a production kitchen. The contract is part of a program to ensure that more locally grown, nutritious food reaches low-income children and adults.
The 10,000-square-foot warehouse is at 3051 Industrial 25th St. in Fort Pierce. Work began Aug. 1.
“This is an exciting milestone in bringing our innovative Florida Agriculture & Nourishment Collaborative to fruition,” Treasure Coast Food Bank Chief Executive Officer Judith Cruz said. “Once the conversion is complete, we’ll be able to process millions of pounds of locally grown, fresh produce each week and share it with families who otherwise wouldn’t have access to it.”
The Florida Agriculture & Nourishment Collaborative will provide other benefits to the Treasure Coast – bringing area farmers a new market for their products, adding jobs, ensuring a low-cost source of food for school meals, and creating an internship program for individuals so they can gain skills in food production.
The production kitchen will feature a wash/chop/packaging system for converting whole produce into pre-cut, refrigerated portions; as well as a cook/vacuum-pack system to process raw vegetables into ready-to-use products, such as tomato sauce.
Today, when produce arrives at the food bank, it must, to remain fresh, be handed out, within a day. But many of the food bank’s partner agencies lack the space or refrigeration to store fresh produce, thereby limiting access to food for the people who need it most.
“This system prepares food in ways to extend its shelf life, enabling more people to have access to it,” Cruz noted. “We can value-add to perishable products by converting, for instance, fresh tomatoes into diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, or salsa. We can take pepper and onions and sauté them, or cook kale and seasonings so it can be served as a side dish. And anything that can be cooked, also can be served fresh.”
The conversion will include installing plumbing and piping for the wash stations and the cool-storage rooms, as well as installation of about $1.1 million in equipment, including steam generators, commercial refrigerators and freezers, and two 200-gallon cooking “kettles.”
The conversion is expected to take about six months. The Treasure Coast Food Bank expects to process 25 million pounds of fresh produce during the first year of the operation and to employ up to 15 people. The internship program would increase the number employed to 45.