published Sunday, October 7th, 2012

Bledsoe County cooking up food plant

Bledsoe County Mayor Bobby Collier stands in the kitchen of the former Pikeville Elementary School. The school and a former restaurant on State Route 101 are among sites officials are eyeing for an agricultural processing facility.
Bledsoe County Mayor Bobby Collier stands in the kitchen of the former Pikeville Elementary School. The school and a former restaurant on State Route 101 are among sites officials are eyeing for an agricultural processing facility.
Photo by Tim Barber.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

For questions or information about the processing facility, call the Bledsoe County Mayor's Office at 423-447-6855 or Mark Long at Long Performance Advisors in Indiana at 317-437-6771.

PIKEVILLE, Tenn. — Officials in Bledsoe County are eyeing sites for an agricultural processing facility to process canned goods, homemade secret recipes and sauces and to flash-freeze produce for a farm-fresh local taste even in the middle of winter.

Bledsoe County Mayor Bobby Collier said a feasibility study is under way to test the climate among regional farmers and local residents and to find possible locations for the facility that later might include a retail store.

Bledsoe's "most productive, most available resource is agriculture," Collier said as he walked through the Old Pikeville Elementary School cafeteria, one potential site for the operation.

The idea is to expand the local agricultural market in Bledsoe and the surrounding region, which already produces most of Tennessee's tomato and pumpkin crops, he said.

"It's a Bledsoe County project, but it's a regional concept," Collier said.

Mark Burnett of Wooden's Apple House on Walden's Ridge was enthusiastic about the idea and said it could be a boon to local farmers.

"I know there's a lot of possibilities for processing some things on our end; maybe turning out some apple butter and applesauce," Burnett said.

Farmers need an outlet for produce they can't sell commercially, he said.

The study is being performed by Bloomington, Ind.-based Long Performance Advisors, whose owner, Mark Long, spent last week gathering information in Bledsoe.

Long said community processing facilities find success through community support. Over time, he said, they can help farmers find new sources of income and product lines while spawning new businesses and jobs.

But residents must be interested enough to buy the products, and the local financial community must be on board, he said. The study will probe interest in those areas, he said.

A processing facility could produce economic activity and create some jobs, Bledsoe County Industrial Development Board chairman George Hamilton said. Farmers who use surplus produce to help out needy families also could gain tax advantages through donations, he said.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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