SMADC now considering 10 proposals for ag park

Staff Writer

HUGHESVILLE, Md. (Aug. 4, 2015) — The Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission has received proposals from 10 landowners in its search for a site for a new regional agricultural business park and food innovation center, the commission’s chief said last week.
The deadline for proposals is Aug. 7, said Christine Bergmark, the commission’s executive director.
The commission is searching for a site that includes at least 20 acres of buildable land and 30 acres of tillable land, according to requirements laid out in a commission notice.
The site, which must also consist of USDA-class 1-3 soils, could be in Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s or St. Mary’s counties and would serve that region.
The park would include a new regional farmers’ market, food distribution center for wholesale and retail buyers, a much-needed meat processing facility and a commercial kitchen that would allow Southern Maryland growers to turn their produce into products such as salsa or jams, Bergmark said.
It’s part of the commission’s larger effort to grab a bigger piece of the region’s $26 billion food budget, Bergmark said. Regional producers serve less than 2 percent of that now, she said, and with consumers increasingly favoring local sources of food, the commission wants to capitalize.
“That whole sentiment across the state has really grown, and I don’t think it’s going to go away anytime soon,” Bergmark said.
The commission has about $1 million for the land purchase, she said, though it cannot legally own the site because of recent legislative changes.
Instead, the commission will search for a third party that would manage the park and hold the title on the site.
If the law changes, allowing the commission to own the land, the contract would stipulate that ownership be returned to the commission, Bergmark said.
The commission would like to have a narrowed list of sites chosen by next month and send out a request for proposals, she said.
“I think it could be really a tremendous boon for the region and a great model for the rest of the state,” Bergmark said.