FORT PIERCE – Treasure Coast Food Bank has awarded a $2.4 million contract for the conversion of its former warehouse into a fully-operational production kitchen. It’s the heart of a new program that will get more locally-grown nutritious food into the hands of low-income children and adults.

The contract to convert Treasure Coast Food Bank’s old 10,000 square-foot warehouse at 3051 Industrial 25th Street was awarded to Fort Pierce-based Paul Jacquin & Sons, Inc., which begins work this week.

“This is an exciting milestone in bringing our innovative Florida Agriculture & Nourishment Collaborative to fruition,” Treasure Coast Food Bank CEO 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.”

In addition to more nutritious food for people in need, the Collaborative will deliver several other benefits to the Treasure Coast. It brings area farmers a new market for their products, it creates additional jobs, it provides a low-cost source of food for school meals, and it creates an internship training program for individuals to gain skills in food production.

Treasure Coast Food Bank has been raising money for the project since last fall, and will continue to do so as the project proceeds.

The production kitchen will include both a wash/chop/packaging system to convert whole produce into pre-cut, refrigerated portions and a cook/vacuum-pack system to process raw vegetables into ready-to-use products, such as tomato sauce.

Today, when produce arrives at Treasure Coast Food Bank, it must be placed in the hands of the people who need it within a day for it to remain fresh. But many of Treasure Coast Food Bank’s partner agencies lack the space and refrigeration to store fresh produce, thus severely limiting access for people who need it.

“This system prepares food in ways to extend its shelf life, enabling more people to have access to it,” Cruz said. “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 it, 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.”

Construction includes installing the plumbing and piping for the wash stations and cool storage rooms and installation of approximately $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. Treasure Coast Food Bank anticipates processing 25 million pounds of fresh, nutritious produce within the first year of the Collaborative’s operation and employing up to 15 people. The internship training program would increase it to 45.

Photo of Judy Cruz courtesy Treasure Coast Food Bank.

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