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Proposed food center seeks funds

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    Susan Beckwith, executive director of Texas Center for Local Food, explains some of the struggles Elginites face and how a food center could help. Photo by Julianne Hodges

Now that they have the space to build and a funding commitment from the local community, Elgin organization Texas Center for Local Food is looking for more financial support to begin constructing the proposed Elgin Local Food Center.

The Elgin Local Food Center would provide a kitchen and education center for community cooking events, businesses and educational resources. According to the current plan, the building would include freezers and coolers, food preparation areas, a teaching room, a smoke pit and more. The goal of the Elgin Local Food Center is to help solve some of the problems around poverty and health in Elgin and surrounding area, in part by developing jobs and businesses around local food in Elgin and promoting healthy food access.

In March 2018, the Elgin Economic Development Corporation (EDC) committed $800,000 for the building of the Elgin Local Food Center. Additionally, the Elgin City Council soon after committed to provide the land for the center, located on the corner of Depot Street and Avenue B next to the Elgin Police Department.

“(The EDC and the city) have really taken a leadership position on creating local jobs with dignity in Elgin, and they’re willing to make the investment,” Texas Center for Local Food executive director Susan Beckwith said.

On Thursday evening, a group of local producers, organization leaders and community members met to talk about the latest developments with the food center and discuss the next hurdle: funding. The project is estimated to cost $2.35 million, which includes the capital cost of the building and three years of operating costs before breaking even. After the funds from the EDC, the project still needs $1.55 million. The Texas Center for Local Food must match the EDC funds by September.

After a presentation about the planned facility, the meeting organizers turned the table back on the attendees, asking for their thoughts about what this center could contribute to Elgin. Attendees were given an opportunity to contribute video testimonials about why Elgin needs the Local Food Center.

One contributor was Tiffany Finley, a local soap maker who has been following the Elgin Local Food Center project for years. She is concerned about poverty and hopes this project will bring together those in need of affordable food with local producers and farmers.

“It seems like a tragedy for there to be so much farming around us, so much food production, and yet still have people that are really food insecure,” she said. “There will be a hub to bring all these people together so there’s not such a divide.”

Beckwith said showing that a community supports a project is critical when looking for funding to get started.

“When we go to funders, and we talk about needing more local jobs in Elgin ... that’s not just the Texas Center for Local Food saying this,” she said. “There are real people here who care a great deal about this project, and are willing to put their names and their faces out there to say to funders, ‘We need this in Elgin.’”

This summer will be focused on fundraising, Beckwith said. The Texas Center for Local Food is applying for grants from various state and regional foundations as well as individuals, and in late June, they will start an online fundraising campaign.

Once they have matched the EDC funds and raised over $800,000, she said, the next step is to finalize the plans for the center with input from the community.

“We have solid plans and we’ve got a budget that includes everything that we need,” she said. “The next step will be to start putting pencil to paper for the final plans.”

To clarify: the location for the project has been proposed to the council, but there has been no commitment for financial support by the city besides $800,000 from the Elgin Economic Development Corporation. The council approved a resolution to designate the land for the ELF, with further financial arrangements with the ELF regarding the land to be determined at a later date.