Alachua County Commission votes 4-1 to move forward with meat processing plant in Newberry

Still from broadcast of April 4 Alachua County Commission Special Meeting – Alachua Chronicle


GAINESVILLE, Fla. – At the end of the April 4 Alachua County Commission Special Meeting, which lasted almost five hours and featured over 50 public speakers, the board voted 4-1, with Commissioner Ken Cornell in dissent, to move forward with due diligence on a proposed meat processing plant in Newberry.

Sean McLendon, the Economic Development and Food System Manager for Alachua County, led off the lengthy presentation and said staff were looking for direction from the board on whether to continue due diligence work for the proposed County uses on the site and that they would return to the board for the next steps. He said the business plan would be developed later by a company that the County will contract to operate the facility and that both the operator and the business plan must be approved by the board.

McLendon laid out the timeline, which is expected to conclude in December 2026 when the plant becomes operational. The next steps at this time are due diligence on the site, finalizing the purchase of the land, approving an interlocal agreement with the City of Newberry, approving a solicitation for an operator, approving memoranda of understanding with UF-IFAS and Santa Fe College, and approving a solicitation for an architect/engineering firm. The cost of the project is estimated to be $5.25 million, and the facility is expected to process a maximum of 15 animals per day from ranchers within 100 miles.

Slide from the presentation at the April 4 Alachua County Commission meeting

The facility will be located at the Newberry Environmental Park.

Slide from the April 4 Alachua County Commission meeting

The site used to be an airstrip for crop dusters, and the Florida Department of Agriculture determined in the 1980s that the crop dusters were inappropriately handling pesticides, which led to some high concentrations of pesticides in an area that slightly overlaps the top part of the blue rectangle in the above map. The site was found to meet environmental standards in the 1990s and the State closed it down as a contamination site, but the County is requesting a Phase 2 Assessment for soil and water sampling to make sure the site is clean by today’s standards.

Newberry City Manager Mike New said the plant will be an indoor facility: “There’s not going to be a foul smell that can be smelled for miles.” He said there’s a “good alignment” with placing it next to a wastewater treatment plant that can treat the discharge from the meat processing plant. He said the City will have to get a construction permit for the wastewater treatment plant, and that process will require making sure the plant will not cause environmental or health concerns. New emphasized that the City is still in the very early stages of the project.

Dr. Cynthia Sanders, Director of the UF-IFAS Alachua County Extension Office, said there are about 75,000 head of cattle and 8,000 head of sheep and goats in the eight counties surrounding Alachua County, and producers are facing wait times of four to eight months for meat processing.

Staff members emphasized that there are still off-ramps in the process before any money is spent on building the facility.

For discussion purposes, Commissioner Mary Alford made a motion to direct staff to continue with the due diligence work on the site and report back to the board.

During public comment, about 30 people spoke against the facility, and about 22 spoke in favor of it.

After public comment, Cornell said he hadn’t been able to find other examples of counties running meat processing facilities, “So that’s telling me something, that maybe this is not what the County should be driving… I want jobs. I want to support farmers. I don’t know if I really want to support these jobs… I don’t believe Alachua County should own or continue to move this project forward.”

Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler said she supported “walk[ing] the path a little bit longer with Newberry… I’ve been a teacher for 36 years, the families that I have taught are meat-eaters for the most part. It’s because they can’t afford the vegetarian diet that most people advocate, they don’t know how to make those meals… I would like to make sure that the meats that our communities are eating are good, and I would like to support our farmers who are preparing and presenting that meat.”

Chair Anna Prizzia said, “Our industrial meat system is broken” and added that she wanted to create
“more investment back into local food economies, and local infrastructure for processing, and specifically in the meat industry… We have an opportunity to do something different to support our local ranchers, to continue to live their lives and protect their land that’s been in their families for generations.”

Cornell responded, “I don’t view this as meat-eaters versus non-meat-eaters. I view this as public dollars versus not-public dollars, and is this how we should be spending them.” He also said the City of Newberry hasn’t yet had a meeting with its residents.

Commissioner Chuck Chestnut said the key for him will be finding someone to operate it. “So as we move forward, if we can’t find anybody to operate it, it’s dead in the water.”

The motion to direct staff to continue with the due diligence work on the site and report back to the board passed 4-1, with Cornell in dissent.

  • ” . . . and Food System Manager.” Alachua County has a “food system manager? Why not a “food service manager”? I’d like some nice hot burritos right now, how about some prompt food management and service direct to my door since the taxpayers are footing the bill for it?

  • I’m not sure eating meat is more affordable than being a vegetarian nowadays. But the county could always open up some farms and use the jail inmates as laborers, along with some GRACE people. They already own lots of land to grow healthy food. Of course the sacred criminals and vagrants could never be asked to work – that would be like slavery in their warped myopic view.

  • I guess I am confused… is the city of newberry building the facility with the intent to have a processor lease it or manage it? Thats odd. Not surprised that Cornell was against any new business opportunities.

  • Two words: food sovereignty. We need to be able to process food here in our area so people can eat.

  • Hmmm. Sounds like the grocery store disaster the city was pushing at one time.

  • Cornell was against it because of his view of “public versus non-public” dollars?
    Well, if there’s an expert in the misuse of public dollars look no further. He would know.

    • Maybe the giant sucking sound coming out of the city has him re-thinking the error of his past votes to burn the county fisc on the Next Great Idea. Like the plan to end homelessness by 2014. If somebody is willing to get religion on fiscal responsibility, I’ll happily give them a chance to back it up.

  • Why should the county government be spending $5 million in our tax dollars to build a private enterprise? Local governments are totally unable to competently get involved in business affairs. That $5 million could be better spent on roads, the basic infrastructure they ignore.

    • It’s may to do with the FDA
      and States rights and us being able to produce food locally here for our population if there’s a national emergency or supply chain problem ..food autonomy and sovereignty.

  • “The site was found to meet environmental standards in the 1990s and the State closed it down as a contamination site….” is a contradicting statement.

      • Sorry, Jennifer, but what you had written means the site did meet environmental standards in the 1990s and the State closed it down because it was a contamination site.

        Perhaps you should have written what you just commented to me so your article would be more concise.

  • For the first time I am agreeing with Commissioner Cornell!! Alachua does not need to in competition with private business.

    • I agree! Also, if private business/cattle ranchers thought there was a market for a meat processing plant in this area, I’m sure they would have done so. Seems like a sure waste of taxpayer funds, but par for the course with the AC BOCC!

  • I note constant use of the euphemism, “process” meat. What it should say is kill cattle, sheep and goats. We eat meat people and we shouldn’t flinch from having to kill animals to do it.

    If you can’t even use the proper terminology for what we do to these “meat” animals, perhaps you shouldn’t eat them?

  • Suggestions needed for a local cut of beef. We have New York Strip, London Broil, St. Louis Ribs… and now “Alachua ________”?

  • What utter lame comments from the Commissioner’s. Read them. Sad. SOS.

  • Mr. Cornell’s concerns are prudent even if the plant is a good way to support the regional economy — should government be in a position of ownership of what is private business. The current proposal means a large part of the regional economy is run by government, not the natural market.

    Perhaps another way is to allow the plant, let it be owned and run privately, and government becomes involved only when a law is broken or a rule violated.

  • Fact: The Meat Plant will NOT provide “Food Security” for Alachua County
    The meat plant proponents claim the Newberry small scale slaughterhouse will provide food chain security for Alachua County. The facts prove this is not true. $5.5 million and it is too small.
    The plant is said to process 15 cows per day. At five days a week operation, this is 3900 cows per year. With 1050 pound steers, this is 4,095,000 pounds of live weight animals. With 650 pounds carcasses, this is reduced to 2,535,000 pounds. Trimming bone and fat results in 450 pounds per cow of edible beef, or 1,755,000 pounds per year of edible beef produced at the Newberry slaughterhouse.
    If the BOCC requires all of this be sold to consumers in Alachua County, and all is ground into hamburger, it will provide two nutritious four ounce hamburger servings per day to 9,616 people. There are 278,000 citizens. The meat plant will be able to feed less than 4% of the population.
    Each weekday the meat plant will produce at most 5437 pounds of hamburger. To provide a 3 ounce serving to small children, and a 4 ounce serving to larger children, to provide a single lunch to its 29,000 students the Alachua County School Board needs 6343 pounds of hamburger per day.
    American per capita beef consumption is 85 pounds. Not counting children and vegetarians, if half the adults eat beef then Alachua County consumes 11,815,000 pounds of beef per year. The meat plant will at most supply 15% of the county’s needs. Less, since it will serve ranchers “within 100 miles of Alachua County” and many will keep their meat and take it home.
    If the beef is distributed to all citizens equally to feed them during “national supply chain Covid emergencies”, the 1,755,000 pounds of beef will supply each citizen with 0.3 ounces per day of locally grown food. For those counting, that is 21 calories.
    “Securely Feeding Alachua County” with 1/15 of the calories provided to a German concentration camp inmate in 1945. Thanks BOCC. You really know how to feed your constituents.

  • >