Food Processing Facility – Community Development Plan for Masonite Site (Part 7)


May 4, 2009 Ukiah, Mendocino County, North California

In Mendocino County alone, every year, there are hundreds of tons of grapes, pears and apples that rot on the ground for lack of a market; in some years there are thousands.

Add Lake County and the figure may double. Prices for wine grapes, packer and canning fruit (apples and pears) fluctuate and the price for juicing fruit is basically non-existent. This leaves a vast amount of fruit lying on the ground at the end of every season.

Although the fruit composts and becomes fertilizer for the next crop it is an economic loss as well as a loss of food. At a certain point it is not economically feasible for the grower to pick and process the fruit so it rots. This wasted fruit could be processed into a number of products that could be utilized locally, by a number of entities, benefiting the local farmer and the recipients of the products. At a minimum the fruit could produce methane, or alcohol, to be used as fuel.

Along with fluctuating market prices another factor in the wasting of this fruit is the cost of transportation. The nearest juicing facility is in Watsonville and the cost of fuel to deliver, process and pick up the product is greater than the money received for the sale of the product. The cost of transportation, in and out of the county, will rise in the near future and eventually become economically impossible (peak oil) unless we develop a local, sustainable, means of fuel and power production. When it costs more in labor to pick the fruit than the fruit buyers are paying (not considering the cost of transportation and processing) the fruit stays on the ground. To grow, process, utilize and export the excess of our production, with locally produced, or collected, power would be a giant step toward sustainability.

The list of potential uses and products that can be made from local fruit is substantial; juices, jellies, jams, puree, sauces, fermented vegetables, soups, fruit wine, fruit brandy, cider (with and without alcohol), chutneys, dried fruit, dried fruit puree, frozen fruit bars, and more. Products such as pear puree and fruit concentrates can be used in the manufacture of other products, such as granola and power bars, and is used in institutional cooking (schools, prisons, hospitals). Combined with the development of local fuel supplies (solar electric, bio-fuel, methane, ethanol) the fruit could be collected and processed here, without the expenses to take it elsewhere and to our benefit.

Market is still an issue, yet the challenge would not be selling the fruit to the canning and packing houses, but getting the value added products into the food distribution system, both local and out-of-county. The organic leftovers of the production process would be composted for fertilizer, and the wastewater (attachment 4) can be cleaned and used for irrigation, wildlife/ornamental ponds, or released directly into the environment; zero wasted. A local processing facility would fill a vital need in our ability to provide sufficient food, at an affordable cost, to local residents, visitors and guests, helping to stabilize our economy.

Fruit crops are not the only food crops that can be grown in Mendocino. Much of our river valley soils are perfect for row crops and there is a multitude of varieties suitable to our climate. The floodplains are not locations for buildings and rarely for permanent tree crops. Russian River water quality, stream channel stability and riparian habitat would be better served if the floodplains were re-established (where possible) and turned into seasonal row crop production. The river would replenish soil nutrients with the winter flooding, sediment would be deposited where it belongs (on the floodplain) improving water quality, reducing the amount of sediment clogging the Russian River, benefitting fish, wildlife and humans equally. Herbs, vegetables and other row crops could be sold fresh, or processed into a myriad of edible products and made available to local markets. A diversity of food crops would strengthen Mendocino County and a food processing facility would make this possible.

Another fruit and food source is urban landscaping. There are fruit trees, plums of many varieties, apples, cherries and other fruit producing trees and shrubs. As we walk down our Ukiah sidewalks, during harvest season, many times we walk on fruit dropped on the sidewalk and left to rot. If landowners knew there was an outlet for the fruit, or if they were willing to let others pick the fruit, as much of it may not be wasted. Urban fruits and vegetables could be processed into usable products, or turned into bio-fuels. This would encourage empty urban spaces to be turned into gardens increasing local crop biodiversity, remove rotting fruit from our streets and sidewalks, making food available to local markets, including the Food Bank and Plowshares. Unused, open, urban spaces could also be utilized to grow crops suitable for bio-fuel thus augmenting local power production and self-reliance.

A large part of local self-reliance is providing as much of our own needs as possible, using local resources and living within the carrying capacity of the land; not living beyond our means as if there were no limits. It means growing, processing and supplying local markets with a diversity of food crops; gaining rational control of local governance, economy, and fuel supplies. It means growing crops for fiber and developing the means to manufacture fabric from these crops. Cottage industry is a key to the success of any localization effort in our area. Cottage food industries would mean that landowners with only a little space could grow a crop, or crops, and have them processed into a value added product, or fuel. Also, many local people have their own, or family recipe, for a food product that if there was available production space they could manufacture and sell locally. The current issue is that each person would have to supply their own raw product, buy extra ingredients, have a commercial kitchen, supply all of their accounting, shipping and receiving, electric, and other expenses. This is beyond the means of the average citizen and is a barrier to the development of sustainability. Rentable commercial kitchen space, equipment and storage would go a long way to helping cottage industry grow in Mendocino County.

The Masonite site is central to the valley growers; it has easy access to the freeway, access to the NWPRR (train) track and space for the facility. The facility fits well with the eco-village, sustainable community concept, has sufficient agricultural, open space and landscaping uses for treated wastewater to be used constructively and on-site. A food processing facility for locally produced crops is needed, it would provide meaningful employment, provide healthy food at an affordable price, be a training ground for skills development, summer youth jobs and have multiple other benefits to our community.

Facility overview:
The facility would be capable of crushing whole fruit (apples, pears and grapes) with a hammer mill, or stemmer crusher, and equipment for separating the juice (bladder press, basket press). It would have all of the pumps, hoses, filters, heat exchanger, chillers, fillers, other small processing equipment and cool storage capability. Washers and scrubbers for vegetables will be available for tubers and other tough skinned veggies. Solar fruit dehydrators could be developed at this site or in another location depending upon space and type and size of dehydrator.

The main building would consist of at lease three separate commercial kitchen units available for locals to rent to prepare their food items; open production space for equipment (fillers, bottle-line), cold storage space with a freezer unit; warehouse space, shipping and receiving dock, office, meeting room and possibly public retail space. The facility could be operated as a collective and users of the facility could have a vote in the operation of the management of the facility. Large food retailers such as Trader Joes will buy truckload lots of food products, paying COD. Diversity means a wide variety of products without too much of any of them. These large retailers will take patchwork lots of products providing they are consistently good and sold at a reasonable price.

The facility could be a source of job training, seasonal employment as well as provide some permanent employment for skilled people. Working with organizations such as the Mendocino Private Industry Council (MPIC), Employment Development Department, The Arbor, and others, the facility could be a valuable resource for job training, skills development, internships, and summer jobs. There would also be a need for professional jobs requiring an education in management, marketing, distribution, alternative power, microbiology, brewing, fermenting, and others as the facility develops.

A Potential Community Development Plan for the Masonite Site – Part 1
Eco-Train, Rail and Depot – Part 2
Ecologically-Oriented Tourism – Part 3
Rail to Trail – Part 4
Autonomous Waste Water Treatment System – Part 5
Community Interpretive Watershed and Visitor’s Center – Part 6
Food Processing Facility – Part 7

Small Diameter Pole Processing Mill – Part 8
Fiber Processing and Re-Manufacture Mill – Part 9

One Comment

Greetings Mr. Brown! It encourages me that people in our community are figuring out sustainable uses for the Masonite site that have potential for employing a significant number of locals. Would a food processing plant like you describe run like a co-op, where members pay fees to belong? And those same members are the employees? Or could private parties invest whether or not they wish to use the facilities? Where does the initial money come from to get a project of that magnitude up and running?