Beaufort Today -

Gullah Farmers Cooperative to lease county property on St. Helena

A building with a small farmer’s namesake will now be used by many small farmers in Beaufort County to distribute produce around the area.

Beaufort County Council voted unanimously April 10 to approve a lease/purchase agreement for the use of the former LeRoy Browne Center by the Gullah Farmers’ Cooperative Association.

“We were elated when we found out that we received approval to use the building,” cooperative president Joe McDommick said last week.

“I worked with LeRoy Browne in the building and he was also a small farmer, so it is fitting that we are now going to be back in the same building soon to help all of the small farmers in the area.”

The vacant, single-story building of about 9,916 square feet sits on about 10 acres at 41 Ball Park Road on St. Helena Island.

The lease terms are for five years and include an option to renew the agreement after five years. The association also agrees to pay $1,000 a year in estimated property taxes.

There is an option for the association to buy the building from the county during the lease agreement.

“We have been working on finding a location for about three years,” McDommick said. “We are so glad County Council wanted to do this and thought it was a good idea.”

McDommick said the association is not wasting any time getting things underway, working to clean up the building and retrofit it for their purpose.

The building has remained vacant for the past five years after Beaufort Jasper Hampton Comprehensive Health Services moved to a new location.

The association, which began about five years ago, consists of about 17 farmers. Its plans are to distribute produce ready for cooking to schools, hospitals, restaurants and other locations.

“We plan on offering an outlet for farmers to sell their produce for a decent price and sell it in bulk,” McDommick said. “We hope to keep our local farmers growing a variety of produce on their land to help keep them on their land and not want to sell it.”

McDommick said he hopes to bring jobs to the area. He said his current staff consists of three people and he wants to see that increase to about 15 once the new location becomes operational.

“Our long-term goal is to spread out the business to other cities in the United States, including New York and Atlanta,” McDommick said.

“We are working toward retrofitting this new space for the operations and we expect it to be ready by this fall. Everyone loves fresh vegetables and we are going to collect the produce, wash it, pack it and distribute it.”

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