BROOKSVILLE — Ray Nielsen can see the value of the Little Rock Cannery.
As someone who runs a business focused on green products that assist with organic agricultural activities, he supports the program that lets families put up their own produce or locally purchased products while helping them save money during difficult times.
On Friday, Nielsen, president of Green World Path, announced that he will put $1,000 of his own money into a fund to help keep the cannery operating as county officials seriously look at cutting money earmarked for the facility.
And Nielsen issued a challenge to other local businesses, community leaders and individuals to put their money into the enterprise as well.
Operation of the cannery, one of just three in the state, costs roughly $50,000 per year. Nielsen said that, if the community commits to the project, it can easily raise that amount every year.
Already a committee of some of the cannery's regular users has formed to talk about ways to raise money and seek grants to keep the project alive.
Nielsen has also offered to host and coordinate an annual fundraiser to help keep the cannery afloat.
As the county trims its budget to adjust for more than $10 million in revenue shortfall, the facility has been targeted for cuts.
On Tuesday, commissioners heard anguished pleas from the users of the cannery to save it. They also heard a proposal from Spring Hill veterinarian Keely Smith, who came with a signed lease in hand seeking permission to take over the operation so the county could spend its general fund dollars elsewhere.
Community and commission concerns sent the lease back for some changes, and the commission plans to consider it again July 28.
But many of the cannery customers and Nielsen say they want the county to hold on to the facility.
Nielsen said Friday that he found it odd that the county was so willing to agree to the lease so quickly — a lease modeled after the ones used by businesses leasing industrial land at the airport. He said the cannery is a totally different type of operation, and that the county should also know more about Smith's plans and resources before entering into a long-term lease.
He said he had nothing against Smith, but just believes the county should stay in the cannery business. He said it wouldn't be cost effective for the county to end the program, which helps families who are trying to make ends meet.
"If the cannery closed,'' he said, "the cost to the county would be more because the county is going to have to find another way to help these people.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.