BROOKSVILLE — For three years, fans of the Little Rock Cannery have begged the county to spare the facility from the budget ax. Twice, an anonymous donor has given tens of thousands of dollars to keep it open.
Now, a solution may be at hand so that people in Hernando and surrounding counties can continue to use the facility to preserve fresh fruits and vegetables for years to come.
The board of the Hernando Historical Museum Association Inc. voted unanimously last week to seek a lease with the county to take over the facility and operate it seasonally as a cannery and as a museum and classroom.
"We really hope that this thing can be sorted out," said Ron Daniel, president of the association.
Daniel and others on the board had been working to save the manor house at Chinsegut Hill and continue to raise funds for that cause, but he said that a few months ago the group started hearing about the cannery closing and he thought the association could help.
The county estimates it costs roughly $58,000 to operate the cannery each year, which includes one full-time salary. Funds to run the program would be raised through users of the cannery, those who would take classes, and from museum tours, Daniel said.
He said the plan would be to set up part of the building as an old schoolhouse, which was its original function.
There also are plans for displays of old kitchen equipment inside and old farming implements outside. The building at Citrus Way and U.S. 98 north of Brooksville has long been seen as a lasting reminder of Hernando County's agricultural roots.
During recent budget talks, supporters of the cannery have argued that it is important for families struggling with ways to trim their food bills. Others cited the facility as the only place that people with special dietary needs could put up their own food.
The cannery was a Depression-era work project that dates back to the 1930s. Daniel said it would be an eye-catcher and could draw residents from newer subdivisions as well as tourists.
Daniel has presented a business plan for the facility to county officials including County Administrator David Hamilton and Jean Rags, director of community development. Rags is set to talk to the County Commission about the new developments in the cannery takeover during today's budget workshop.
While the association is seeking a lease of about five years at this time, the group might seek the title of the property for permanent protection. The county would be protected by an agreement that, should the association ever disband, the land would revert to Hernando, Daniel said.
As a fifth-generation resident of Hernando County, Daniel said, "I hate for things like that to slip away.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.