BROOKSVILLE — Once facing closure, the Little Rock Cannery has seen a surge of activity recently as a local business group has been working to build partnerships and create a sustainable program.
While the Hernando County Commission agreed to give the Leadership Hernando organization until January to find a way to keep the cannery open, commission members indicated this week they would be willing to fund the program through the end of the fiscal year — Sept. 30, 2014.
A formal vote is expected soon.
The positive review came after Renee Oij, of the Leadership Hernando class of 2013, brought a detailed update about the facility to commissioners Tuesday.
Oij said support for the cannery has been overwhelming and that a task force of volunteers has been working to develop a business plan that will help the cannery thrive.
The facility provides a place for residents to bring their locally grown fruits, vegetables, meats and seafood to prepare and preserve. High-volume commercial equipment is available, and experts are on site to instruct those new to canning.
With the cannery on the verge of closure for several years, an anonymous donor paid the roughly $50,000 operational cost for each of two years, then the county found a private entity to take it over. That operator, the Auroveda Foundation, closed the facility in September, and the county took it back.
The cannery has just 96 members. Of those, 43 paid the $50 annual fee; the rest paid $10 per day.
The county soon found out that one of the boilers needed to be fixed. It was put back into service earlier this month.
The task force has concluded that the cannery needs to be operated like a business. Partnerships, new sources of income and grants will be necessary to make the facility solvent, Oij told commissioners.
The volunteers are working to develop a Friends of the Cannery group to help with support. They also have talked to school officials about building the cannery into the curriculum, have invited local businesses to participate and are working with the county's cooperative extension office and local 4-H clubs.
The school district already has offered grant-writing help. Because of the facility's past, and current operations, Oij said the cannery might qualify for several types of grants — agriculture, historical significance and tourism.
There also has been talk about opening up a shop to sell products produced there. And next week, a representative of the school district's culinary art programs will do a walk-through to see what might need to be done to get the kitchen certified.
In the short term, other marketing strategies are planned. The group plans a membership push. A jam party took place on Wednesday with everyone who participated paying a small fee. The volunteers also plan to make appearances at public events.
On Dec. 7, the volunteers will host a family fun day, and a live radio broadcast and member reception are planned for Dec. 13.