By Julie Ray
A Byron Food Hub will be opening up in Byron Shire in recognition of the pivotal role food manufacturers and producers play in strengthening the local economy.
The hub is being built in the Mullumbimby Industrial Estate and consists of 5 units tailor made for cottage food producers who have outgrown their ‘backyard’ premises.
The Byron Food Hub’s creators, Richard Kowalski & Sharon McGrath, felt there was a shortage in Byron Shire of premises for small-scale commercial food producers.
‘Most people we have been talking to have had to retrofit their premises, which involves cutting up slabs, putting in grease traps and paying a waste water contribution’, said Mr Kowalski. ‘We are trying to take as much of the hard work out of it as possible, by putting in the infrastructure for small scale producers, making it easier to set up when they do come in.’
Jeremy Burn, co-owner of 100 Mile Table café in Byron Bay, said setup costs for his business involved around $30,000 in wastewater contributions plus another $15,000 for a grease trap.
‘We knew there would be significant start up costs but we both fell in love with the building and we wanted to be in Byron,’ said Jeremy. ‘But now it’s been done there can always be a food-related business here.’
Mr Kowalski said that each unit has its own individual grease trap, solar power to offset coolroom running costs, plumbing provisions to allow kitchen set ups, insulation, ventilation for individual gas bottles and even an electric car charging point. The Food Hub is after like-minded people that can share purchasing power and transport costs.
Byron Shire Council ‘s Economic Development Officer, Jane Laverty, believes that a project like the Byron Food Hub is excellent for home based businesses looking for commercial premises.
‘Richard’s project is excellent, he has definitely seen an opportunity there to work with our food businesses,’ said Ms Laverty.
Jane Laverty has been in her newly-created position for just over 12 months. Byron Council created her role in order to boost the local economy.
‘I guess Byron Shire hasn’t previously thought about really focusing on the local economy, but this current council sees that for community sustainability we really do need to be looking at how jobs are created,’ she said.
A blow to Byron Shire’s economy came when Byron Bay’s famous boutique beer company, Stone & Wood moved the majority of their beer processing to the Tweed Shire.
Jamie Cook co-founder of Stone & Wood said they really didn’t want to move out of the area but had no choice, as there was not enough space available to build a larger brewery.
‘About three years ago we were running out of space in our Byron premises and we needed to think about alternate premises in order to grow,’ said Mr Cook. ‘We looked around the Byron region, there were a couple of premises that we could have maybe squeezed into, but they were very expensive and they wouldn’t have been big enough anyway.’
Stone & Wood found a large space in Murwillumbah, in the old Bunning’s trade centre, which had been empty for some time.
‘Tweed Shire did what they could to help us set up there. They changed their approach to headworks contribution charges (waste water, grease traps, etc) so they could soften the blow in terms of those costs,’ he said.
Byron Shire Council has since changed their method of charging for headworks to help keep food manufacturers and producers in the shire.
Jane Laverty says it is critical that Council gets behind food manufacturers and producers in the Byron Shire.
‘It’s fair to say we haven’t previously matched the growth of our businesses with the facilities that they need such as industrial land availability. What we do know is that our businesses here really value their ability to attach themselves to the Byron brand, and certainly from the consumers’ perspective that Byron brand is very valuable,’ she said. ‘With my role we have opened the door. If you have a business you are looking to grow or expand or establish in the Byron Shire come and talk to us – I’m the first point of contact with those businesses.’
The Byron Food Hub should be completed by September or October 2015 weather permitting, and enquiries are being handled by Sally Chapman from The Professionals Mullumbimby.