By S Haslam
While the proposal for a massive food precinct in Bangalow was withdrawn in February after widespread opposition, including from the Progress Association and Chamber of Commerce as well as local politicians, the Byron Food Hub by contrast has gone from strength to strength, joining with Northern Rivers Food this week to launch a second stage of the innovative commercial food facilities in the Mullumbimby Industrial Estate.
At the same time, Ballina Shire Council has combined with surrounding councils to seek feedback from the food industry on its future food hub needs.
Supporting this growing industry is important: ‘Agricultural businesses and the food-production sector employ more than 7,000 people in the northern rivers region, making it one of the leading employment sectors in the area,’ says Allison Henry from Northern Rivers Food, the body representing local food producers.
The Byron Food Hub is playing a vital role, she says. ‘Supporting emerging and innovative food producers through the establishment of food manufacturing precincts is critical to further growing the local food industry and consolidating the northern rivers’ reputation for quality food products.
‘What the Byron Food Hub does is provide a collaborative opportunity for small-scale operators in backyards and markets to take their businesses to the next level, and get on to a more commercial footing.
Creators Richard Kowalski and Sharon McGrath developed the original Hub in response to feedback that there was a shortage of premises for small-scale commercial food producers in Byron Shire.
Northern Rivers Food member and Persian food specialists Koobideh are located in Stage One of the Hub and will be catering the Stage Two launch event. Koobideh point to the convenience and opportunity to collaborate that the facility offers. ‘From working with Richard and Sharon and their team to customise our kitchen to our specific needs, to developing strong business relationships with our neighbours, the whole experience has been great,’ said Koobideh’s Pegah Pourkarimi.
Ballina Shire Council’s senior strategic planner Simon Scott is seeking feedback from the industry on the extent to which food hubs can create these kind of positive ‘synergies’ for tenants. ‘While there are obvious possibilities to combine forces on cold storage, or transport, there may also be perceived benefits in terms of combined marketing and opportunities for collaboration,’ he said.
The regional councils’ survey aims to inform government regarding the needs and challenges facing the food manufacturing industry in the northern rivers and assist the development of programs and projects to support the growth of the industry throughout the region, and is available online at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/F7KDRMK.
Byron Food Hub’s Richard Kowalski believes in the industry. ‘The ongoing success of Byron Food Hub demonstrates the strength of the northern rivers area as a food-production centre of excellence. The first two stages of the Hub and the upcoming Stage 3 provide a range of solutions for food-sector businesses, with tenancies tailored to their production methods and size requirements, and optimised for future growth to support sustainable employment,’ he said.