Eastern Carolina Organics (ECO) today announced that it has secured $1.75 million in funding to transform an East Durham brownfields site into a new distribution center for its rapidly growing organic produce business. The renovated facility will also serve as an incubator for young businesses and organizations involved in local foods, natural products and community empowerment.
“We are truly excited about the growth opportunity this affords ECO and our farmers,” said ECO’s Sandi Kronick. “Since our 2004 founding, space limitations have always played a role in dictating ECO’s growth. Now, with this new warehouse, the growth of ECO is in the hands of our innovative farmers and loyal customers, enabling us to make a greater impact on the food system through our supplies of local organic food from North Carolina family farms."
ECO is a farmer-friendly distribution company offering local organic produce to wholesale-volume customers throughout North Carolina and beyond. Launched as a pilot project of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, ECO was formed under a unique business model that features a partnership between staff managers and farmers. Thanks to their hard-working growers and dedicated customers, ECO’s business has been growing over 20% annually and they have completely outgrown their leased warehouse in Chatham County.
The new 26,000 square foot Durham location —The ECO Hub— will contain approximately 10,000 square feet of refrigerated space and 10,000 square feet of rented space for tenants. The move to Durham also provides ECO a more central location in the Triangle as well as great highway access for its freight business.
“Given our growth, Durham is the perfect location to further accomplish our mission and we are excited for the synergy that will arise from the amazing tenants we’ve secured,” Kronick continued. "The ECO Hub will be a model of light industry's role in sustainable enterprise, and the impact that green companies can have on workforce development.”
Lead financing for the project comes from Self-Help, a national community development lender headquartered in Durham. Self-Help is working closely with statewide partners to further develop a healthy food system that supports North Carolina farmers, tightens the links between local producers and distributors, and improves public health.
“Supporting ECO’s transformation of a Durham brownfield into an organic produce distribution center is a perfect fit for Self-Help and for Durham,” says Steve Saltzman, Self-Help’s Healthy Food Systems loan officer. “ECO’s distribution center will help small farmers get food to market, help keep more of the sales price in the farmers’ hands, help increase access to affordable, healthy foods and help revitalize an economically challenged area of Durham.”
Joining Self-Help are two lenders that support the local foods movement. Natural Capital Investment Fund is a “triple bottom line” business lender that provides equity-like capital to businesses and farms that are good stewards of natural resources.
“For local foods systems to succeed, companies like ECO – which have figured out how to link rural producers with urban markets, and do it profitably – are essential,” Rick Larson, NCIF’s NC Program Director said.
Whole Foods Market’s Local Producer Loan Program provides loans to farms and businesses that sell to its stores. The program’s goal is to help small producers increase capacity to grow their supply chain for markets like Whole Foods.
“Supporting local farmers fits well with Whole Food’s mission of actively supporting organic and sustainable farming,” said Whole Foods’ Regional VP of Purchasing Stephen Corradini. “We are honored to partner with ECO, Self-Help and NCIF on this project.”
ECO estimates that the ECO Hub, located at 2210 East Pettigrew Street, will be open for business as early as January 1, 2013.