Pilgrim’s — one of the world’s largest poultry producers with a plant in Sanford — announced today it is contributing more than $500,000 to establish a permanent home for the Sanford Agricultural Marketplace in downtown Sanford. The marketplace will be housed in the former King Roofing, Heating and Air building on Carthage Street, next to the old City Hall building and will serve as a multi-functional space for civic events and gatherings; including 4-H meetings, farmer education courses, a food donation hub and bi-lingual classes on food safety, budget planning and cooking.

The announcement is the result of a collaboration between Pilgrim’s, the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, the City of Sanford and Downtown Sanford, Inc.  The initial investment was revealed back in October, and Pilgrim’s has been working with local officials since then to “determine where the funds can best help meet immediate and longer-term community needs.”

“We are honored to call Sanford our hometown and to be a reliable and responsible contributor to our local economy,” said Jamal Mohammed, Pilgrim’s Sanford complex manager. “Through our Hometown Strong initiative, we’re grateful to have the opportunity to give back to the community and look forward to sustainable agricultural growth right here in the heart of North Carolina.”

The Pilgrim’s Sanford facility employs 1,060 people with an annual payroll of more than $35 million. According to the company, the facility also supports more than 160 growers, paying them more than $21 million per year for their birds. Pilgrim’s Sanford says it has also invested more than $110 million in capital improvements over the last five years.

The marketplace will be a much-anticipated addition to the city. Several local elected officials, agriculture representatives and business leaders praised the announcement.

“We are very appreciative and humbled by this generous donation from Pilgrim’s as part of their Hometown Strong Initiative,” said Bill Stone, county extension director. “We anticipate that this Agricultural Marketplace project will help growers and producers from the Sandhills region expand their consumer base and increase farm profitability, while also serving as an epicenter for celebrating Lee County’s rich agricultural heritage and promoting the diversity that makes our community such a special place today.”

Sanford Mayor Chet Mann: “This incredibly generous investment will allow us to offer something long term and sustainable to our residents. It will also continue to preserve our agricultural heritage and enhance our agri-business community while creating a fantastic venue downtown for civic events and community usage. A currently dilapidated — now owned by the City — will spring back to life and kick off even more revitalization in East Sanford just bordering our downtown. I am grateful to Pilgrim’s for sharing our vision we have for this area and partnering with us to achieve even greater things for our citizens.”

Kelli Laudate, Downtown Sanford Inc. executive director: “The Downtown Sanford Inc. board and I are extremely grateful to Pilgrim’s Hometown Strong initiative to invest in the Agriculture Marketplace to be located in the heart of our historic downtown Sanford. The partnerships will be invaluable to the community as we will work to bring the produce of local farms to their supper tables each week as well as educational opportunities on the benefits of supporting local farms and an improved quality of life. Many thanks to Pilgrim’s for their generous donation to our project and for believing in the vision that everyone should have fresh vegetables and fruit to serve to their families.

Joni Martin, Progressive Contracting Company, Inc. and a DSI board member: “Another vital piece of the revitalization puzzle is in place in our wonderful downtown, a cultural center bridging the gap between farming, rural Lee County and the City of Sanford. It will be a wonderful place to buy fruits and vegetables plus opportunities to expand the market and its services. Thanks again to Pilgrim’s for seeing the importance of being a caring and giving corporate citizen and for being a part of this exciting project for our community.”

Sharon Spence, DSI board member: “This grant from Pilgrim’s Pride is a game-changer for our farmers and for our community. The Agriculture Marketplace brings with it endless opportunities, from expanded space and hours for the vendors to educational activities for youth and adults. I envision the marketplace becoming both a local and regional shopping destination, making it a strong economic driver for farmers and our downtown businesses. Shoppers will have increased access to fresh, nutritious food – which in turn supports a healthy community.”