Vacant Melfa agriculture complex comes under new ownership


BY CLARA VAUGHN, Eastern Shore Post —

The Accomack County Economic Development Authority is the new owner of the Robert S. Bloxom Shore Agricultural Complex off Airport Drive in Melfa.

The land, which includes 30 acres, several large buildings, and commercial freezer space, has been largely unused in recent years, but the EDA hopes to change that.

“It’s a golden opportunity for us,” said Del. Rob Bloxom, a member of Accomack’s EDA.

“We saw great potential for … new industry to come in. We’re always looking for people to come here and work,” EDA Chair Stella Rohde said.

The EDA plans to lease or sell the space, but first an appraiser will assess the buildings’ value and price point for renting its refrigerated and other spaces, officials said.

That should happen over the next month, Bloxom said.

The transfer comes after the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services owned the property for decades.

VDACS came to hold the Melfa market after a state-led initiative in the 1990s, when the Virginia Farm Market Board recommended locations for a network of farmers markets across the Commonwealth.

The first phase of the market aimed to provide a cooperative where small farmers could sell Eastern Shore favorites such as sweet potatoes, potatoes, and tomatoes.

A later addition gave commercial watermen the ability to flash freeze and store seafood.

In 2011, former Gov. Bob McDonnell dedicated the facility to Bloxom’s late father, longtime Delegate and Eastern Shore native Robert S. Bloxom, who was Virginia’s first Secretary of Agriculture.

Over time, the Melfa market evolved, “leading Pacific Growers to take over the whole building for the tomato packing,” Bloxom said.

When Pacific Tomato Growers left in 2020, the complex was largely empty.

The property borders Accomack County’s industrial park, leading a potential tenant to approach the EDA about renting the space several years ago, Bloxom said. But VDACS by law could not rent or lease the facility to any entities outside the agriculture and aquaculture industries.

That sparked the conversation that led VDACS to transfer the property to Accomack’s EDA at no cost last week.

The EDA is a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia, allowing it to take on the property.

“We’re really thrilled, but we’ve got a lot of work to figure out what we’re going to do with it,” Rohde said, calling the complex “one-of-a-kind” and a “diamond in the rough.”

Bloxom noted the facility has the only commercial freezer available for rent between Norfolk and Dover, Delaware. 

“I don’t think that there’s any facility … like it anywhere closer,” he said.

The EDA will make information on the future of the agricultural complex and opportunities to rent or buy the space public, he said.“We’re going to explore all options and figure out what the best thing is for the county,” Bloxom said.

Those interested can use the EDA’s website to contact the group for more information by visiting the website and searching “Economic Development Authority.”

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