Farmer Focus hatches $17.8 million expansion

June 1, 2023

Harrisonburg-based Farmer Focus is undertaking a $17.8 million expansion to boost capacity at its 78,000-square foot processing facility on Acorn Drive.

The organic poultry producer, which marked its ninth anniversary in March, announced in February that it was the recipient of a $3.6 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Meat and Poultry Processing Expansion Program (MPPEP), which will go toward the cost of the expansion.

“We will start later this year,” says Farmer Focus “founding farmer” and CEO Corwin Heatwole. “Timing could fluctuate a little bit. … But we should have that up and running by early next year. And that’s when we would start staffing.”

Farmer Focus expects to hire about 300 people as part of the expansion, which will increase the size of its deboning department and provide more space for its wastewater pretreatment operation.

The plant currently processes about 335,000 chickens per week, and the expansion, which includes a full second shift of workers, will allow the company to increase output to approximately 630,000 chickens. But the increase in staff isn’t limited to the production aspects of the business.

“The creation of the new jobs will coincide with the completion of the expansion project and will be a mix of production, maintenance and supervisory roles,” according to a statement from Liz Fuchs, Farmer Focus’ chief people officer.

When U.S. Sen. Mark Warner toured the plant in April 2022, he applauded the company’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

And Heatwole says those efforts will continue with the expansion: “Our efforts around diversity and inclusion … have been ongoing. This expansion just allows us to impact those more.”

According to Fuchs, Farmer Focus’ workforce has about the same number of men and women, with 78% of those employees from various racial and ethnic minorities.

Brian Shull, Harrisonburg’s economic development director, watched Farmer Focus grow over nine years from an entrepreneur’s idea into a company that employs more than 800 people.

“They’re one of our top 10 employers in Harrisonburg,” Shull says. “It’s a very, very positive economic impact for us. It certainly strengthens our already strong food and beverage sector throughout the Shenandoah Valley. So, whenever we have continued expansion, that helps that cluster get even stronger.”  

CRAIG BELCHER, Virginia 500