Executive at Blue Ridge Food Ventures announces resignation after 10 years

Here’s the press release from AdvantageWest:

(CANDLER, N.C.) June 20, 2013 – After 10 years as founding executive director of Blue Ridge Food Ventures, helping launch more than 230 food and natural products businesses and counseling hundreds more, Mary Lou Surgi has announced her resignation effective June 30.

Surgi, named 2012 WNC Woman of the Year in the nonprofit category by the Women’s Business Exchange of Henderson & Transylvania Counties, was hired in 2003 when the concept for a shared-use facility to support farmers and small-batch food producers was developed by AdvantageWest as a means of growing the region’s agricultural economy. For 18 months she served as project manager in transforming a former factory building on the A-B Tech Enka campus into an 11,000 square-foot commercial kitchen and agribusiness incubator – the first of its kind in North Carolina and the largest in the southeast. With grant funding and donations of new and used industrial equipment, Surgi developed Blue Ridge Food Ventures into a model for food business incubators across the country.

Today an array of specialty foods are made at Blue Ridge Food Ventures, from bamboo pickles and raw chocolate truffles, to nut butters, gourmet salsas, hand-crafted gelato, pizza kits and fermented foods like kombucha and tempeh. BRFV also has the only shared-use Natural Products Manufacturing Facility in the U.S. where skin creams, herbal tinctures and other natural products are produced and packaged. Winter Sun Farms, a community-supported agriculture program featuring locally grown produce that is processed, frozen and distributed in the winter – only the second CSA of its kind in the country – is also a project of Blue Ridge Food Ventures.

“Mary Lou’s hard work, efforts and passion for Blue Ridge Food Ventures is plainly seen in the success and respect the facility has earned over the past decade,” said AdvantageWest President & CEO Scott Hamilton. “The citizens of Western North Carolina, and especially the countless farmers and entrepreneurs she has helped across the region and beyond, owe Mary Lou a great debt of gratitude.”

“It was a hard decision, but the right one,” said Surgi. “My life before Blue Ridge Food Ventures was focused on international development work and involved much travel. I would like to return to that world for a while, before I think about retiring and finally settling down. For me, the 10-year mark is the perfect time to explore those challenges again.”

Surgi said her decision to leave was made easier knowing that the program would be left in good hands: Chris Reedy, Blue Ridge Food Ventures program manager for the past three years will take her place as executive director.

“Chris is ideally suited for continuing to carry out Blue Ridge Food Ventures’ mission to help farmers, food artisans and natural-product makers with all aspects of manufacturing their goods, from raw materials to finished product. The producers who use our facility already know and trust his expertise. I’m leaving the organization in excellent hands,” said Surgi.

“We are delighted that Chris has accepted this position,” said Tom Alexander, chairman of the AdvantageWest board of directors. “We join with the 60-some businesses that operate out of Blue Ridge Food Ventures each year in thanking both Mary Lou and Chris for their dedication in working to build the region’s economy.”

With a BBA in Finance from University of Kentucky and an MBA with a concentration in Finance and Economics from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Reedy has earned nationally accredited food safety certification from the National Restaurant Association, known as ServSafe®. His expertise includes production planning and organization, product costing, financial analysis, labeling and branding, frozen foods production, and farm-to-product channels.

Prior to joining Blue Ridge Food Ventures, Reedy founded an import company and traveled throughout Asia working with small producers to sustainably and equitably produce and market their products. He is a founding member of the Southern Appalachian Hops Guild and is on the board of the North Carolina Herb Association. In addition, Reedy teaches continuing education courses at A-B Tech that include FDA Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) regulations for dietary supplements and personal care products.

For more information about Blue Ridge Food Ventures, visit www.blueridgefoodventures.org or call (828) 348-0128.

More about Blue Ridge Food Ventures
Blue Ridge Food Ventures is a food and natural products manufacturing facility in Asheville N.C., where artisan food entrepreneurs, farmers, chefs, bakers, caterers, mobile and food cart operators, and natural products manufacturers can find the equipment and resources they need to make and market their products. The first facility of its kind in North Carolina and the largest in the Southeast, BRFV is housed in a shared-use, 11,000-square-foot facility that includes FDA-compliant commercial kitchens and natural products manufacturing equipment that complies with federal current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP). BRFV also operates the only shared-use Natural Products Manufacturing Facility in the U.S.

Products made at BRFV can be found in stores all across the country. Several have received national recognition, including one that won a Cooking Light magazine taste-test award in the artisanal foods category. Others have been mentioned in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, VegNews, Redbook, and many other national publications. In recent months, BRFV conducted The Big Tasty, a contest to discover the best new food business idea in North Carolina.

BRFV also operates Winter Sun Farms, a winter CSA that features locally grown produce, prepared and flash-frozen during the height of freshness in the summer, then stored and distributed as frozen packets in the winter.

More about AdvantageWest

AdvantageWest is one of seven regional economic development partnerships in North Carolina and serves the 23 westernmost counties of the state. Chartered by the state General Assembly in 1994, AdvantageWest is a nonprofit, public-private partnership. In addition to agribusiness through Blue Ridge Food Ventures, AdvantageWest’s program of work also focuses on advanced manufacturing; entrepreneurship, filmmaking, and the green economy. For more information, visit www.advantagewest.com or call (828) 687-7234.

About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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