The noon hour on Tuesday, November 16, saw Virginia Governor Ralph Northam in Warren County’s northside Industrial Corridor for a major economic development announcement. That announcement, greeted by an assemblage of state and county economic development and political officials, was the expansion of Nature’s Touch Frozen Food’s facility on Toray Drive. Nature’s Touch is a Canadian-headquartered primarily frozen fruit, but also vegetable, production company with a global distribution network. It shares its Toray Drive location with the Interchange Group, a full-service Virginia warehousing, logistics, and land development services company with dry refrigerated and frozen cross-docking capacities.
So, the Interchange Group’s 48,000 square foot cross-dock port services warehouse next door to the Virginia Inland Port seems a logical place for Nature’s Touch to have landed – a business arrangement made in heaven – and it may be. What Governor Northam announced and Nature’s Touch President and CEO John Tentomas and Interchange Group President Devon Anders elaborated on is a $40 million dollar business expansion investment by Nature’s Touch that will expand its frozen fruit and vegetable distribution capacity from 20 million to 45 million pounds annually. Tentomas pointed to the shared facility’s proximity to the Virginia Inland Port as instrumental in his company’s location there and decision to expand its operations.
The Toray Drive expansion, with a target of mid-2022 for completion – it has already begun across the street from the existing site – will add 67 jobs to Nature’s Touch’s approximate 370-employee company-wide workforce.
See the full Royal Examiner event video, including Nature’s Touch’s Tentomas’s post-event press conference, as well as Governor Northam’s Office’s detailed press release on the expansion announcement below:
From the Office of the Governor:
Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Nature’s Touch Frozen Foods, a supplier of frozen fruits and vegetables for Canada and the United States, will invest $40.3 million to expand in Warren County.
Nature’s Touch will establish a 126,000-square-foot facility built by InterChange Group to increase production. Raw materials will be imported directly to the new facility for processing and distribution. Virginia successfully competed with Montréal, Canada for the project, which will create 67 new jobs.
“Companies choose to invest in Virginia because they can reach customers around the world through the Port of Virginia, including the Virginia Inland Port in Front Royal,” said Governor Northam. “Nature’s Touch’s decision to reinvest is a testament to the strong qualities that make Virginia the country’s top state for business. Our thriving food and beverage processing industry will only continue to grow and more jobs will come to the area thanks to this large investment.”
Nature’s Touch is one of the largest suppliers of frozen fruit to retailers in North America, Australia, and Japan. It was founded in 2004 and is headquartered in Québec, Canada. The company offers a range of products and supports multiple private label programs in addition to its own brands. The company is one of the largest buyers of fruit globally.
“When valued partners like Nature’s Touch expand in the Commonwealth, it affirms the value proposition of doing business in Virginia,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “The company’s significant investment and its partnership with InterChange Group will add to the positive economic momentum that Warren County and the Northern Shenandoah Valley are experiencing, and we look forward to Nature’s Touch’s continued success in the Commonwealth.”
Nature’s Touch established its Virginia production facility at the Stephens Industrial Park in Warren County in 2014. It is strategically located near the Virginia Inland Port to consistently move the fresh fruit imported by the company from South America and across the world. The new facility will be located across the street and will allow Nature’s Touch to integrate all aspects of product handling in-house. This will reduce the need for costly supply chain movements in and out of third-party logistics facilities. As a result, Nature’s Touch expects to increase the fruit produced through the Port of Virginia from 20 million to 45 million pounds annually. Interested applicants can click here for more information.
“Nature’s Touch is excited to extend and expand its presence in Warren County,” said Nature’s Touch Chief Operation Officer Dan Jewell. “After extensive evaluation, we determined that Front Royal continues to be the most strategic location for the company’s hub facility for the East Coast United States. This, combined with the opportunity to extend the company’s ongoing strategic partnership with InterChange, made the decision to build the facility in Warren County an easy one for Nature’s Touch.”
“InterChange is pleased to expand our more than a seven-year relationship with Nature’s Touch by providing a state-of-the-art, environmentally sustainable production facility through an innovative and transparent joint venture,” said InterChange Group, Inc President Devon Anders. “Nature’s Touch’s expansion reflects the promised return for the Commonwealth’s proactive investment in The Port of Virginia. Similarly, InterChange’s capital investments in premier food-grade facilities continue to provide a ready solution for food and beverage companies desiring to locate or expand in Virginia. We appreciate the assistance and investment of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, the Virginia Port Authority, and Warren County to make this project a reality.”
The Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked with Warren County and The Port of Virginia to secure the project for Virginia. The Governor approved a performance-based grant of $400,000 from the Virginia Investment Performance Grant, an incentive that encourages the continued capital investment of existing Virginia companies. Nature’s Touch is also eligible to receive benefits from the Port of Virginia Economic and Infrastructure Development Zone Grant Program.
Support for Nature’s Touch job creation will be provided through the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program, a workforce initiative created by Virginia Economic Development Partnership in collaboration with the Virginia Community College System and other higher education partners. Funding support for the program comes from the Northam administration and the Virginia General Assembly. Launched in 2019, the program accelerates new facility start-ups through the direct delivery of fully customized recruitment and training services for each company’s products, processes, equipment, standards, and culture. All program services are provided at no cost to qualified new and expanding companies as an incentive for job creation.
“Nature’s Touch has been a cornerstone food company in Warren County for the last decade, and we’re excited to have the company invest in this significant expansion and provide more jobs for our residents,” said Front Royal Warren County Economic Development Authority Chair Jeffrey Browne. “This expansion helps solidify Warren County’s reputation as an international manufacturing center in the food industry and is the culmination of many people’s efforts. We want to thank Nature’s Touch, InterChange, the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, the Virginia Port Authority, and all our partners for bringing this project to fruition. Locally, in addition to our Economic Development Authority staff, our Planning and Building Inspections departments and our Board of Supervisors worked hard to ensure we keep a valuable community partner here in Warren County.”
“The Port of Virginia is excited to be able to support the international supply chain for Nature’s Touch Frozen Foods by providing unparalleled port access into the Shenandoah Valley via the Virginia Inland Port,” said Virginia Port Authority Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director Stephen A. Edwards. “Nature’s Touch’s continued investment and job creation within the Commonwealth paired with our infrastructure investments will ensure Virginia remains the nation’s leading business destination for years to come.”
“We have a significant business expansion here in the Shenandoah Valley thanks to the strategic partnership between Nature’s Touch Frozen Foods, the Commonwealth, and Warren County,” said Senator Mark Obenshain. “I am excited about the increased job opportunities that come with this expansion announcement. This economic growth is further evidence that the Valley is a great place to live, work, and do business.”
“It is always exciting news to hear that our district is landing a business opportunity in our neck of the woods,” said Delegate Bill Wiley. “There are so many great things that occur when this opportunity comes to fruition—specifically jobs and revenue that will greatly support our constituents. Congratulations to Warren County, the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, and the folks that brought this project to the finish line!”
Last call to share library feedback and win!
Samuels Public Library’s community survey will close on December 31st. The survey opened on September 1st and has drawn in nearly 300 responses so far. The Library hopes to receive 400 responses.
“We are very excited about the number of responses we’ve received so far,” says Executive Director Michelle Ross, “Our community has wonderful ideas about new library services and we hope to gather even more of those ideas before the survey closes.”
Each person who completes a survey may be entered into a drawing for a Kindle Fire HD 10 Tablet. Limit one entry per person. Every Warren County citizen is invited to share their feedback to enhance our community’s Library.
Print copies of the survey can be found at each Samuels Library public service desk. The survey can also be completed online.
Results from the survey will be shared on the Library website, www.samuelslibrary.net.
About Samuels Public Library
Samuels Public Library brings people, information and ideas together to enrich lives and build community. A 501(c)(3) organization, the library annually serves 200,000 visitors, checks out nearly 400,000 books, electronic and digital services, and provides essential computer access, wireless service and public meeting spaces for the community. To learn more, visit www.samuelslibrary.net or call (540) 635-3153.
Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: Canada Goose
Clean up your fishing line!
This Canada Goose was found and rescued in Sherando Park in Stephens City, VA. The finder came across this bird struggling in the water while entangled in fishing line. Luckily, the goose was untangled and transported to the Center for care.
We see many cases each year of animals (mostly waterbirds) entangled in fishing line. Please help our wildlife and make every effort to retrieve lost hooks/sinkers/line while fishing, and even if you aren’t the person who left it, remove line and other dangerous debris that you find while out enjoying nature.
This goose did not suffer any fractures, but has muscle damage that will take at least a few days to resolve if all goes well.
The struggle and near drowning experience puts this goose at extreme risk of exertional myopathy (muscle damage caused by extreme stress and struggling that creates physiological imbalances and can result in death). We are doing everything possible to monitor for signs of this condition and address changes quickly.
We are glad to be able to help this bird, but many aren’t so lucky. The best prevention is to clean up the dangerous trash we put out in nature. Please dispose of hooks and line properly!
This goose is our 3,237 patient in 2021!
Our patients can’t pay for their care and we don’t receive state or Federal funding for what we do. We rely on your donations to help wild animals and return them to their wild homes. Please consider donating to BRWC today.
Children honor memory of local librarian
The children collected some of their favorite books and donated them to the library. The books will be used as prizes for the children’s reading club. They are hopeful that the books will help cultivate the love of reading, just as Kathy did through her work. Kathy Jacob worked with many teachers, staff, and children from Mountain Laurel, whenever they visited the library.
‘Tis the Season for Kindness
A local singer/songwriter has a message for the world in his debut release starting with the opening lyrics, “Put the kind back in humankind”. “SAVE THE HUMANS TOO” was written by local musician and businessman Shae Parker and recorded in Memphis, TN earlier this year. Parker, who has been playing music semi-professionally for the past three decades is no stranger to helping convey messages. The sign maker and owner of Hanna Sign Company also spent years as a radio broadcaster and as a Front Royal Town Councilman and Vice Mayor.
“I’ve always written songs”, says Parker. “In retrospect, I’ve always helped to convey messages. Whether it was a commercial on the radio, a sign for someone’s business, or as a public servant I’ve always tried to help others convey their message.”
Like many during the pandemic, Parker says he did some soul searching and decided he needed to put his own message out in song. After combing through years of writings and narrowing down a list of about two dozen, he formulated a plan to record as many songs as possible. Shae says he reached out to a childhood friend and fellow former disc jockey, Till Palmer who is the Chief Engineer at Ecko Records in Memphis for help.
“Initially the plan was to take the band with me (River Driven Band), but schedules didn’t align and I realized I either needed to reschedule or refocus on a solo project”, said Parker. “A big part of my pandemic soul searching revolved around doing this before I turned 50, so I headed to Memphis for a solo project”.
Fourteen songs were recorded in Memphis over three days according to Parker, with twelve of those planned for release. Most of the overdubs were handled by Shae before leaving, but he says over the coming months the remaining overdubs will be completed by him and his bandmates from the River Driven Band before being sent back to Palmer for mastering. The other two tracks, “SAVE THE HUMANS TOO” and “SHE LOVES ME, BUT” were independently released in November by Parker on most digital streaming platforms.
“SAVE THE HUMANS TOO” has a message that I felt all humans needed to hear”, explains Parker. “It’s about kindness and how easy it is to just be kind, that’s why I had to put it out first”.
Shae says that independently releasing his music has its own challenges. He says it has been a learning curve from researching and finding a digital distributor to upload the songs to Spotify, iTunes, and YouTube Music among others, to registering songwriting credits with BMI and SESAC.
“There is a reason it’s called the Music Business”, quips Parker. “What is an ISRC number or a DDP? Things like that I didn’t have a clue about as a performer, but Till being in the industry gave me a lot of insight of what needed to be done to make this a reality.”
While Parker maintains the music is the best thing to come out of the experience, he is quick to point out the joy of working with a lifelong friend and using a vintage Gibson Les Paul Junior on some tracks that were bought new by Palmer’s grandfather, Ralph Palmer in 1956. He also finds irony in his and Palmer’s past on radio given that a fellow DJ, Rick Dee’s recorded his number one hit “DISCO DUCK” in the same studio in the 1970s. Parker also recounts that his nickname at 4H camp growing up (where he and Palmer first met) was Duckie. Irony indeed, however despite a good beat you can dance to any other similarities in the compositions end there as Parker’s message of kindness prevails.
The Daily Planet/Shoe Productions studio was built by STAX Records founder Jim Stewart and Bobby Manuel (Booker T & the MG’s) shortly after the shuttering of STAX in 1975. In 1995 John Ward bought the studio and changed the name to Ecko Studios/Records, an American Blues and Soul Blues label that has released albums by Rufus Thomas, Ollie Nightingale, Bill Coday, Barbara Carr, and others.
Shae Parker’s first two releases “SAVE THE HUMANS TOO” and “SHE LOVES ME, BUT” are available on all streaming platforms or wherever you listen to music. Links to the songs and information on booking can be found on his website at www.SongsByShae.com.
Triple your impact this Giving Tuesday
Today is Giving Tuesday!
What is Giving Tuesday? It’s the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, and was created to encourage people, after spending money on physical items for the holidays, to give back to charities and their local communities.
It’s an important day to support Blue Ridge Wildlife Center because your donation could be matched twice!
- Starting at 8am, donations made through Facebook will be matched with an $8 million dollar match pledged by the social media platform itself until the matching funds are exhausted.
- Your donation will ALSO be matched by our generous Board of Directors up to $15,000! (You can donate through our website, by check, or through Facebook to qualify for this match.)
That gives your donation the opportunity to be TRIPLED, going further than any other time!
We receive no state nor Federal funding for what we do. We rely on your donations to save wild animals and return them to the wild. Donations enable us to afford the foods and specialty formulas we feed out to our 3,200+ patients each year. They allow us to build and maintain our enclosures to house these patients and keep the lights on and water running. They pay for the surgical supplies, medications, and anesthetics needed for the 150+ surgeries we perform each year. They pay for the antibiotics and pain medications needed by the >60% of our patients that are suffering from some sort of human-caused traumatic injury.
We need YOUR help to maximize matching funds and to care for the ever-increasing number of patients we’re seeing each year. Please give generously on Giving Tuesday to let your donation go further!
Thank you for supporting our native wildlife!
Accused Brinklow murderer gets 30-years-9-months on plea agreement and probation violation charges
Following emotional testimony from Jennifer Brinklow, the mother of 20-year-old Tristen Brinklow on the devastating impact on her life of her son’s 2019 murder, and a perhaps surprisingly emotional series of apologies from his accused killer for his role in that murder, the Commonwealth and defense counsels debated at which end of sentencing guidelines 38-year-old Richard Matthew Crouch should be incarcerated on Second Degree Murder and related and unrelated charges he submitted guilty pleas to as part of a plea agreement.
By plea agreement already accepted by Warren County Circuit Court Judge William Sharp, the sentencing range was between 8-years-and-7-months and 28 years-and-9-months. The other involved suspect, George Good, received a 10-year prison sentence with 25 years suspended on August 13, on a similar plea agreement involving two charges of helping Crouch dispose of Brinklow’s body and a variety of unrelated charges. Good was 29 at the time of his sentencing three months ago.
After hearing about an hour and a half of testimony, questions, and arguments Judge Sharp adjourned to chambers at noon, Monday, November 29th to consider his sentencing decision. After 17 minutes Judge Sharp returned to deliver his ruling. That ruling was the high-end 28-years-and-9-months according to sentencing parameters of the plea agreement, after imposing two, 5-year sentences on concealing and defiling (allowing to decompose) a dead body; and 30 years on the Second Degree Murder charge. Crouch will also get credit for time served, about two years. It was said that currently it is estimated that inmates will serve about 85% of their sentence with good behavior time taken off. Crouch also had four, 5-year sentences related to an earlier attack on an ex-girlfriend and his drug possession with intent to distribute charges imposed with all 20 years suspended. He will be on supervised probation for five years after his release.
While getting credit for his time served, two years was later tacked on to the 28-year-9-month sentence, on a probation violation charge argued outside the plea agreement. Arguing that aspect of the cases, Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Nick Manthos countered defense co-counsel Eric Wiseley’s call to waive the two additional years of active incarceration after his client received nearly three times the sentence George Good did for their respective roles in Brinklow’s murder.
Manthos, as Commonwealth Attorney John Bell had earlier, noted that while Crouch held to his story that it was Good who actually beat Brinklow to death, the physical evidence matched Good’s story that it was Crouch who attacked and strangled Brinklow to death in a methamphetamine-induced paranoid delusional state. Crouch did admit to being up for at least five days straight, perhaps as many as 10 days, doing an extraordinary amount of methamphetamine – he estimated at 3.5 grams (an 8-ball) to twice that amount per day – while trying to finance being on the run from police from an incident several days earlier in which he non-fatally had strangled an ex-girlfriend.
The Commonwealth noted that in his earlier attack on the ex-girlfriend, Crouch had not only choked her but cut off a large portion of her hair. When Good led authorities to Brinklow’s decomposed body, a bone in the neck was discovered broken at autopsy indicative of strangulation, and a large portion of Brinklow’s hair was discovered cut off. Those aspects of the earlier Crouch attack on the ex-girlfriend were not known to Good, the prosecution told the court.
The fact that all the crimes he enter guilty pleas to, including the assault on his ex, the methamphetamine use, and dealing, as well as Brinklow’s murder, occurred while Crouch was on probation led Judge Sharp to side with the prosecution on the necessity of imposing the two probation violation years hanging over Crouch – “There has to be a consequence, otherwise probation means nothing,” Judge Sharp said in rendering his decision on that second part of the day’s hearing on Crouch’s fate behind bars.
While admitting to the drug use and paranoid state leading him to believe that he was going to be robbed of his meth stash worth several thousand dollars, Crouch insisted that Brinklow coming at him with a knife and Good’s response of pulling him off Crouch and beating him to death was not a part of his drug-induced delusions. However, it seemed Crouch and his attorney in the plea sentencing, Howard Manheimer, may have been the only two in court buying into that scenario. It appeared seven relatives and friends accompanied Jennifer Brinklow to court Monday.
Several times asked by the court if he had anything to say before decisions were rendered, Crouch in a low, emotional voice expressed remorse, saying, “I am so sorry, I am so sorry with all my heart.” Crouch told the court and Brinklow’s mother that he had become involved in a jailhouse ministry conducted at RSW and related drug abuse counseling to try and steer inmates away from drug addiction upon their release.
He also looked at Tristen’s mother testifying from the witness box directly in front of him as she recounted the multiple impacts, including being told she now suffers from PTSD (Post Traumatic Shock Disorder) in the wake of her son’s murder. “I didn’t know a person could live without a heart and soul,” Mrs. Brinklow told the courtroom of her life since December 13, 2019, when she was informed it was her missing son’s body discovered in an abandoned freezer near the river. The murder occurred in September 2019.
She said tears came often, stimulated by “a smell, food, a cloud – ANYTHING. I never had anxiety, now there are places I can’t go without breaking down … It’s beyond obvious those two did not know Trey – a few minutes with him and he’d give you anything he had … Four days after he turned 20 you took his life – he was just a kid.”
Following the rendering of his plea agreement sentence of 28-years-9-months, Judge Sharp told Crouch he hoped he made the best out of the portion of his life that will now be spent in prison; that he was truly remorseful for letting a dangerous, illegal drug get a grip on his life that led to this point; and that he would continue to work to counsel others away from a similar fate, and turn his life in a positive direction.
“I wish you luck,” the judge told Crouch.
“Thank you,” Crouch replied.