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Food hub seeks unity

Members of the Prince Edward County Extension Office and community members in the Heart of Virginia listened to a presentation from the founder of the Southern Virginia Food Hub (SVFH), which will seek to unite farmers and producers throughout the Heart of Virginia to sell products from a main site.

SVFH Founder Ann Taylor-Wright said during the presentation that she had previously worked as a farmer in meat production. She said she had noticed friends and colleagues expressing needs for more venues to sell products—more venues than four hours a Saturday at area farmer’s markets— and a commercial kitchen to create products, Taylor-Wright said.

“These people get to be your family,” Taylor-Wright said about area farmers and producers. “It’s a great community.”

She said the process to become fully funded to open the SVFH was approximately four years. Taylor-Wright said the SVFH has received substantial grants from the Southside Planning District, The Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission and the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, and the SVFH is fully funded. She said she expects the Food Hub to open in June.

She said the Food Hub involves a board of roughly 14 people from around the region, whose agriculture experience ranges from produce, to meats, to dairy, greenhouse plants and business, including a representative from the Virginia Growth Alliance.

Taylor-Wright said the SVFH will seek to bring area farmers and their produce under one roof, where the produce can be sold more regularly than farmer’s markets.

“Our goal was to have 75 farmers (signed up) by the end of year one,” Taylor-Wright said. “We will have 75 farmers going into year one, which is great. Which proves that this is needed, and it’s going to be good.”

Taylor-Wright said the SVFH site and commercial kitchen, which will be located by the Colonial Theatre in South Hill, will have a walk-in cooler and freezer that will be 26 feet by 14 feet total, with 8 feet for the freezer.

The site will also have display areas for local products to be displayed and sold, a site to make dairy and meat products and a coffee shop.

She said the products would have two labels, one a specific label for the SVFH, and a second that includes the names of the farmers or farm who provided the items. Bar codes will track the items, Taylor-Wright said.

She said in performing community surveys, she noted that participants will buy produce and meals that are pre-frozen and ready to eat.

Ann Codrington, a participant at the meeting, asked about certain products.

“You have already started the process on the safety side of things, will you still take value added products?” Codrington said.

Value-added products are products that involve changing the physical state of a product to enhance its value, for example jams or canned items.

Taylor-Wright said for value-added products, the products would have to be examined by a food science lab to make sure it is approved to be sold.

She said the organization will have liability insurance and opportunities for producers for receive Gap certification for food safety.

“That way, we all work together, we are all covered together,” Taylor-Wright said.

Meeting participant Jeremy Snyder asked about producing meat products.

“To what extent … for meat products are you set up to process,” Snyder asked.

Taylor-Wright said the meat would need to be processed and sold solely at the site, and said there will be a representative who can help package and examine value-added meat products, such as hotdogs and bratwursts.

Prince Edward County Extension Office Agent Caitlin Miller said she was excited for the SVFH, and said it matches the goals of Prince Edward in utilizing fresh and locally grown foods.

“Prince Edward is really dedicated to growing local food,” Miller said, noting the Prince Edward Cannery as an example. “They are really passionate about having a local food agent and working to grow their organization.”

“I’m excited,” Miller said. “(Taylor-Wright) is a real go-getter.”