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There’s much to be grateful for at the Cannery

As I take stock of this unique and incredibly challenging year, I recognize that our organization has much to be grateful for.

Virginia Food Works’ staff managed to stay healthy after we reopened our operations in June. We had to change the way we run food productions at the Prince Edward County Cannery, but VFW clients and home canners adapted well, and we deeply appreciate their continued support.

Virginia Food Works (VFW) is a nonprofit organization, and we work with farmers and small businesses to make food products at the Cannery, many of which I’ve mentioned in this column: applesauce, apple butter, salsa, marinara sauce, jam, curry sauce, hot sauce and many more. VFW is inspected by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and registered with the Food and Drug Administration to produce foods that clients sell commercially.

Before the pandemic, we welcomed clients to work alongside us in the Cannery, helping their labor costs stay low while making their foods. For safety, we’ve limited clients’ access inside the Cannery, which has kept our staff healthy and able to make the foods with the virtual guidance of our clients. I’m tremendously impressed with how our clients and staff adjusted to the change, increasing our communication and clients trusting us to maintain a high standard of quality and efficiency.

Some of our clients are local farms looking to add new products to their business, and VFW developed simple and tasty recipes that use fruits and vegetables Virginia farmers grow. Clients can use these recipes and save themselves the time of creating and testing unique recipes. For the majority of commercially-sold foods, a recipe requires testing by food scientists to prove its safety for consumption and shelf-stable storage. For farmers, VFW eases that burden and has recipes ready for the addition of their delicious tomatoes, peppers, berries and other crops.

Food businesses with their own recipes, such as a BBQ or marinara sauce passed down from family members, go through the recipe development and testing process on their own and come to VFW once they’re ready to make large batches of the food.

As a nonprofit with support from Prince Edward County, VFW is able to work with food businesses just getting started. Other food manufacturing facilities require minimum batches of more than 100 gallons of a product. We don’t have a minimum requirement, and often run test batches of just five or 10 gallons before scaling up to 30 or 60 gallons of a food product. We’re happy to be an easy entry point for clients and know great manufacturers who can help our clients as their businesses grow and they need to make larger batches.

VFW made close to 36,000 bottles or jars of food for our clients this year. In a year when small businesses can use as much support as we can give them, please consider buying from farms, restaurants and food businesses this holiday season.

KATHARINE WILSON is the director Virginia Food Works. She can be reached at info@virginiafoodworks.org.