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Maker’s Market preps grand opening

South Boston News
Taylor-Wright with local foods / June 05, 2019
Ann Taylor-Wright of Brodnax, founder of the Southern Virginia Food Hub, is preparing for the grand opening of the Makers Market in South Hill, a venue for distributing and selling farm fresh products to the local community.

The creation of the market has been Taylor-Wright’s passion for the past five years.

The official grand opening is Saturday, June 15 at 10 a.m., but already, Taylor-Wright said the shop, located at 100 West Danville Street across from the South Hill Farmer’s Market and in front of the Colonial Center, is seeing some limited traffic, especially on Saturdays when the farmer’s market is open.

So far, public response has been positive.

The market is a brick and mortar store operated by the Southern Virginia Food Hub, a co-op of 120 farmers from Mecklenburg, Brunswick, Halifax, Nottoway, Charlotte, Lunenburg, Greenville and Dinwiddie counties working to create successful agribusinesses in the community while preserving the heritage of the family farm.

Taylor-Wright said the market vendors sell only locally-sourced produce, meats, and dairy, Virginia’s Finest products, and value-added products made either in the market’s commercial kitchen or by people who live in one of the eight counties served by the Southern Virginia Food Hub. There is produce from Dendi Ranch in Skipwith, strawberries and jams from Brown Town Farm in Warfield, Birdie’s Pimento Cheese from South Hill, Yerby and K&L Acres honey from Brodnax and La Crosse, Hudson Henry granola from Palmyra, Route 11 Potato Chips from Mt. Jackson, Mother Shrub drinking vinegars, Savannah Grace cheese straws from West Point, Red Rocker candy from Troy, and more.

Starting June 13, their hours will be 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday.

Agriculture contributes $70 billion annually to the Virginia economy and employs over 334,000 people. In April, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services noted a positive trend across the Commonwealth for farm products and a rising demand for new and locally-sourced food products. That is the market that Taylor-Wright and other co-op members are working to tap into through the Makers Market.

Taylor-Wright said it’s been a five-year journey to “birth” her vision to:

» Provide increase access to consumers of local farm goods;

» Offer farmers access to an inspected commercial kitchen and airy processing room to make value-added foods from their products;

» Establish a year-round grocery to market local farm products; and

» Partner with local schools to promote healthy eating and agriculture education for students

It all started, she said, because she wanted to make and sell chicken salad. Taylor-Wright was already raising and selling pasture-raised meat at the local farmers market when she started looking for a way to make the family farm more sustainable. To sell a food product such as chicken salad to the public, Taylor-Wright learned it had to be prepared in a kitchen inspected and approved by the health department.

No such kitchen existed in the area at the time, she said. So, she headed off to meet with Debra Gosney at the Southside Planning District Commission in hopes of finding funding to develop a commercial kitchen.

She said it was Gosney who first encouraged her to think bigger. “This is a community project and you need grants, not a personal or business loan,” Taylor-Wright recalls her saying. While the Southside Planning District Commission was not able to write grants for Taylor-Wright’s project — SPDC focuses on finding funds for infrastructure projects in Southside Virginia — Gosney offered to guide her through the process.

Five years later, and many grants later, Taylor-Wright said the Southern Virginia Food Hub has received just over $1 million. Along the way she’s become better educated about the benefits of foods raised by small-scale farmers. These foods, many of which are heirloom varieties or raised in open pastures, are nutritionally superior.

She explains why through an example: “In the winter, our tomatoes come from a small town in Mexico, 4,000 miles away. They’re picked while still green to ensure peak ripeness by the time the product reaches our markets. Therefore, the vitamins and nutrients in these foods have not and will not fully develop.”

Taylor-Wright acknowledges that the fresh foods and products sold at the Makers Market may be a little pricier than comparable products sold at large-scale grocery stores. She says price should not be a deterrent to supporting local farmers. Beyond improved nutrition from eating locally-sourced foods, she says, “fresher foods just taste better.” At the same time buying local helps the community, by keeping the dollars “here at home.”

As Taylor-Wright pursued funds for the Makers Market, she said the vision for what the Southern Virginia Food Hub could become “blossomed.” Now, besides housing a local food grocery and a commercial kitchen, the market serves as a classroom for farmers and community groups offering programs on cooking, health, marketing, advertising and business management, an incubator for small business owners looking to get a toehold in the food business, a market for ready-to-eat, take-home family style meals using seasonal local products prepared by local chef Will Lehman, and a resource for small food business owners who need help finding funding, or with marketing and even earning label approval for their products.

“Our next venture is online ordering through Lulu’s Local Foods,” a program designed to assist small producers with selling their farm products at retail by allowing buyers to purchase farm-fresh products from multiple sources, and have them delivered to one site for pickup.

“We just keep expanding what we can and will do for our local farm community and the public. The future is wide open,” Taylor-Wright says. With expanded services, Taylor-Wright also hopes the positive feedback she’s received from the public will continue.

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