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Maker’s Market promotes role in Mecklenburg school career curriculum

SoVaNow.com / September 26, 2018
Ann Taylor Wright, founder of the Southern Virginia Maker’s Market, shared plans Monday with the Mecklenburg County School Board to provide educational opportunities for students through the community food hub being built in South Hill at the corner of Danville Street and Mecklenburg Avenue.

She said while the primary goal of the Maker’s Market is to increase profits for local small farmers and food artisans, the project also seeks to make “Southern Virginia” synonymous with good food and to instill a love of local healthy eating among children. As such, she told members of the School Board there are many opportunities for the school division and market vendors to collaborate.

The food hub location could be the scene of agriculture and cooking classes, meal preparation, marketing programs, school visits by farmers, and dinners involving performances by members of the school drama club, Taylor Wright suggested.

Taylor Wright said she was sharing plans for the food hub with the school division because of the opportunities she sees for county students. She said she’s already working with Gary Cifers, the head of the Career and Technical Education (CTE) program.

The idea for the food hub developed five years ago when Taylor Wright and her husband were selling their meats at local farm markets. Speaking with other farmers, she realized there was a need for a centralized market and thus she began the planning process.

Now with construction nearing completion on the building that once housed the Farmer’s Bakers Market, a brick-and-mortar retail store for Southern Virginia food products will soon become a reality. In addition to the retail operation, the Southern Virginia Maker’s Market will include classroom space and a commercial kitchen where farmers and artisans can turn their produce, dairy and meats into valued-added products — cheeses, butter, salsas and spaghetti sauce to name a few.

As for the educational tie-in, Taylor Wright envisioned culinary arts classes that would allow students to cook and serve meals at the market, and outside food producers being able to purchase the produce grown at the school greenhouse for use in their own dishes. Students could help develop marketing programs for food items sold through the market, or establish a farm-to-school link to encourage the use of locally-produced foodstuffs with meals served at county schools.

Currently, the Southern Virginia Maker’s Market has 110 farmers from eight counties who will be selling and producing items at the site, located next to the Colonial Center in downtown. The food market features one of the only dairy processing rooms available to small producers in the state.

Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols called the Southern Virginia Maker’s Market “an excellent opportunity for the students. It’s what we are looking for in partnerships with the community” as educators look for ways to implement career readiness programs.

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