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Southern Virginia Food Hub wins $245,600 grant

SoVaNow.com / September 13, 2017
Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced the award this week of a $245,600 Community Development Block Grant to the Town of South Hill for the Southern Virginia Food Hub. The project will provide training and technical assistance to 45 farmer and food producer microenterprise businesses, 51 percent involving low- to moderate-income residents.

The planned opening for the facility is this spring.

The Southern Virginia Food Hub is the brainchild of Brodnax-area farmer Ann Taylor-Wright, who saw the need for a place where local growers and artisans could produce and sell value-added products. The Food Hub’s proximity to the South Hill Farmers Market — at the intersection of Mecklenburg Avenue and Danville Street in the current Farmers Bakers Market building — is intentional, said Wright.

“Our goal is to enhance the farmers market experience” by providing an inspected kitchen and a grocery where people can make and sell finished products from their farms, she said. Examples include salsa or skin care items from sheep or goat dairy products.

She spent the past four years searching for a building and arranging funding for the Food Hub. Monday’s announcement is “the final piece we needed,” said Taylor-Wright. “We’ve already secured an architect to complete the plans for renovating the 4,200 square foot site at 100 W. Danville Street. Once the drawings are approved we can begin the bidding process for a contractor.”

“The Southern Virginia Food Hub is an exciting, innovative project that will help create successful, profitable agribusinesses and preserve the heritage of family farms in seven southern Virginia counties [Mecklenburg, Brunswick, Lunenburg, Nottoway, Charlotte, Dinwiddie, and Halifax],” said McAuliffe. “The Food Hub’s physical location in the Town of South Hill will also benefit their commercial center and residents through access to local food. With this grant, farmers and food producers in the region will have better opportunities to sell their goods and benefit from our growing new Virginia economy.”

Wright already worked out an arrangement with the Colonial Center, next door to the Food Hub, to promote local food offerings. “We plan to hold tastings of our locally-produced foods and beer and wine on those nights when there is a play or other event at the theatre. It will be a great way for us to market our products.”

The Southern Virginia Food Hub will serve farmer and producer businesses throughout Southside Virginia, according to Taylor-Wright, by housing a local food grocery store that sells products made from local agriculture, a commercial kitchen where farmers or home cooks can prepare food products for resale, a local food deli where you can purchase ready-made meals, and a community classroom.

Phase II will add a dairy processing room for making milk products — cheeses, ice cream and more.

The items sold through the market must be prepared in an inspected kitchen, either at the food hub or another site. “Unfortunately, we cannot sell items baked or prepared at home,” said Wright.

She added, “We are currently looking for lamb, fish and poultry producers looking for a new market to carry their products, but the meats must come from an inspected processing facility.”

The majority of Southern Virginia is designated as a “food desert,” meaning residents have limited access to food options, which this initiative seeks to change with the market and through classes focused on agri-business.

“I call our kitchen a food incubator,” Wright explained. The site, which can be rented by the hour, will offer cooking enthusiasts with a place where they can perfect their recipes and also make money selling to the general public. In the same building, cooks can learn marketing strategies for selling the product or take classes where they learn a new food production skill such as baking or food preservation.

Wright says she plans to hold a public meeting in the coming weeks to share more information about the resources available through the food hub. To find out when that will take place contact her via Facebook at Southern Virginia Food Hub or she can be reached at (434) 262-2803.

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