Guiding Food Producers from Recipe to Retail with Virginia Food Works

Guiding Food Producers from Recipe to Retail with Virginia Food Works

Few things are more exciting for small brands than getting their first commercially-packaged food products off the production line. Allie Hill and Katharine Wilson, the founder and the director of Virginia Food Works, respectively, get to see this excitement firsthand through the work they do. This non-profit, located in the Prince Edward County Cannery & Commercial Kitchen, specializes in the creation of value-added foods from locally-grown ingredients. In today’s episode, we hear about the founding vision of Virginia Food Works and how they have upheld it over the years. We learn how they share the space with Prince Edward County Cannery & Commercial Kitchen and how their services differ, in respect to their work with small businesses. Allie and Katharine also offer insights into the range of clients they work with, along with the equipment and support they provide. As they can exclusively for resale, they use glass jars with metal lids and have specific systems for what can and cannot be processed. Our conversation also touches on the pandemic, community support, and fundraising. Stay tuned right till the end, where Allie makes an interesting pitch to farmers on how to create value-add products at the facility.

Get to Know Allie and Katharine:

Name: Allie Hill 
Location: Charlottesville, Virginia 
Years in the food industry: 10 
Favorite food: Kale salad with spiced nuts, goat cheese, and apples 
Least favorite food: Licorice 

Name: Katharine Wilson 
Location: Richmond, Virginia 
Years in the food industry: 7 as a vegetable farmer and Director of VFW 
Favorite food: Briny oysters 
Least favorite food: Ketchup 

Key Points Mentioned in this Episode:

  • Get to know Allie and Katharine and what Virginia Food Works does.

  • The history of Prince Edward County Cannery & Commercial Kitchen.

  • Hear more about home canning and what it entails.

  • The two services at Prince Edward County Cannery & Commercial Kitchen; home canning and Virginia Food Works.

  • Virginia Food Works makes foods exclusively for resale.

  • How the pandemic affected Virginia Food Works and the adjustments they made.

  • The impetus for starting a non-profit inside of an existing cannery and the support from the community.

  • Virginia Food Works’s canning niche and why they do acidified food.

  • The range of clients Virginia Food Works has and how they meet clients where they are.

  • Some of the recipes Virginia Food Works owns that farmers can use.

  • How farmers get help scaling recipes they might have produced at home.

  • Why Virginia Food Works does not have batch minimums.

  • The difference between Virginia Food Works and Hatch.

  • Some of the equipment available at Virginia Food Works.

  • How Virginia Food Works raises funds; the support they get from Prince Edward County.

  • What the future has in store for Virginia Food Works.

  • A pitch for farmers who might be listening: how you can create a value-add product.

Links Mentioned in this Episode: 

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Click Here for Full Transcript

Allie Hill 00:00:
Three days a week we have foods that are made through the home canning side that are exclusively for personal consumption. They are not allowed to be sold. The other three days a week, it’s for Virginia Food Works and we exclusively make foods for resale.”

Georgiana Dearing 00:20:
Welcome to The Virginia Foodie Podcast where we lift the lid on the craft food industry and tell the stories behind the good food, good people, and good brands that you know and love. If you’ve ever come across a yummy food brand and wondered, “How did they do that? How did they turn that recipe into a successful business?” then we’ve got some stories for you.

Georgiana Dearing 00:46:
Hello foodies, and all you makers and bakers, thanks for joining me today. My food marketing nerd brain is a little excited about today’s guest Allie Hill and Katharine Wilson from Virginia Food Works and I’ll tell you why. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of small brands share the excitement of getting their first commercially packaged food products off the production line at Virginia Food Works, and I’ve always been curious about how this co-packer is making such an impact on Virginia agriculture. Located in the Prince Edward County Cannery & Commercial Kitchen, Virginia Food Works is a nonprofit organization that specializes in the creation of value-added foods from locally grown ingredients. Listen in as the founder and the director chat with me about how they are taking small businesses all the way from a recipe to retail sales.

Georgiana Dearing 01:48:
Good morning, thank you for joining me today.

Katharine Wilson 01:52:
Good morning. Thank you for having us.

Georgiana Dearing 01:55:
I’ve got two guests today from Virginia Food Works, which is a co-packing facility in Virginia. I was wondering if you guys could introduce yourselves and explain a little bit about who you are and what you do.

Katharine Wilson 02:10:
Sure. I am Katharine Wilson. I am the director of Virginia Food Works. We’re a nonprofit organization that works with farmers and food businesses, making valued-added products at Prince Edward County Cannery.

Allie Hill 02:24:
My name is Allie Hill and I have been with Virginia Food Works since its inception. I helped a group of folks get the nonprofit started in 2012. I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it since.

Georgiana Dearing 02:39:
You said that Prince Edward County Cannery & Commercial Kitchen, that’s been around for a while, is that right?

Allie Hill 02:45:
It has. I think it was opened in 1975. Back in the day, before 1975, canneries were in almost every county in Virginia and they were typically in the kitchens of the schools in the summertime. When the school kitchens were unused while the kids are out of session, they would — coach would come in and do personal home canning in the schools. Once it was popular enough and in-demand, they opened a full-time in cannery Prince Edward County. It has been operating — at the time, it was five days a week since then and now, it’s operating three days a week and doing home canning.

What that means is, people who have maybe a very large garden or they love to shop at the farmers market for the bulk second, and they’ll take them into the cannery and make actual metal cans of, it could be like stews, or applesauce or even greens. People have made fruitcake in a can. A little bit of everything. But it is wildly popular with people in Prince Edward and surrounding, and then people drive from far away to come and use the services. It’s very affordable and very hands-on. If someone who doesn’t have experience, the staff there, Patty and Rodney will hold your hand and walk you through it and even give you recipes to prepare in advance. It’s quite a fun operation.

Georgiana Dearing 04:13:
It sounds really interesting. I have a whole bunch of questions there. Like the first thing is actual cans, like tin can cannery. I think I was thinking about, when I was reading about home canning, I was thinking about glass jars and I saw on your website that you offer — you stock some standard commercial glass containers. You actually have like the physical tin can canning?

Allie Hill 04:42:
This is a common confusion. There are two different services operating out of the Prince Edward Cannery. Three days a week, it is this home canning that I was referencing, which has a different set of rules and regulations. And then three days a week, Virginia Food Works is operating out of the cannery. There’s a distinction in the containers that we use. The home canning only uses the metal containers and they have the can seamers that tighten that lid on there. And they have this enormous retort pressure cookers that can put a high heat and pressure to do kind of low acid foods and high acid foods, both. They exclusively use metal cans.

For Virginia Food Works, everything we do is for resale and we exclusively use glass jars with metal lids, so we have a different type of system, and process and we have a different set of food log, what’s allowed to be processed and not. So, we have more restrictions on foods for resale. Thank you for asking that.

Georgiana Dearing 05:46:
Yeah. There are actually two entities working in the same building.

Allie Hill 05:51:

Georgiana Dearing 05:52:
Okay. One is the home canning side of it. Homeowners or people with gardens can bring their produce in and they’re doing the food preparation. They’re putting the recipe together and making whatever, fruitcake or just canned green beans, I guess.

Allie Hill 06:13:
Exactly. They do all the work themselves with the assistance of the two staff members, Patty and Rodney. They may have to snap their green beans ahead of time in order to save some time at the cannery or whatnot. But there are so many fantastic machines to help prep. There are tomato juicing machines, there are machines that will take the pulp out of different products or different screens and seeds out of berries. There’s a potato peeling machine, where you can throw in a five-pound bag of potatoes and within 60 seconds, they’re field with their sanding machines. There are greens washers and they’ve got fantastic prep equipment. But it’s such an experience going with home canning. That might deserve its own podcast. But just a quick plug for that, anybody can go and use the home cannery and it’s such an experience. If anyone is interested, please check out the Prince Edward Cannery online and make an appointment for next year. It’s closed until what, June, Katharine?

Katharine Wilson 07:17:
Yeah. [inaudible 00:07:18] June to December.

Georgiana Dearing 07:20:
Three days a week then is for home canners and that’s in the Prince Edward County Cannery facilities. There are two entities inside of this building, the cannery and then Virginia Food Works.

Allie Hill 07:35:
Correct. Three days a week, we have foods that are made through the home canning side that are exclusively for personal consumption. They are not allowed to be sold. The other three days a week, it’s for Virginia Food Works and we exclusively make foods for resale. We have a perfect partnership where we can utilize the same equipment and have array of different customers.

Georgiana Dearing 08:02:
I’m just curious, those go every other day or are the days punched together? When would home canners come in?

Katharine Wilson 08:09:
Home canners are there on Monday, Wednesday and Saturdays from June to December. Then Virginia Food Works operates Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays year-round.

Georgiana Dearing 08:20:
Okay. That was another question, was you said you’re three days right now and I was curious about that. Because one of my questions that I’ve been asking everyone is that, the food industry was really hit hard with the pandemic and I’m just curious how did that go for your organization. What happened?

Katharine Wilson 08:42:
It was a very challenging year for us. We had to adjust how we operate out of the cannery. Typically, we invite clients to come in and work alongside us during productions. So, they can bring their friends, family, staff to keep their labor cost very low. It may only require one or two of our staff people to work alongside them. Our staff has the proper certifications for the food production, so it’s easing that burden on client to not have to get certified themselves. However, we do have to work within six feet of each other for long durations during the food productions. Just the safest way that we come up with staying open was to keep clients outside of the cannery and run food productions with all of our own staff, rather than working alongside clients. That’s been a big change and challenging especially, just because it requires a lot more staff. We aren’t used to having to keep this many people on staff and that has been challenging to hire and maintain throughout the year.

Georgiana Dearing 09:51:
Yes. You’re a nonprofit, can you tell me a little bit about that? Because I can imagine adding staff to a nonprofit is like a bit of a hill to climb.

Katharine Wilson 10:01:
Yes, it is and doing so remotely. Typically, we’re bringing people in to interview in-person at the cannery, but we’re doing that over the phone and then inviting them for trainings during production. It’s just been quite the process since the summer.

Georgiana Dearing 10:21:
Allie, tell me about the origins of the nonprofit. Like what prompted you to start that part of what’s happening inside of the cannery?

Allie Hill 10:30:
The reason I was motivated and interested in working with Virginia Food Works and helping to start it, because I had young kids and I didn’t know what to feed them. I read, of course all the Michael Pollan books and thought about feeding them locally. I could easily find my vegetables, and dairy and meat at my farmers market, but I couldn’t find the processed food in my pantry. When I say processed, value-added foods that are staples. I realized that there was not an affordable co-packing or processing facility for many of the farmers. I am an engineer by training, I don’t have food processing experience, but I looked into what it would take to start a new facility with all of the equipment, and meet the certifications and regulation and it was in the multi millions. Who was I to start one and who would [inaudible 00:11:30] me with millions of dollars?

I try to look for low-hanging fruit, and so the Prince Edward Cannery was operating five mornings a week for a couple of hours. I thought, why can’t we use an existing facility that could take some more users and support that existing facility instead of starting something different? Prince Edward County was overwhelmingly supportive of this and they have been since day one. It complements the home canning side very well. It inspires their local farmers to use the facility. It hopefully encourages farms there to add more acreage of crops. Prince Edward County has been very supportive of the counties around them as well, knowing that it’s not going to exclusively be used by folks in their county. They are very supportive of the whole southside region and Richmond and whatnot, because it brings people to their town.

The reason it’s a nonprofit is we do a lot of education, primarily working with the very small businesses and saying, “This is how you get from recipe to retail.” It’s very much a hands-on work with each individual client to say what the regulations can and can’t do. Sometimes it takes us many days and hours before we have our first production day and it’s ready. Being a nonprofit and being able to affordably help these small farms, in this small food producers has been a perfect complement.

Georgiana Dearing 13:04:
I was going to ask you, how far away do you draw customers from?

Katharine Wilson 13:10:
Quite away. We’re primarily central and northern Virginia for our clients. That’s most where they’re coming from. Just next week, we have a client coming from New Jersey who has produced with us once a year for four years.

Georgiana Dearing 13:24:

Katharine Wilson 13:25:
Even more so this year, we brought on a client from North Carolina. We just ran a bunch from someone from Maryland. Those two clients are interesting because they have their own commercial kitchens, where they’ve been making their products, but their demand has increased to the point that they need to be cooking in 40- or 60-gallon kettles, and we are the closest and most flexible option for them as a co-packer.

Georgiana Dearing 13:51:
Wow! Okay. That’s a thing that people are not understanding really about co-packing is that different facilities have their different niches and what they are good for. You mentioned acidic foods earlier, is that kind of which you’re focusing on?

Katharine Wilson 14:10:
Yes, we are — 99% of the products that we make are acid or acidified food. That other 1%, we have a couple of clients who have dried tea blends or dried spice blends that we can do. Acid food, the primary ingredient is the berry. So, a jam is an acid food because strawberries, blueberries are acidic ingredient and that’s the primary ingredient by weight in the recipe. Acidified foods are things like pickles where you have a low acid like a green bean or a zucchini chip. Then you’re adding an acid ingredient like vinegar, and that acid can penetrate the low acid ingredients to make it food safe for commercial sale.

Georgiana Dearing 14:52:
Tell me why that specific distinction. Does it have to do with food safety or the equipment?

Katharine Wilson 14:58:
Yes, food safety.

Georgiana Dearing 15:01:
So, a lot of condiments.

Allie Hill 15:04:
Right. The foods that we can process have to have a pH of 4.6 or less. It’s just this magical number. from anything above that botulism can thrive. Since botulism is odorless, tasteless and deadly, we avoid that at all cost.

Georgiana Dearing 15:19:
I’m also really curious now, because you have someone that comes from New Jersey. Like do they bring a whole truckload of their food.

Katharine Wilson 15:27:
That client is bringing all of his own ingredients and jars. We have so many different clients at so many different stages of their businesses. The great difference between working with farmers to make value-added products with their produce compared to food businesses who have grandma’s marinara sauce that they want to sell. We work with all of them where they are. Sometimes, I’m placing the jar orders because I know exactly what they need, and we have food accounts where they can order ingredients from that get delivered to the cannery. Then some folks, they’re showing up with all of their own things ready to go and we just make the food for them.

Allie Hill 16:10:
That what makes the job so exciting, is as Katharine said, we meet them where they are. It’s wonderful to have a small farmer come in and want to make only a couple hundred jars once a year for an annual market. Then we have other clients coming in from Northern Virginia making thousands of particular sauces and they come every few months. The customers have different needs, different sales opportunities and I just love finding out everyone’s unique situation and seeing how we can assist. As Katharine said, someone is coming from New Jersey. Because we can be so efficient and make a thousand, 2,000 jars of something in a day, some folks don’t have to come but once or twice a year. If they have to drive a couple of hours to get to the facility, it’s well worth the trouble, and planning and the miles.

Georgiana Dearing 17:05:
That’s so cool that you’re able to offer that. The fact that you started this nonprofit to really help those people make that transition, I think that — I just think that’s really fascinating. I like that. I mean, you just talked about helping them from recipe to retail and I see that you’re approved to — there are recipes that you own, I guess, that are your go-to things to convert farm produce over to something that maybe is market ready for like farm markets. Is that what that is?

Katharine Wilson 17:40:
Yes, absolutely. We got especially Crop Block Grant to develop these recipes for farmers to use. Speaking as a former vegetable farmer, there is no time to develop your own hot sauce when you’re just trying to grow the hot peppers. We have these recipes that Virginia Food Works owns and any of our clients can use. They include applesauce, apple butter, we have salsas, marinara and pizza sauce, hot sauces, pickles. We just had our new ones for root vegetable, which are exciting. We did all the squash butter recipe similar to apple butter. Relishes and then of course jams, lots of jams.

Allie Hill 18:22:
One of my favorites of our recipes is the pizza sauce. Because if a farmer let’s say has a Saturday farmers market stand, and they sell the pizza sauce, hopefully they’ll have vegetables that they can sell to go on top of the pizza. They’re selling not only the pizza sauce, which is made from ingredients from their own farm. But then they can say, “How about some sliced zucchini to put on top or some roasted vegetables?” It’s an advertising and marketing opportunity for them to have jarred product with their logo, and label showing a picture of their farm for instance in someone’s pantry.

Georgiana Dearing 19:03:
I’m just being the food nerd that I am, I am the label reader and I always am turning it around to figure out, “Okay. Where was this made and how did they do that?” I see a lot, like I read a lot of farm stand brands, especially in little shops. It’s kind of nice to have that, that it comes directly from the farm. But I think because you have these recipes, I would say, I’m getting make a guess, but the produce is going to vary from farm to farm if you have a pizza sauce. It is a different variety of tomato or the way it’s grown. There are still ways that it’s your recipe but it becomes their own for the farm. Am I getting that correct?

Katharine Wilson 19:47:
Absolutely. A good example of that is with our pepper jelly too. The ingredients are just peppers, so we can use any peppers. We can do half sweet, half spicy. We can do less spicy, we can do one kettle of golden peppers, one of green and one of red so they can have a traffic light against that. There is some flexibility there, which is fun.

Allie Hill 20:11:
What’s also notable is that for tomato sauce, as you said, every tomato has its own unique flavor and also its own water content. Your aromas versus your slicers. All of those properties affect the ultimate flavor, so each product is going to be unique. In fact, some folks find that from year-to-year, even if they’re using the same pizza sauce recipe, it might taste different in 2020 versus 2021, because of the [inaudible 00:20:39], the amount of rain that we had. Maybe the farmer chose a slightly different variety. That’s kind of a benefit in a way. Instead of thinking it might be different next year, it’s exciting to see what’s going to results from the same exact recipe.

Georgiana Dearing 20:56:
When you have someone come in with their produce and they’re a first-timer, do they do a test batch or do you just dive right in? How to get that flavor?

Katharine Wilson 21:04:
It depends on the client. If it is a farm client who’s just looking to use their tomatoes, likely, we’ve provided them with samples of our recipes and they’ve chosen what products they want to make with their produce. With clients who are coming with their own unique recipes, we do require test batches. We typically make five or ten galloons depending on the recipe. At a shorter day, we’re introducing them to the facility and the equipment that we plan to use. They’re guiding us through their recipe, showing us how they make and how we can adapt that process for commercial scale. Then very likely, it’s the first time they’re making that large batch. If they’re making one gallon at home. So, when we’re scaling to five gallons, we’re making sure that what is there in the five-gallon kettle is the exact same thing as their recipe and that it scaled appropriately, it still tastes great and it is their product.

Georgiana Dearing 21:04:
That’s my more traditional knowledge of a co-packer, is that there’s a brand who needs to expand their brand and they are looking for a facility that can do more than they can do with equipment they own. Then you do have that like flavor consistency, because they’re reaching a broader market and probably in more traditional retail where they don’t want to disappoint customers. They want to set the right expectation. Am I getting that right from you, is that you help perform that service?

Katharine Wilson 22:33:
Absolutely. Yep. Where we have stayed pretty consistently is, we’re about, 40% of our clients are farmers, 60% are food businesses. We’re looking for those more consistent, this is my sauce, we make it the same way and wanted to meet those standards every production.

Georgiana Dearing 22:51:
What kind of capacity are you talking about? You said five-gallon versions and then you said 50 or 60. Is that another niche that a co-packer would fill?

Katharine Wilson 23:00:
Yes. Because we are a nonprofit, we are able to operate without batch minimums. We can do five or 10 gallons. We don’t have to require people to make 100, 150 gallons because we haven’t had to invest in the infrastructure, because we have the cannery, which is a great benefit. It means that we can be people’s first step. We had stayed as a nonprofit. Like Allie was mentioning before, we are the education source, we’re your guide. You can come to us. You haven’t even submitted your recipe for our process authority yet, we can help you through that process.

I can take that time because we have the funding. In that way, they can make however much the need to. They don’t have to scale up and invest a lot at the very start. They can come to us to make 10, 20, 30, 40 gallons. We do batches upwards of 60, 80 gallons for different products. But then we can graduate those clients to larger co-parkers when the demand is there and they’re ready to do that.

Georgiana Dearing 24:03:
Crescent Simples mentioned your facility in their interview, but then they went on to work with Hatch. Could you tell me the distinction between what you’re doing in Hatch, which is in Richmond?

Katharine Wilson 24:16:
Sure. Hatch has some great resources for food businesses. The community kitchen that they have a monthly membership to is perfect, especially for people near Richmond who can make the most of that monthly membership and go frequently. They do have a large cooking vessel and filling machines that’s appropriate for co-packing, but you would need your own certifications or a food that doesn’t require certification to produce in the kitchen. Their co-packing facility, they invested in some amazing equipment, but that does cost quite a bit of money. So, to make the most, they have a higher batch minimum. I think it’s 150 gallons to run a production there. We’re really happy to graduate clients.

We have a great client named Rubin’s Curry Sauces. Bestselling sauce is going to be made at Hatch in those very large quantities. We’ll continue to make his other curry sauces. He has eight others, so we do those. But then hopefully, demand keeps increasing across the board and he can fully move his business to the large co-packer at Hatch.

Georgiana Dearing 25:21:
You guys seem like a great first step for an emerging brand. That’s a cool space to be in and you seem to be offering sort of the guiding hand, as well as getting the product made.

Katharine Wilson 25:33:
Yes, it’s absolutely my favorite part of the job and what we do.

Allie Hill 25:37:
I feel success when someone can leave us and move on to a larger facility. Instead of being sad that we’ve lost a customer, I’m so proud of them to have grown their business enough to take it to the next step.

Georgiana Dearing 25:53:
That’s an exciting space to be. That’s really fun to watch. That’s probably one of my favorite things about small brands, is seeing them do the next thing. It’s wonderful.

Allie Hill 26:02:
On our website, someone can see photos of our facility and our equipment. They’ll see that we have multiple steam jacket of kettles, anywhere from 30 gallons up to 60 gallons. These can be utilized within the same day so you could be running multiple 40-gallon kettles depending on the production you’re making. Tea could be being steeped in one, while you’re prepping the next kettle for a different flavor of tea. We have a lot of capacity and a lot of equipment that can help folks on a commercial scale. We have chopping machines that are continuous flow, so you can drop in apples whole and it will slice the entire apple and have a continuous catchment basin.

We have greens washers. we have machines that can remove the seeds from berries. We have applesauce machines where you can take the apple, and the pulp, and the skin and seeds will be retained and the pulp will go through. Our website has the detailed list of equipment and people can check that out to see how we can assist them.

Georgiana Dearing 27:12:
I have one more question about equipment. I just wanted to get clear on this. Do the brands come in and do the cooking themselves on your equipment or does your staff do the cooking? What’s the breakdown of that, I guess?

Katharine Wilson 27:28:
Sure. We have a production manager who is running the show. She’s running the show whether clients are — once it’s safe, able to be there, working alongside her or if it’s our staff and they’re making the product with her. She has all the certifications and she is leading the process of that, that every food is made safely and according to the critical control factors that are required.

Georgiana Dearing 27:55:
You mentioned that you have grant funding and you’re nonprofit? Where does the rest of your income come from? Do you do fundraising campaigns in the community?

Allie Hill 28:03:
We typically do not need to do fundraising. We are a very fortunate nonprofit, where the majority of our revenues go back to pay for our staff and our overhead. However, we are supported by Prince Edward County. They maintain the facility, and provide the maintenance and equipment repairs, so we don’t have to pay for that out-of-pocket. We are very fortunate to have this public-private partnership of sorts. They also provide funding for us to operate on a monthly basis, so we are able to give that hands-on education to folks without having to charge them. Thank you to Prince Edward County for allowing us to continue to provide the service.

Georgiana Dearing 28:55:
That’s a wonderful relationship to have. That’s really great. How forward thinking of them to see that, okay, here’s a need and if this is getting served, we’re going to help support that agricultural community. It’s been a wild ride in the last year, so you’re managing the social distancing, but we are recording this at the very beginning of 2021. Can you speak to me about what’s on the horizon? What’s the future like for Virginia Food Works?

Katharine Wilson 29:26:
We certainly look forward to taking a step backwards to how we’re operating with clients, having inside facility once infection rates have substantially, substantially dropped, looking to forward to doing more farmer outreach. Unfortunately, with 2020, it was such a terrible year with the late frost. We can’t wait to bring in more jam clients and have more farmers using the facility especially in the summer, in the fall. Honestly, we’re not necessarily looking to grow for capacity, we just want to do what we do really well. We want to be the best resource for farmers and food businesses, and help them get off to the best start that they can.

Allie Hill 30:12:
I’d like to make a pitch thinking about the summer, make a pitch to farmers who might be listening. To say that, when you are in your busy season of growing and selling, we have the ability to have you store your producers in our freezer, and then you can come back when you are less busy and make a value-added food product. So many strawberry farmers, while they are picking let’s say for a berry stand, if they find at that time that they have some seconds that aren’t perfect for selling, but there’s no mold, there are no issues, the imperfect ones. If the farmers can go ahead and wash those and stick them in a bag, and stick them in a freezer, we can make the jam later when times are a little more relaxed. Notable for strawberries let’s say. If a farmer wants a chunky strawberry, they need to go ahead and take the caps off before they freeze them, because our equipment cannot cap a thawed smooshy strawberry.

However, we do have a machine to pull the caps off, but it will not make a chunky result. It will be kind of a strawberry puree. We can handle caps on or caps off, but know that freezing is such a fantastic option for delaying it. That could work for strawberries, it can work for tomatoes, and peppers for pepper jelly. Almost everything can be frozen and dealt with later. Just call us and we’ll tell you how to prep it if you need to prep it. We even have freezer space for rent.

Katharine Wilson 31:50:
One great example actually, just yesterday, we made marinara sauce and pizza sauce for a farm in Westmoreland County. They did a big last push, the last harvest of their tomatoes in early November and they brought them right to us. We’ve kept them frozen until actually, our production calendar, we have to push it back. But it was just great to make some Virginia tomatoes into something else in February.

Georgiana Dearing 32:17:
What else are you making right now in the dead of winter? What kind of foods are coming through?

Katharine Wilson 32:21:
Well, we did a few test batches in January for new clients that were exciting. One is a hot oil product, spice blends that are suspended in oil that you can put on sandwiches. We did two new relish recipes, and a dill pickle, and some new jams for Dayum Jam out of Richmond has had tremendous success toward the end of 2020 especially and we’re so excited to support and have them as a new client.

Allie Hill 32:49:
Yeah. We find that it’s food entrepreneurs, those people who aren’t necessarily using local produce who kind of fill our off season. Some folks might have a fantastic award-winning barbecue sauce, and they don’t typically use a lot of local ingredients. It’s great to have these clients to keep our staff and our facility operating in the off-season. It’s a perfect blend.

Georgiana Dearing 33:13:
Well, you have invited people to contact you. Can you tell us how our listeners can find you, and contact and maybe schedule some time on your equipment?

Katharine Wilson 33:23:
Certainly. We do have a lot of resources available at our website, You can find our contact information there, you can shoot us an email to start the conversation and we’re happy to be your guide as you get started.

Georgiana Dearing 33:39:
That is so great. This was very interesting to me and I really appreciate you carving out some time to talk to me about your unique position in the co-packing world, so thank you for that.

Katharine Wilson 33:53:
Thank you so much for having us, George.

Georgiana Dearing 33:55:
Great. It was great to see you.

Allie Hill 33:57:
Thank you.

Georgiana Dearing 33:58:

Allie Hill 33:59:

Georgiana Dearing 34:00:
Thanks for listening. If you want to learn more about how to grow your own food brand, then click on Grow My Brand at If you're a lover of local food, then be sure to follow us. We’re @vafoodie on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Join the conversation and tell us about your adventures with good food, good people, and good brands.