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:
Follow The Virginia Foodie here:
Note: We use AI transcription so there may be some inaccuracies
[00:00:00] Allie Hill: I feel success when someone can leave us and move on to a larger facility. Yeah. 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.
[00:00:17] Georgiana Dearing: Welcome to the Regina 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?
[00:00:37] Georgiana Dearing: Then we've got some stories for you.
[00:00:44] Georgiana Dearing: 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 guests, Allie Hill and Catherine Wilson from Virginia FoodWorks. 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 FoodWorks, and I've always been curious about how this co-packer is making such an impact on Virginia Agricul.
[00:01:19] Georgiana Dearing: Located in the Prince Edward County Cannery and Commercial Kitchen, Virginia FoodWorks 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're taking small businesses all the way from a recipe to retail sales.
[00:01:47] Georgiana Dearing: Good morning. Thank you for joining me today.
[00:01:50] Allie Hill: Good morning. Thank you for having us.
[00:01:53] Georgiana Dearing: So I've got two guests today from Virginia FoodWorks, which is a co-packing facility in Virginia, and I was wondering if you guys could introduce yourselves and explain a little bit about who you are and what you do.
[00:02:08] Katharine Wilson: Sure.
[00:02:08] Katharine Wilson: I am Catherine Wilson. I'm the director of Virginia FoodWorks. We're a nonprofit organization that works with farmers and food businesses making value added products at Prince Edward County Cannery.
[00:02:22] Allie Hill: And my name is Hill and I have Virginia Food Works since its inception. I helped a group of folks get the nonprofit started in 20, and I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.
[00:02:38] Georgiana Dearing: You said that Prince Edward County Cannery and Commercial Kitchen, that's been around for a while, is that right? It has. I
[00:02:45] Allie Hill: 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 and in the summertime, so when the school kitchens were unused while the kids were out obsession, they would coach would come in and do personal home canning in the schools.
[00:03:07] Allie Hill: And once it was popular enough and in demand, they opened a full-time cannery in Prince County and. It has been operating at the time, it was five days a week since, since then, and now it's, um, operating three days a week doing home canning. So what that means is people who have maybe a very large garden, or they love to shop the farmer's market for the bulk second, and they'll take them into the cannery and make actual metal cans of, it could be brunwick stews or apple sauces, or even.
[00:03:43] Allie Hill: People have made fruitcake in a can. A little bit of everything, but it's, it's wildly popular with people in Prince Edward and surrounding, and then mm-hmm. people drive from far away to come and, and use the services. It's very affordable and very hands on, and if someone doesn't have experience, the staff there.
[00:04:02] Allie Hill: Patty and Rodney will. Hold your hand and walk you through it and even give you recipes to prepare in advance. It's, it's quite a fun operation.
[00:04:12] Georgiana Dearing: Oh, it sounds really interesting. It sounds so, 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.
[00:04:24] Georgiana Dearing: 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. So you actually have like the physical tin can canning. Yeah. So
[00:04:41] Allie Hill: this is, um, a common confusion. So there are two different services operating out of the Prince Edward Cannery three days a week.
[00:04:48] Allie Hill: 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 FoodWorks is operating out of the cannery. And there's a distinction in the containers that we use. The home canning only uses the metal containers and they have the caners that that tighten that lid on there.
[00:05:09] Allie Hill: And they have these enormous retort pressure cookers that can put a high heat and pressure to do kinda low acid foods and high acid foods both. And so, Exclusively use metal cans. And then for Virginia Food Works, everything we do is for resale and we exclusively use glass jars with metal lids. And so we have a different type of system and process, um, and we have a different set of food logs, what's allowed to be processed, uh, and not so we have more restrictions on foods for resale.
[00:05:43] Allie Hill: So thank you for
[00:05:44] Georgiana Dearing: asking that. There's actually two entities working in the same building. Absolutely. Ok. And one is the home canning side of it. So 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 caned green beans, I guess.
[00:06:12] Allie Hill: Exactly. They do all the work themselves with the assistance of the, 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 or whatnot. But there are so many fantastic machines to help prep. There are tomato juicing machines.
[00:06:30] Allie Hill: There are machines that will take the pulp out of different products with different. Screens and you know, seeds out of berries, there is a potato peeling machine where you can throw in a five pound bag of potatoes and within 60 seconds they're peeled with a standing machine in there. They're greens washers, they, they've got a fantastic prep equipment, but it's such an experience going with home canning that might deserve its own podcast.
[00:06:57] Allie Hill: Uh, but just the, the quick plug for that, anybody can go and use the, the home cannery and, um, it's such an experience. So if anyone's interested, please check out the Prince Edward Cannery on online and, and make an appointment for next year. So it's un it's closed until what, June?
[00:07:15] Katharine Wilson: Catherine? Yeah.
[00:07:17] Georgiana Dearing: December.
[00:07:18] Georgiana Dearing: So I'm just curious, are those like, are they every other day or is, are the days bunched together? Like when would Home Canners come?
[00:07:25] Allie Hill: Home cans are there on Monday,
[00:07:27] Katharine Wilson: Wednesday, and Saturdays from June to December, and then Virginia FoodWorks operates Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays year
[00:07:35] Georgiana Dearing: round. Okay. That was another question was you said your three days right now, and I was, I was curious about that because one of my questions that I've been asking everyone is, The food industry was really hit hard with the pandemic, and I'm just curious, how did that go for, for your organization?
[00:07:57] Georgiana Dearing: What happened?
[00:07:58] Katharine Wilson: 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 food productions so they can bring their friends, family, staff. And therefore keep their labor costs very low. It may only require one or two of our staff people to work alongside them.
[00:08:23] Katharine Wilson: Our staff has the proper certifications for the food production, so it's easing that burden on clients 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. And so just the safest way that we could come up with staying open was to keep clients.
[00:08:45] Katharine Wilson: Outside of the cannery and run food productions with all of our own staff, um, rather than working alongside clients. And that's been a big change and challenging, especially just because it requires a lot more staff. , we used to having to keep this many people on staff and that has been challenging to hire and maintain
[00:09:05] Allie Hill: throughout the.
[00:09:07] Georgiana Dearing: Yeah. So you are a nonprofit, so 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.
[00:09:18] Katharine Wilson: Yes, it's, 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 productions.
[00:09:29] Katharine Wilson: And it's just been quite the process since . The summer . Yeah.
[00:09:37] Georgiana Dearing: So 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?
[00:09:46] Allie Hill: So,
[00:09:50] Allie Hill: and interested in working with Virginia Food Works and helping to start it. Cause I had young kids and I didn't know what to feed them. And I read, of course all the Michael Pollen. And thought about feeding them locally, and I could easily find my vegetables and dairy and meat at my farmer's market, but I couldn't find the processed foods in my pantry.
[00:10:13] Allie Hill: When I say processed, you know, value added
[00:10:16] Katharine Wilson: foods
[00:10:17] Allie Hill: that were staples. And I realized that there was not an affordable co-packing or processing facility. For many of the farmers. Mm-hmm. , and 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 and regulations, and it was in the multimillion.
[00:10:43] Allie Hill: And who was I to start one and who would trust me with millions of dollars? So I, I tried to look for low hanging fruit, and so the Prince Edward Cannery was operating, you know, five mornings a week for a couple of hours. And I thought, why can't we use an existing facility that could take some more users and, you know, support that existing facility instead of starting something different?
[00:11:09] Allie Hill: And Prince Edward County. Overwhelmingly supportive of this and they have been since day one. It compliments the home canning side very well. It inspires their local farmers to, to use the facility. It hopefully encourages farms there to add more acreage of of crops. And 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 from their county.
[00:11:35] Allie Hill: They, they're very supportive of the, the whole south side region and, and, you know, Richmond and whatnot. Cause it brings people to their town. And 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.
[00:11:55] Allie Hill: So it's, it's very much a hands-on work with each individual client to say what the food regulations can and, and can't do. So sometimes it takes us many days and. Before we have our first production day and it's, it's ready. So being a nonprofit and, and being able to affordably help these small farms and these small food producers has been a perfect compliment.
[00:12:20] Georgiana Dearing: I was gonna ask you, how far away do you draw customers from?
[00:12:25] Katharine Wilson: Quite a ways. While we're primarily central and Northern Virginia for our clients, that's mostly 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 Really. Yeah.
[00:12:41] Katharine Wilson: Um, and even so this year we brought on a client from North Carolina. We just ran a batch for someone in from Maryland. And 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.
[00:13:01] Katharine Wilson: And we are the closest and most flexible option for them as a co-packer.
[00:13:07] Georgiana Dearing: Okay. So that's a thing that people are not understanding really about co-packing, is that different facilities have their different niches in what they're good for. So you had mentioned acidic foods earlier. Is that kind of what you're focusing on?
[00:13:26] Katharine Wilson: Yes. So we are, 99% of the products that we make are acid or acidified foods. That other 1%, we have a couple clients who have dry tea blends, um, or dry spice blends that we can do an acid food, the primary ingredient, for instance, a berry. So a jam is an acid food because strawberries, blueberries. Acidic ingredients, and that's the primary ingredient by weight in the recipe.
[00:13:52] Katharine Wilson: Acidified foods are things like pickles where you have a low acid food like a green bean or a zucchini chip, and you're adding an acid ingredient like vinegar. Mm-hmm. And that acid. The low ingredients to make it food safe for commercial sale.
[00:14:08] Georgiana Dearing: So tell me why that specific distinction. Is it have to do with food safety or the equipment?
[00:14:15] Georgiana Dearing: Yes. Food safety. So a lot of condiments, ,
[00:14:19] Allie Hill: right. The foods that we can process have to have a pH of 4.6 or less, such as this magical number from anything above that botulism can thrive. And since botulism is odorless, tasteless, and
[00:14:31] Katharine Wilson: deadly, we avoid that at all costs. .
[00:14:35] Georgiana Dearing: So 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?
[00:14:43] Katharine Wilson: 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. And 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.
[00:15:05] Katharine Wilson: And so we work with all of them where they are. And so sometimes I'm placing the jar orders because I know exactly what they need and we. Food accounts where they can order ingredients from that get delivered to the cannery, and then some folks that are showing up with all their own things ready to go and we just make the food for them.
[00:15:25] Allie Hill: That's what makes the job so exciting is, as Catherine 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. And then we have other clients coming in from Northern Virginia making thousands of particular sauce for then they come every few months.
[00:15:47] Allie Hill: So the customers have different needs. Different sales opportunities and I just love finding out everyone's unique situation and seeing how we can assist. And as Catherine said, someone's coming from New Jersey and because we can be so efficient and make, you know, a thousand, 2000 jars of something in a day.
[00:16:10] Allie Hill: Some folks don't have to come, but once or twice a year. So if they have to drive a couple of hours to get to the facility, it's well worth the, the trouble and the planning and the, the miles. That's
[00:16:21] Georgiana Dearing: so cool that you're able to offer that and the fact that you started this nonprofit to really help those people make that transition.
[00:16:30] Georgiana Dearing: I think that, I just think that's really fascinating. I like that. I mean, you talk 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.
[00:16:54] Georgiana Dearing: Is that
[00:16:54] Allie Hill: what that is? Yes,
[00:16:56] Katharine Wilson: absolutely. So we got a specialty crop block grant to develop these recipes for farmers to use and speaking as a former vegetable farmer, there is no time to develop your own hot sauce when you're trying to grow the hot peppers. And so we have these recipes that. Virginia FoodWorks owns and any of our clients can use.
[00:17:17] Katharine Wilson: And they include apple sauce. Apple butter. We have salsas, marinara and pizza sauce, hot sauces, pickles,
[00:17:30] Katharine Wilson: vegetables, recipe, similar. Relishes. And then of course jams. Lots of
[00:17:37] Allie Hill: jams. , one of my, my favorite of our recipes is the pizza sauce, because if a farmer, let's say has a Saturday farmer's market stand and they sell the pizza sauce, hopefully they'll have vegetables that they can sell to go on top of the pizza.
[00:17:53] Allie Hill: So they're selling not only the pizza sauce, which is made from, uh, ingredients from their own farm, but then they can say, how about some sliced zuc? Put on top or some roasted vegetables. So it's a, it's an advertising and marketing, uh, opportunity for them to have a jarred product with their logo and label, uh, showing a picture of their farm, for instance, um, in someone's pantry.
[00:18:18] Georgiana Dearing: Yeah, I'm, you know, 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? And 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.
[00:18:38] Georgiana Dearing: But I think because you have these recipes, I would say, I'm gonna make a guess, but. The produce is gonna vary right from farm to farm. If you have a pizza sauce, is it a different variety of tomato or the way it's grown or you know, there's still ways that it's your recipe, but it becomes their own for the farm.
[00:19:00] Georgiana Dearing: Am I, am I getting that correct?
[00:19:02] Katharine Wilson: Absolutely. And 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 gift set.
[00:19:24] Katharine Wilson: So there's some flexibility there, which is fun. What's also
[00:19:27] Allie Hill: notable is that for tomato sauce, as you said, every tomato has its own unique flavor and also its own water content. You know, your aromas versus your slicers and all of. Properties affect the, the ultimate flavor. And so each product is gonna be unique.
[00:19:44] Allie Hill: And in fact, some folks find that from year to year, even if they're using the same, let's say pizza sauce recipe, it might taste different in 2020 versus 2021. Because of the teir, the, you know, the amount of rain that we had, you know, maybe the farmer chose a slightly different variety. That's kinda a benefit in a way.
[00:20:04] Allie Hill: Instead of thinking it, you know, it might be different next year. It's exciting to see what, what's gonna result from the same exact recipe.
[00:20:11] Georgiana Dearing: 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 do you get that
[00:20:20] Katharine Wilson: flavor? It depends on the client.
[00:20:22] Katharine Wilson: So 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 wanna make with their produce. With clients who are coming with their U own unique recipes, we do require test batches. We typically make five or 10 gallons depending on the recipe.
[00:20:42] Katharine Wilson: And that's a shorter day. We're introducing
[00:20:45] Allie Hill: them
[00:20:45] Katharine Wilson: to the facility and the equipment that we plan to use. They're guiding us through their recipe, showing us how they make it, how we can adapt that process for commercial scale, and then, Very likely it's the first time that they're making that large a batch.
[00:21:01] Katharine Wilson: Mm-hmm. , um, typically they're making like one gallon at home. And 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, still tastes great and is. Their product.
[00:21:17] Allie Hill: So
[00:21:17] Georgiana Dearing: that's my more traditional knowledge of a co-packer, is that there's a brand who needs to expand their brand and they're looking for a facility that can do more than they can do with equipment they own.
[00:21:30] Georgiana Dearing: And so 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 wanna set the right expectation. Is that, am I getting that right from you? Is that you help perform that service?
[00:21:50] Katharine Wilson: Absolutely. Yep. And where we have stayed pretty consistently is we're about 40% of our clients are farmers. 60% are food businesses who are looking for those more consistent. This is my sauce. Mm-hmm. , we'll make it the same way. And we want it to meet these standards every production.
[00:22:06] Georgiana Dearing: And what kind of capacity are you talking about?
[00:22:09] Georgiana Dearing: You said five gallon versions, and then you said 50 or 60. So is that another niche that a co-packer would fill?
[00:22:16] Katharine Wilson: Yes. And 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 hundred, hundred 50 gallons because we haven't had to invest in infrastructure, which is a great benefit and means that we can
[00:22:36] Allie Hill: be people's first.
[00:22:37] Katharine Wilson: Step, uh, we have capacity as a nonprofit, like Allie was mentioning before. We're 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 and that way.
[00:22:55] Katharine Wilson: They can make however much they 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 do batches upwards of 60, 80 gallons for different products, but then we can graduate those clients to larger co packers when the demand is there and they're ready to do that.
[00:23:19] Georgiana Dearing: So Crescent Simples mentioned your facility in their interview, but then they went on to work with Hatch cause So could you tell me the distinction between what you're doing in Hatch, which is in Richmond?
[00:23:31] Katharine Wilson: 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.
[00:23:46] Katharine Wilson: They do have a large cooking vessel and filling machine that's appropriate for co-packing, but you would need your own certifications or a food that doesn't require certifications to produce in the kitchen there. Co-packing facility. They invested in some amazing equipment, but that does cost quite a bit of money, and so to make the most, they have a higher batch minimum.
[00:24:08] Katharine Wilson: I believe it's 50 gallons to run a production there. And so we're really happy to graduate clients. We have a great client named Rubens Cur Sauces. Mm-hmm. Best selling sauce is gonna be made at Hatch in those very large quantit. We'll continue to make his other curry sauce. He has eight others, , but then hopefully demand keeps increasing across the board and he can fully move his business to the large co-packer at Hatch.
[00:24:36] Georgiana Dearing: So you guys seem like, like a great first step for an emerging brand that's that's a cool space to be in, and you seem to be offering sort of the guiding hand as well. Getting the product
[00:24:48] Katharine Wilson: made. Yes. It's absolutely my favorite part of the job and what we do.
[00:24:53] Allie Hill: I feel success when someone can leave us and move on to a larger facility.
[00:24:59] Allie Hill: Yeah. Instead of being sad that we've lost a customer, I'm so proud of them to have grown their business enough to, to take it to the next. Oh, that's an
[00:25:09] Georgiana Dearing: 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. That's
[00:25:17] Allie Hill: wonderful.
[00:25:18] Allie Hill: On our website, someone can see photos of our facility and our equipment, and you'll see that we have multiple steam jacketed kettles anywhere from, I think 30 gallons up to 60 gallons. And these can be utilized within the same day. So you could be running multiple 40 gallon kettles, you know, depending on, uh, the production you're making.
[00:25:39] Allie Hill: And. Tea could be being steeped in one while you're prepping the next kettle for a different flavor of tea. You know, we, 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 hole and it will.
[00:26:01] Allie Hill: The entire apple and have a continuous, uh, catchment basin. We have greens washers. We have machines that can remove the seeds from berries. We have apple sauce machines where you can take the apple and the pulp and the skin and the seeds will be retained and the pulp will go through. Our website, has the detailed list of equipment and so people can check that out to see how we can assist them.
[00:26:28] Georgiana Dearing: I have one more question about equipment, and I just wanted to get clear on this, like, so 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,
[00:26:43] Katharine Wilson: I guess? Sure. We have a production manager who is running the show and she's running the show, whether clients are, when it, once it's safe, able to be there working alongside her, or if it's our staff and they're, they're making the product with her, so she has all the certifications and she.
[00:27:03] Katharine Wilson: Is leading the process so that the every food is made safely and according to the critical control factors that are required.
[00:27:10] Georgiana Dearing: So you mentioned that you have grant funding and your nonprofit. Where does the rest of your income come from? Do you do fundraising campaigns in the community?
[00:27:19] Allie Hill: We typically do not need to do fundraising.
[00:27:23] Allie Hill: 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. So we are very fortunate to have this public-private partnership of sorts, and they also provide funding for us to operate on a monthly basis.
[00:27:58] Allie Hill: And so we are able to give that hands-on. Education to folks without having to charge them. So thank you to Prince Edward County for allowing us to, to continue to provide this service.
[00:28:11] Georgiana Dearing: Now that's a wonderful relationship to have. That's, that's really great. And how forward thinking of them to see like, okay, here's a need in if this is getting served, that we're gonna help support the agricultural community.
[00:28:26] Georgiana Dearing: It's been a wild ride in the last year or so. You're, 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
[00:28:41] Katharine Wilson: FoodWorks? Well, we certainly look forward to. Taking a step backwards to how we are operating with clients, having them back inside the facility once infection rates have substantially, substantially dropped.
[00:28:55] Katharine Wilson: Looking forward to doing more farmer outreach. Unfortunately, with 2020, it was such a terrible barrier year with the late Frosts. We can't wait to bring in more jam clients and have more farmers using the facility, especially in the summer and the fall. But honestly, we're. Not necessarily looking to grow for capacity.
[00:29:17] Katharine Wilson: We just want to do what we do really well. We wanna be the best resource for farmers and and food businesses and help them get off to the best start
[00:29:27] Allie Hill: that they can. So I'd like to make a pitch thinking about this summer, make a pitch to farmers who might be listening to say that when you are in your busy season of, of growing and selling, we have the ability to have you store your produce in our freezer, and then you can come back when you are less busy and.
[00:29:51] Allie Hill: A value added food product. Oh, so many strawberry farmers, while they're picking, let's say for a berry stand, if they find at that time that they have a some seconds that aren't perfect for selling, but they're still, you know, there's no mold, there's no issues. The imperfect ones. If the farmers can go ahead and wash those and stick 'em in a bag and stick 'em in a freezer, we can make the jam later when times are a little more relaxed.
[00:30:21] Allie Hill: 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 Smushy strawberry. However, we do have a machine to pull the caps off, but it will not make a chunky result. It'll be, uh, kind of a strawberry puree so we can handle caps on or caps off, but know that freezing is such a fantastic option for delaying it.
[00:30:51] Allie Hill: 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. And, uh, we even have freezer space for rent. One great
[00:31:06] Katharine Wilson: example actually, just yesterday we made marinara sauce and pizza sauce for a farm in Westmoreland County.
[00:31:14] Katharine Wilson: They did a big last push, the last harvest of their tomatoes in early November. Um, and they brought 'em right to us and we've kept them frozen until actually. Our production calendar was, we had to push it back, but , it was just great to make some Virginia tomatoes into something else in February. So
[00:31:32] Georgiana Dearing: what else are you making right now in the dead of winter?
[00:31:35] Georgiana Dearing: What, what kind of foods are coming through?
[00:31:38] Katharine Wilson: Well, we did a few test batches in January for new clients that were exciting. One is a hot oil product. Space blends just suspended in oil that you can put on sandwiches. We did two new relish recipes and a dill pickle
[00:31:53] Allie Hill: and some new jams
[00:31:55] Katharine Wilson: for, um, dam Jam out of Richmond.
[00:31:57] Katharine Wilson: Oh yeah. Has had tremendous success towards the end of 20 especially, and we're so excited to support and have them as a new.
[00:32:05] Allie Hill: Yeah, we find that it's food entrepreneurs, those people who aren't necessarily using local produce who kind of fill our off season. So some folks might have a fantastic award-winning barbecue sauce and they don't typically use a lot of local ingredients.
[00:32:22] Allie Hill: So it's great to have those clients to keep our staff and our facility operating in the off season. It's a perfect blend.
[00:32:29] Georgiana Dearing: 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?
[00:32:40] Allie Hill: Certainly. We do
[00:32:40] Katharine Wilson: have a lot of resources available at our website, www.virginiafoodworks.org.
[00:32:47] Katharine Wilson: 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. Well,
[00:32:55] Georgiana Dearing: that is so great. This was very interesting to me and I, I really appreciate you carving out some time to talk to me about your unique position in the co-packing world.
[00:33:07] Georgiana Dearing: So thank you for
[00:33:08] Katharine Wilson: that. Thank you so much for having
[00:33:10] Allie Hill: us, George. Great. It was great to see you. Thank
[00:33:13] Georgiana Dearing: you. Bye-Bye. Bye-bye. Thanks for listening, and if you wanna learn more about how to grow your own food brand, then click on Grow My firstname.lastname@example.org. If you're a lover of local
[00:33:25] Katharine Wilson: food, then be sure to follow us.
[00:33:28] Katharine Wilson: We are at VA Foodie on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
[00:33:32] Georgiana Dearing: Join the conversation and tell us about your adventures with good food, good people, and good brands.