There is a severe lack of infrastructure for processing local foods in the Northern Piedmont region. We feel that GWCFEC can help fill the gap for entrepreneurs, producers and our community with what we offer at our facility.
Here are the ways you can be part of GWCFEC.
A food incubator is a shared space where local entrepreneurs can prepare and process their food products for the consumer or wholesale market. Instead of taking on the considerable financial commitment of opening a private commercial kitchen, new or expanding small businesses can take advantage of shared space, equipment and utilities. This option is ideal for food truck who need a commissary kitchen for their operation.
At GWCFEC, individuals who are interested in starting a food business can apply to use the facility. The application process will include an interview and training to ensure the facility and its programs meet the expectations of participants who use the facility. All money coming from user fees will be put back into maintaining the facility, including salaries, utilities, insurance and maintenance.
Once accepted, the individual will become a user of the facility and pay a monthly user fee. The fee will be based on:
- Amount of workspace needed
- Amount of storage space used – dry, refrigerator or freezer
- Frequency of usage
In exchange, GWCFEC will provide the following services to users:
- Utilities – gas, water and electric
- Mailing address to use for business address
- Cleaning and maintenance of facility
- Assistance with permit application
- Access to training for business development strategies including writing a business plan and product marketing.
- Food safety training
Food Processing and Co-packing
Producers will have the opportunity to use the facility to produce their own value-added items or hire GWCFEC to co-pack for them. A co-packer manufactures and packages foods for other businesses to sell. An example is when a local grower takes the end of season strawberries to a facility and hires them to use the berries to make strawberry jam, which is then sold in their farm store. The facility is a co-packer and applies the grower’s label to the product.
Food processing that can occur at the facility are jams and jellies, high-acid foods such as pickles and salsa, dehydration, cider processing, and freezing of meats, fruits and vegetables. Freezing is easy, safe and results in a high-quality product. Freezing also allows for year around availability of fruits and vegetables and is convenient to use.
Stone Soup Job Skills Training Program
The program is designed to provide training on food safety and customer service, and teaches basic culinary skills, with a focus on training low-income and mentally and intellectually challenged individuals for employment in the foodservice industry. Participants are required to attend six weekly, two-hour sessions to receive certificates of completion. An emphasis is placed on hands-on culinary training, which is provided by a retired chef, who is an instructor for the program. Sessions teach nutrition, budgeting and shopping skills, in preparation for employment and to help participants in caring for themselves and their families. In order to encourage participants to practice their new skills, kitchen utensils and food items are sent home each week. At the end of the training, students will not only have a new set of skills, but will have ownership of basic kitchen tools.
The program has been operating since 2015 and has had 64 graduates. Stone Soup partners with Rappahannock Rapidan Goodwill Industries to aid with job placement and participation in a paid internship program to graduates. Graduates also will have the opportunity to be hired by the food incubator owners and be trained to assist with the co-packing operation at the facility.
Community Food Assistance and Disaster Assistance
GWCFEC will provide the space and equipment needed to provide food and prepared meals to local food banks. During the COVID – 19 pandemic, residents across the region were left with limited access to local, healthy foods. While local food banks, agencies and businesses responded with donations and volunteers to prepare and distribute fresh foods and cooked meals a major missing component was the absence of a local, certified food processing center for meeting other needs.
The GWCFEC will provide this critical missing component. Nutritious frozen and prepared foods will allow individuals with limited financial, food access, cooking skills and /or space to be able to receive these foods through local food banks and other sources, year-round.
Other natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes and storms have occurred in the region. During these disasters, residents in many communities were also left food insecure. Not only will the GWCFEC provide a 6,200 square foot facility to prepare large quantities of food in a commercially licensed, food safety certified space, the space could also be used by state and federal agencies to feed disaster response employees.
The recent COVID -19 pandemic caused an interruption in the traditional food distribution channels. Having access to local food, producers and processing sites became obvious and urgent. GWCFEC will provide a place to prepare large quantities of food in a commercially licensed space and reduce food safety concerns that occur after any disaster