Eight years ago, Janet Bearden began talking about an idea. It was an old concept, a classic cannery, for the local community to help preserve their harvests. Where had they gone? She needed one. Didn’t others?
The idea caught on. Becky Gartner and Carl Stafford both felt the need in their bones. Through their work with Cooperative Extension, they knew the Rappahannock Rapidan region wasn’t keeping most of the food it grew. Small farmers struggled to compete, and the local food system was disappearing. A cannery wasn’t quite enough. But a commercial kitchen? A commercial kitchen shared by the community, able to help process and create, filled with needed equipment, and staffed with folks who could help with the regulations and licensing?
Yep. That’ll work.
It took eight years to build enough momentum to make that idea a reality; eight years, one pandemic, dozens of empty grocery store shelves, and tons of community support later- here we are.
The Carver Food Enterprise Center is a 6,200-square-foot, fully equipped facility that is being built in three phases. The first phase is complete, and the kitchen opened September 1st, 2023.
CFEC is a project of the non profit George Washington Carver Agriculture Research Center. We serve the five-county region of Culpeper, Fauquier, Madison, Orange, and Rappahannock and work on the following three missions:
(1) As a Food Business Incubator, we provide inspected, certified, and affordable space and equipment for existing and emerging food business entrepreneurs.
(2) We provide a permanent home for, and create jobs through, GWCARC’s existing and highly successful Stone Soup Job Skills Training Program.
(3) We are working to establish a Food System Security Program by providing space and expertise in processing foods and preparing meals that can be distributed to local food banks and food pantries.
The Carver Center, where the kitchen is located, is owned and managed by the County of Culpeper and is also home to the Carver 4-County Alumni Museum; the George Washington Carver Agriculture Research Center; the Minority and Veteran Farmers of the Piedmont; VSU Small Farmers Program; Rapidan Master Gardeners; 4-H; and other job skills training programs.