Local gardeners, bakers and entrepreneurs will so have new place to work, thanks to the efforts of Cheryl Ferguson and Ray Tuegel, the owners of Plum Granny Farms.
The couple are in the process of creating a new community kitchen which will be used to expand their current farm operations and provide a space for other local farmers and entrepreneurs to can, cook and bake in a state certified kitchen.
“The project is funded through North Carolina Ag Ventures and the Golden Leaf Foundation,” said Ferguson. “It will be a shared use kitchen. We will use it to make our jams and pesto and garlic powders, but it will also be able to be used by other local entrepreneurs or just local gardeners if they have a lot of tomatoes and want to can but do not want to heat up their own kitchen.”
The new community kitchen will be located in a former gas station near the old Sauratown Fire Department.
“We purchased the building last winter and are in the process of remodeling it,” said Ferguson. “We will mostly use it for storage and as a repair facility for our farm, but we wanted to use part of it to create a certified kitchen that could be used by the community.”
Ferguson said access to a certified kitchen was key for local entrepreneurs, especially smaller farms, who want to create food items for sale at farmers markets and local stores.
“There is not place in Forsyth, Stokes, Surry or Rockingham for people to be able to make jams or pickles or bake breads or make cookies for sale in a certified facility,” she said, noting that she has been making her Plum Granny jams and jellies in the YMCA Camp Hanes kitchen for the past four years. “They have been incredible partners for us, but they are getting busier and it is getting more and more challenging to get in there.
“I have talked to people around the county and my fellow farmers and there is a lot of excitement about this,” she added. “What we are doing has never been done before. The food based economy is where there is a lot of action right now. This is a major economic engine. The next big thing is not going to be a big industrial plant in this county, it is going to be small farms and services.”
The kitchen is under construction right now, but is expected to be completed and ready to be rented on an hourly basis in May.
Once completed the facility will feature a gas stove, a convection oven, a food processor, some refrigeration space and possibly a steamer as well as all the pots, pans and utensils needed to create almost anything.
“For repeat users we will also have some storage lockers that people can rent,” said Ferguson. “We want to make it convenient for people to use.”
She said they also planned to partner with the Stokes County Cooperative Extension to hopefully offer some classes on canning and cooking demonstrations.
“You want your food to be safe and you want to make sure you are doing it in a proper way,” Ferguson said. “People are interested in canning now and this is a way to support that, but also to support local small businesses that are just getting started.”
She noted that the facility would not be as large as other community kitchens in the state, but said there would be space for the facility to grow in the future if it is successful.
The facility will also not offer automatic inspections of prepared goods that people may want to sell.
“But we can hook you up with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture inspector,” said Ferguson. “She has to approve that your process is adequate and meets the code before you can sell anything. There are also some canned goods that go beyond her approval and have to have FDA approval.”
She said once opened the kitchen could be rented on an hourly bases for $15 an hour.
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.