Carver Center hosts E Squared youth for tour of food enterprises | Agriculture

A few dozen students participating in this year’s Entrepreneurial Energy Competition—better known as E Squared—visited The Carver Center in southern Culpeper County last week to learn about food insecurity, food waste, food rescue and local resources addressing these issues.

“Food Systems” is the theme of this year’s contest through Career Partners that challenges youth teams to invent, on paper, related business ventures.

Students will also incorporate a “social enterprise element” into their business plans. This is to give back to society and tackle issues in the community through entrepreneurism, according to Roque Castro, E Squared management and a member of the Career Partners Board.

In developing their ideas, students learn, hands-on, all the steps it takes to start a business. Each member of the winning team receives a $5,000 scholarship.

Considering this year’s theme, The Carver Center was an apt site to visit, with its seasonal agricultural production happening in greenhouses and plots on the property at the foot of Cedar Mountain.

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It’s also a social enterprise, considering the tons of food grown on-site yearly and distributed to local food banks.

Students, in addition, learned about the history of the former George Washington Carver High School, which educated the region’s Black youth for 20 years during segregation.

The field trip started on the morning of Feb. 11 in the Carver 4-County Museum, located in the school’s former library. A few dozen E Squared students from Culpeper County and Eastern View high schools participated along with teacher advisors and local ag experts.

As for many students, it was a first trip to Carver for Eastern View junior Charles Barr. He examined a museum exhibit about the school’s first teachers, and revealed a personal connection to the school.

“My grandfather went here,” Barr said of Richard Green, Class of 1959. “He’s a retired welder.”

His grandfather has talked through the years about attending Carver, which educated youth from Culpeper, Madison, Orange and Rappahannock from 1948 1968.

What Green remembered most were the good friends he made, Barr said, and the cafeteria food being “really good.”

Hortense Hinton-Jackson of the Carver Alumni Association interacted with Eastern View senior Tulio Ceballos as he browsed an exhibit about the salary of the first principal at the African American school.

Harvey Fleshmon made $3,000.

“If you were to compare it what the principal made at CCHS, I doubt it was the same, it would have been significantly less,” Hinton-Jackson said.

She noted many supplies and resources at Carver were secondhand, including the books.

Ceballos said he didn’t know Carver existed.

“We don’t hear much about this school in our classes,” he said.

The high school senior said he was glad segregation was over.

“I can’t believe it was actually a thing back then,” Ceballos said. “You feel bad for the things people had to go through.”

From the museum, students split into groups by high school for short talks at different sites around the campus with people involved in various projects at Carver.

Eugene Triplett of teh Veteran & Minority Farmers of the Piedmont spoke about the 17,000 pounds of produce the group produced and distributed last year.

“Agricultural is labor-intensive,” he told the high schoolers in a field outdoors.

When berries, tomatoes, zucchini and other varieties ripen you got to pick them, Triplett said, a retired pharmacist who raises cattle for beef in Culpeper.

“You can’t leave them out there. It’s about timing,” he said.

Triplett touched upon the lack of livestock slaughterhouses in the area and how people want to know the origins of their food.

“Until the pandemic, nobody thought about not having meat when they go to the grocery store,” he said.

Triplett said the Minority Farmers group is working with Virginia State University to bring a mobile slaughterhouse unit to the area. He said the group has about 30 members.

“Capital is the one thing you have to have to start any business,” Triplett added.

“You hear that?” Castro asked the students, who perked up.

Horticulture extension agent Ashley Appling works with Rappahannock River Master Gardeners to grow additional produce on the Carver campus as well as at Lenn Park and in Madison County. They donated about a ton of food last year, Appling said.

Friends of Rappahannock will launch a tree-steward program based at Carver in the spring, Appling said, standing near the New Pathways machinist school behind the main brick building. Castro, also involved with that program, said it is struggling to enroll students.

Training on high-tech equipment and how to use CAD software is available at New Pathways on Tuesday and Thursday nights, he said.

Next door, a welding school run by Germanna Community College will start back up in April, Castro said.

He said the field trip was a great opportunity for youth to meet subject matter experts.

“It’s very important to us to make sure students were aware of this campus,” Castro said. “We really hope that some of these business plans will leverage food enterprise to launch their businesses.”

The E Squared prelims will take place in April with the finals in May, tentatively scheduled to take place at the new Culpeper Technical Education Center.

Culpeper High teacher Beth Lane is in her 14th year in public education. E Squared is the reason she is still teaching, she said during the field trip.

“Everything I learned in my whole entire life I am able to apply to the every day,” Lane said.

The teams she has coached through the years have won several time, she added.

Students invest more in the business plans if it’s something that they can relate to, the teacher said.

Culpeper High E Squared teacher Cathy Uribe agreed.

“If they are passionate about it, it narrows their focus,” she said.

Extension Agent Becky Gartner presented to the students about the up-and-coming commercial kitchen coming to Carver. They’re calling it the GWC Food Enterprise Center, and it’s been in the works for seven years.

The project has gotten a lot more attention in recent years, Gartner said, due to COVID and associated food insecurity that surfaced.

The shared-use business incubator, once built, will be available to owners of food trucks and catering businesses. Farmers, orchards, produce growers and small batch operators will also have access for processing and canning products on site for sale.

Another project of the food enterprise center is called Stone Soup. The training program prepares low-income and mentally or intellectually disabled individuals to work in the food industry.

Started in 2015, the program has graduated 64 people, Gartner said. Graduates come away with basic food-safety certification, customer service and nutrition know-how, shopping skills and basic cooking tools.

Construction on the kitchen at Carver is slated to start in late summer or early fall.

Finally, E Squared students heard from Sarah Morton of the Minority & Veteran Farmers of the Piedmont.

“We’re here to mitigate food insecurity and help provide access to healthy foods,” Morton said. “Does anyone know what a ‘food desert’ is?”

None of the students had heard the term.

A food desert, Morton said, are places without nearby grocery stores, mostly in urban areas. It means people don’t have access to fresh foods, which is healthier.

“Food deserts exist in rural areas as well,” she said, including in “deep, rural Rappahannock.”

Morton spoke about using food waste like overripe berries for textile dyes, for example.

Minority & Veteran Farmers is also looking for innovators and youth to join their organization. She mentioned local farmers looking for paid interns earing a $1,500 stipend in the summer.

On the spot, Morton challenged students to think about what she said, and to give a sampling of their E Squared pitch.

Nathan Amos, Brady Allen and Jason Herrera got to their feet tentatively in the historic school’s auditorium, used today as a polling place.

Without giving away too many details, the Culpeper High team described their food-oriented business plan.

Another Culpeper High E Squared team, comprised of Raffaella Alpaca, Emily Evans and Fynn Stephan, shared their ideas as well, also rooted in food.

“We want to keep it simple,” Alpaca said.

Stephan added they planned to market their idea on social media. Evans spoke of how they would give back through the business.

Stephan added that the Minority & Veterans Farmers would be a perfect target for the competition’s social impact.

Alpaca said she has experience growing food, with her mother, in their summer garden. “Tomatoes, lettuce—instead of going to Walmart, we have produce from the backyard,” the student said.

Stephan, a German exchange student, described growing green beans in his grandfather’s garden as a child.

Asked about the value of the field trip to Carver, he said he learned about leadership and what it means to start a business.

“For me, it’s just a great experience—making new connections and hearing more opinions,” Stephan said.

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