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Fiber optics, produce, community kitchen growing at The Carver Center
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Fiber optics, produce, community kitchen growing at The Carver Center

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Extension of fiber optics started this week to the Carver Center, where a variety of agricultural and educational initiatives have also taken root and continue to grow.

A crew with Fredericksburg-based Express-Tek network solutions was on site Tuesday at the historic school on U.S. Route 15 in Culpeper County, installing wiring and conduit.

The inside installation will allow Comcast to bring broadband to outside of the circa 1940s building to serve a variety of tenants, and the public, hopefully by the fall.

An estimated $84,000 in federal CARES Act pandemic relief money awarded last year is funding the interior project at the Carver Center, future home of the Culpeper County Extension Office.

Mike Gillespie, Express-Tek lead technician, said they started Monday and will be there for more than a week installing some 200 feet of fiber optics to which the high-speed internet will be connected.

“Never stopped,” added technician Rassan Byrd, when asked about the company’s workload during the pandemic.

The crew said pandemic-era relief grants from the government as well as remote learning and working has boosted their business.

In addition to serving the four-county Carver Museum in the former library of the school—George Washington Carver Regional High—the internet access will pave the way for the Extension Office to move from downtown.

Renovations for the new offices—that will include 4H—are expected to cost $325,000.

In a related effort, the county recently applied for a $600,000 grant from the Dept. of Housing & Community Development Industrial Revitalization Fund for first phase renovations to the back part of main building at the Carver Center as a commissary kitchen.

Design was completed last year for the estimated $2 million kitchen project, including equipment, of the multi-year effort of George Washington Carver Agriculture Research Center. A commissary kitchen is commercial grade and would be used by food trucks and other food service providers to safely and legally prepare, cook and store food and equipment.

Grants administrator Laura Loveday told the board of supervisors in May the kitchen could serve Culpeper’s 35 registered food trucks as well as wineries, breweries and distilleries in the area. It could be a centralized location for processing locally grown produce and meat as was part of the original vision.

“Whatever help we can get, I am all for it,” said Catalpa Supervisor Paul Bates. “It will be a great asset to the Carver Center.”

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The county has also applied for $200,000 through direct allocation from Rep. Abigail Spanberger’s office to replace the roof on the old school that educated the region’s Black students during segregation.

In other Carver Center news, the board earlier this month approved a request from Les Daniel, a 1957 graduate of the school, to expand his brick paver walkway project to the main sign out front. All of the bricks in the initial phase have been sold and there is still demand for more, he said.

Cedar Mountain Supervisor Jack Frazier said the project was an asset and supported the extension to allow more folks to participate.

“The brick thing has been fun for me,” Daniel said last month. “It gives me something to work on.”

Clatterbuck Masonry will continue to work with Daniel on the project.

The Minority & Veteran Farmers of the Piedmont are also well-established at The Carver Center since forming in 2019. Last year, the group grew 9,000 pounds of produce out back on the grounds and in greenhouses of the facility at the foot of Cedar Mountain, Eugene Triplett told the board of supervisors.

The locally grown fruit and vegetables were donated to area food banks, he said. The group has also partnered with farmers in the region to grow another 3,000 pounds of produce, Triplett said, along with poultry and beef.

To better handle the volume, Minority & Veteran Farmers recently applied to Path Foundation for a grant to purchase a vegetative washing station and cooler for the site.

“This is something that we need out there. It will be a model for other farms to do the same thing,” Triplett said.

Volunteer Roger Williams said vegetables grown on site are currently not able to be processed or cleaned in any way. The new equipment will allow rinsing and cooling of product. Having it on site at the Carver Center will show people they can also do it at home, he said.

Culpeper Extension Agent Becky Gartner offered her support for the initiative that is producing food for local families.

“It’s a great way to address food insecurity in the region, getting good quality produce to families in need so they can have better health,” she said, noting the pandemic highlighted the importance of it.

Finally, the county will apply for a grant through GIANT to construct a large pergola in front of the Carver Center for use as an outdoor classroom. It will also be gathering space for the public to use an internet hotspot at the site once the broadband project is complete.

Frazier, in whose district the historic school is located, has been an advocate for its continued upgrade.

“It is becoming a crown jewel for the county,” he said.

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