Two $400,000 donations to the Reynolds Homestead will bring culinary classes and cooking demonstrations to rural Patrick County.

The university engagement center has long used food as part of its community discussions, but it has been limited by a small kitchen. Thanks to generous donations from the Reynolds family, via the Richard S. Reynolds Foundation and the Virginia S. Reynolds Foundation, the homestead broke ground on a 1,500-square-foot commercial kitchen expansion during its recent 50+ anniversary celebration.

Richard S. “Major” Reynolds, a former Virginia state delegate and president of the Richard S. Reynolds Foundation, said this was the perfect time to make the kitchen project a reality.

“We saw not only the utility that a commercial kitchen will bring to the center, but also its importance to the center’s future and its impact on the community,” he said.

He is the great-grandson of A.D. Reynolds, who was one of 16 children — including tobacco magnate R.J. Reynolds — born at the Critz, Virginia, property about 70 miles south of Blacksburg. Major Reynolds’ grandfather Richard S. Reynolds Sr. transformed the metals industry with his founding of Reynolds Metals, the creator of Reynolds Wrap.

J. Sargeant “Sarge” Reynolds, who leads the Virginia S. Reynolds Foundation, said his grandmother — the foundation’s namesake — was devoted to the homestead and recognized its importance to the Patrick County community. She is buried in the family cemetery near the historic home alongside her husband, Richard S. Reynolds Jr.; son J. Sargeant Reynolds, the former lieutenant governor of Virginia; and grandson David Parham Reynolds.

“The Reynolds Homestead is not only the genesis of the Reynolds family history and legacy, it is also a vital and integral part of Patrick County,” Sarge Reynolds said. “For decades, the homestead has served as a focal point for the community to gather and take part in cultural as well as educational activities. The foundation is proud to play a role in this badly needed expansion that will provide the homestead with a proper facility to continue to meet the cultural and educational needs of the region.”

The donations to expand the kitchen are part of more than five decades of support from the Reynolds family. Nancy Susan Reynolds, the youngest daughter of R.J. Reynolds, purchased the property and renovated the house and several outbuildings in the late 1960s. But she wanted to do more than just preserve her family’s history. She deeded the property to Virginia Tech in 1970, calling for programs designed to improve the quality of life in Patrick County “culturally, economically, and practically.”

Since then, the Reynolds family has continued to support the university engagement and forest research centers, including providing funding to build the homestead’s Community Engagement Center in 1978 and an addition in 1992.

Reynolds Homestead Director Julie Walters Steele said the new kitchen will increase opportunities for community engagement and learning. “This multifaceted facility will provide space for catering demonstrations, culinary-based classes and programming, workforce development, and local value-added agricultural production," she said.

The kitchen will house an assortment of industrial equipment, including a dishwasher, commercial ovens and stoves, refrigerators and freezers, and warming units, as well as storage space for food, tables, and place settings used in the kitchen and for events.

It will also include eight teaching stations — each with its own stove, sink, and work area.

“That’s really something we were looking for: a place where an instructor can come in and demonstrate and each person at a teaching station would have all the equipment, all the ingredients, and be able to follow the instructor, and have that hands-on learning opportunity,” Walters Steele said.

Design renderings showing the new kitchen with teaching stations
Renderings show the new kitchen from the front and rear views of the expansion. The design calls for a chef’s demonstration area (at left) and eight cooking stations (right) for culinary classes. Renderings courtesy of the Reynolds Homestead.

Culinary classes and cooking demonstrations through the homestead and Virginia Cooperative Extension will help residents learn more about the preparation of nutritious meals and sustainable living through preserving fruits and vegetables from their own home gardens and local farmers markets. The facility will also be available for Patrick & Henry Community College in Martinsville to hold its culinary arts classes.

Along with workforce training, Walters Steele said, the kitchen will help develop the economy in Patrick County by serving as an incubator space for people interested in getting into a food-based business. “Entrepreneurs can come in, use the equipment, and have some storage area to prototype a product before they have to go into the expense of getting their own equipment and certifying a kitchen,” she said.

The Reynolds Homestead, part of Outreach and International Affairs, also plans to host guest chefs to bring international cuisine and other meals to the community. The new larger kitchen will also be available for weddings and other events, allowing for service for up to 150 guests for a seated meal in the center’s multipurpose room.

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