Community canneries aren’t as plentiful as they once were, but they are still in demand.
They originated during the Victory Garden era of the 1940s, shared Donna Meade, a Virginia Cooperative Extension family and consumer services specialist in Russell County, where two canneries still operate.
Meade said many of the canneries once were supported by local school systems because they were used for home economics classes. Over the years, the number of canneries has dwindled, and Virginia county governments now operate fewer than a dozen.
Some cannery managers are seeing increased interest in home canning, while others are hopeful younger adults will realize their value.
Carroll County Cannery caters to home gardeners
There are lots of gardeners in Carroll County, and they like to can what they grow. “And there’s nothing you can’t can,” shared Sarah Griggs, the county’s cannery operator.
But canning at home can be costly and time-consuming. “The beauty of a cannery is you can do 100 jars at a time instead of 7 at home,” explained Griggs, who has been canning for the past seven years.
Darlene Beasley, a home canner for more than 50 years, said she learned the art of canning from her mother, who used to do it at home. Beasley started using the cannery because “it’s so convenient, and they have everything you need there.”
Each year, Beasley brings in fresh summer produce like tomatoes, squash and beans, and her family enjoys eating them throughout the winter. Her church, Shorts Creek Church of God, also uses the cannery for its annual fundraiser sale of canned vegetable soup, pie filling and apple butter.
The cannery has been county-operated since 1975. In 2000 it was struck by lightning, and there was talk of not rebuilding. “The grannies that love to can went to the county and told them they needed to build another cannery, so they did,” Griggs said.
Today, the facility offers equipment, jars and expertise to county residents from June through December. In the two years that Griggs has run the cannery, she’s extended hours to nights and weekends to accommodate canners who cannot visit on weekdays.
Located beside the Carroll County Farmers Market, in which is housed 27-year-old Brady’s Produce, the operation can serve as a one-stop shop for canning. Users can bring their own produce or buy it at the market.
Sandy Stoneman, a Virginia Cooperative Extension food safety agent in Wythe County, said she’s seen growing interest in canning among young families who want to preserve fresh produce. “They don’t want to learn how to can on their own, so they come to canneries or to Extension classes.”
Griggs is more than happy to show home canners how to prepare their produce, cook it and process the jars. County residents pay a $10 seasonal fee, plus 20 cents apiece for pint jars and 25 cents for quart jars. There are extra charges for the use of an industrial kettle, pulper, blancher, peeler or mixer.
Once the fruits and veggies are canned, they have a shelf life of at least a year, Stoneman said. “As long as the seal is intact, the food will be good.”
Prince Edward Cannery combines commercial and home canning
The Prince Edward Cannery has succeeded due to the county’s financial support, but also because Virginia Food Works manages a commercial canning operation there.
Cannery manager Patty Gulick said having hours for both commercial and home canners has helped the facility thrive.
Customers range from an individual with a bowl of green beans, a couple with handfuls of tomatoes and a farmer with a “boatload” of squash, Gulick said. She added that the cannery, like most, is in a rural area, and the community embraces it.
“The camaraderie here is amazing,” she shared. “Everyone works together and helps each other out.”
Consolidated from two county canneries in 1975, the current facility offers community members the chance to affordably preserve food for their families. From tomato juice to pizza sauce, the cannery provides the possibility of turning fresh fruits and vegetables into foods to enjoy for months to come, as well as recipes, advice and canning equipment. Residents pay $1 to use the facility and can buy pint cans for 40 cents each, quart cans for 48 cents and gallon cans for $1.25.
Michelle McKenzie, Virginia Food Works director, said the nonprofit organization’s goal is to work with farmers and others who want to make value-added foods from locally grown ingredients. Last year 30 commercial canners produced 28,000 units of food valued at more than $200,000 as retail products like jams, jellies, salsas and sauces. About a third of the canners were farmers.
McKenzie said she would like to have more farmer clients “Our goal is to get more locally made and sourced value-added products to market.”
On Real Virginia
See inside a community cannery on Real Virginia, Virginia Farm Bureau’s weekly television program, at bit.ly/rv11cannery