Are Community Canneries Making a Comeback?

can-all-you-can-nw1-713231f0d7c14c808848b4a807af7b114200cdef-s6-c30.jpgAs the local food movement gains momentum and popularity, more and more people are finding organic farms in their area from which to purchase produce. Now we hear that community canneries are making a comeback, for they are the perfect—and delicious—solution to storing all that extra fresh food.

What exactly is a “Community Cannery?” You might think of it as a self-help co-op available to the entire community; a place equipped with all the supplies you might need to can your fresh produce. The idea began way back in the 1800s when families and neighbors would come together to preserve food for the off-season—a kind of food barn-raising. By World War II such facilities were quite common.

While most canneries were once government-supported, as funding was pulled and big grocery stores took over the few that did survive had to look for other financial sources, often from non-profits. As reported in Modern Farmer,

The cannery walks a difficult line trying to keep the frugal, DIY act of canning affordable while taking in enough to keep the boiler fueled and running. This year, prices went up: canners pay a one-time user fee of $15, plus about $1 per can for tin or 50¢ for glass.”

So what’s the big draw, you might ask? Well, while it’s easy to buy canned food from the grocery store, there’s something special about opening a jar of applesauce or green beans that you made yourself. Not only can you pop that lid knowing that you have lessoned your carbon footprint and saved money but you can also feel better about the ingredients that went into the canned goods. No hidden chemicals in that applesauce for us, thank you very much!

A recent profile by Andrew Jenner in Modern Farmer describes a cannery in Northern Virginia that has been around since 1942 and is beginning to experience a slight resurgence.

Tomato season will soon give way to applesauce and apple butter, before meat takes over in the dying days of fall. People bring pork. People bring deer. September and October are the busiest months, with about three canning appointments – set up in advance by phone – per week. Over the course of the season, maybe 40 or 50 different people or groups come in to can. A handful, like Nichols and Metzger, are relatively new on the scene and/or come from far away. Most have been coming for years, decades, forever.”

After doing the math, two of the regulars at the Northern Virginia Cannery, Metzger and Nichols, concluded that they, “have gotten organic canned tomatoes for half the price at the supermarket ...”

But it’s not only that. Anyone can buy the proper canning equipment and suffer through the learning curve alone in their kitchen. What makes community canneries so wonderful is the sense of comradery forged between folks with a common goal and interest in canning.

Virginia Living explains this in a profile they did following a 67-year-old woman named Bee Patrick who was interested in reintroducing herself to the art of canning. The profile explains that Patrick...

...walked through the doorway into the cannery’s bustling work area where she was met with a chorus of helpful voices telling her where to put her things and how to get started. A few hours later, she walked out the door with a broad smile across her face, a few new friends and her produce securely sealed in cans ready to be enjoyed this winter.”

 If you are interested in joining in the fun you can look for community canneries in your area on these websites here and here.

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