RICHMOND — It’s that time of year when kitchens are bubbling over as home gardeners preserve their bounty. But there was a time when homegrown produce could be taken to a local cannery to be preserved.
After World War II, the U.S. had nearly 4,000 public canneries to help families save the produce from their “victory gardens,” promoted to counter wartime shortages.
Hannah Evans, director of Virginia Food Works, said the popular canneries were mostly located in Southern states and offered both practical and social benefits.
“If you can grow your own stuff, then the United States can focus their larger resources on the troops,” said Evans. “And so, a lot of them were based out of schools originally, so it would be part of the home economics programs at these schools, or the agricultural department programs.”
Only a handful of public canneries remain, and Evans said operational costs are the biggest factor.
Her nonprofit group partners with the Municipal Canning Facility in Prince Edward County to offer both commercial canning days, and also days for home canners to use the equipment.
Food Works pays the county for supplies and rent, and the county pays a small stipend to help support their work.
Infrastructure improvements at Virginia Food Works now allow the daily production of two-thousand glass jars of food from home growers and small businesses.
Evans admitted it’s always interesting to hear people’s stories about why they use the cannery.
“People come and say, you know, ‘I have this recipe,'” said Evans. “Like either, ‘My friends have always told me it’s really good,’ or, ‘It was my grandmother’s and everyone’s always wanted me to bottle it and I’m trying to figure out how to make it a food business — help me.'”
While states such as California, Colorado, Michigan and Minnesota have the rare cannery, most that have survived since the 1940s are located in two states: Virginia — which has around 15 — and the Peach State of Georgia, which is home to nearly 30.