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Can Do Spirit

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The time is ripe to expand use of Carroll County's cannery

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — If life gives you extra broccoli, then why not use the Carroll County cannery to make broccoli soup, Judy Dalton asks.

All the ingredients to do more with the cannery already exist, notes the Laurel Fork resident and long-time user. Carroll County has a bounty of locally grown food and processing facilities, so the potential is there.

Lots of people take advantage of the cannery for personal use, but there's also opportunities to develop the commercial side of the facility, Dalton said. Why couldn't people buy excess produce at a reduced rate and make something out of it to eat and to sell, instead of letting it go to waste?

That's where the broccoli soup idea comes from. Dalton sees that as one possibility among many.

Coincidently, not long after Dalton tried to stir up renewed interest in the cannery, the federal government cooked up a local foods initiative.

Combining the grassroots interest for the cannery with the "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" program may lead to a recipe for success, some hope.

The cannery is an incredible asset for the people of Carroll County, Dalton knows from experience. Users can stock up on safe and healthy foods while saving money.

She doesn't have to convince current cannery users of its value — people already come from miles around to can green beans, apple butter and much more.

"Ours is only one of two in the state of Virginia that's certified for resale canning," Dalton noted.

That means people could sell the apple sauce they make or the green beans they can, she explained. That wouldn't be the case at the next cannery down the road

While there has been one brief attempt to take advantage of the cannery's commercial potential in the past, the possibilities have gone unrealized so far.

But with all the availability of produce from local farms and from the Southwest Virginia Farmers' Market, Dalton believes the time is ripe to take advantage of the greater opportunities.

Dalton can provide a testimonial about the convenience and cost effectiveness of preserving food at the cannery.

Working to store a bushel worth of green beans at home would involve an entire day with a pressure cooker and lots of mess to clean up.

But someone performing the same task with the cannery's equipment could get it done in just a couple hours, she said. The big sinks, the blancher and the retort can help a user process 100 quarts at a time, while a home pressure cooker would only do 21.

She estimated the cost at less than $10 for that bushel at the cannery.

Users can also process meat at the facility, like the "good-sized deer" that she prepared for her family.

"It cost me $6.25 to can a whole deer," Dalton recalled. "That's just an example of the efficiency and cost effectiveness."

Growing her own garden and storing the produce leads to grocery bills of $100 or less per month.

"It is so much easier — and, in the long run, cheaper — to can at the cannery than it is at home," Dalton said. "I don't understand why everybody doesn't use the cannery."

Interest in eating safe and healthy local foods continues to grow, she knows. She runs into people at the farmers market looking to buy things like local blackberries to can and make preserves from.

Wanting to see the cannery rise to its potential, Dalton has approached Extension Agent Erin Kvach about combining efforts to teach people about canning.

If a person had a great family recipe handed down through the generations, they could perhaps take a canning class, get food safety certification, prepare recipes for sale at the cannery and maybe make a little profit from it, the way Dalton envisions it. Kvach would help get recipes approved for commercial use.

Dalton has also spoken to county officials about doing more with the facility, including Supervisor Andy Jackson and County Administrator Gary Larrowe.

"I've been preaching to the supervisors for years about this cannery," she said.

Even if Carroll couldn't get assistance from the federal program, simple changes to the cannery would help, like expanding the times it is open and available.

Those interested in commercial canning could come in on evenings and weekends, for example, she said.

Dalton has found the officials receptive to these ideas, especially Larrowe. "He seems anxious to get this accomplished and to make the cannery a very viable interest in the county."

She's hoping that others will add their voices to support the expansion of the cannery. The more who speak their minds, the greater the chance of getting through to the powers that be.

"Let your supervisor and county officials know you're interested in the cannery and what can be done," Dalton said.

Another way to get involved includes joining a canning club that's being formed through the Extension service.

"The cannery is just such an asset, such a treasure for the county, if people will just use it," she said.

Dalton doesn't expect it will be easy to grow the cannery, but with time and effort it can be done. "All these hurdles are put out there to challenge us."