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Small is the New Big

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September 28, 2011 by Annie McCormick

Steve Seideman, professor in the University of Arkansas’ Department of Food Science has been looking for the Winslow Cannery for a while now. He knew it was somewhere, but where? When the State Health Inspector found it at Winslow Meals she excitedly contacted Dr. Seideman. He made a trip to Winslow to see for himself. When he looked at all the equipment he said “this is the future.”

Although the Cannery equipment is crowded into a portion of the building, he liked what he saw and he loves the concept of what a local cannery could offer. Small farmers would have a place to process their fruits and vegetables. Canning means less waste for farmers at the end of the season. Parts of a large crop will go to waste unless its processed for storage. Extra food can be donated to food banks. Foods can be put up and used in schools when fresh produce is not available. This will enable schoolchildren to have healthy foods available for the entire school year. Canneries can also make money for the local people.

Dr. Seideman believes that there are no small scale canning plants left in Arkansas and few in the country. I did a lot of searching on the internet and found a lot of corporate canneries but only 46 community canneries. Georgia led the pack with a total of 28. Virginia is second with 10. Florida has five and Minnesota, Tennessee and New York each have one. Most are in conjunction with a University or county extension office and some are in high schools.

Canning dates back to France when it was found that if food was heated and sealed in an airtight container it wouldn’t spoil. In about 1813 and Englishman developed a way to seal food in cans. If the container was sealed correctly, no bacteria could grow in the food inside. If the food is packed at the peak of ripeness, its nutrients are at their peak too. During the canning process air may be trapped at the top of the jar and the food will spoil. In 1896 the pressure cooker was unveiled as a safe way to home can. During the depression, when people had to grow their own food, the sales of pressure cookers soared.

After WWII home canning declined in urban areas. Many women were in the workplace and didn’t have time to can. Also, grocery store shelves were filled with canned food ready to heat and eat.

I want to know how to can and this is a great part of the world to learn. There are still so many folks around here who still do it and have the knowledge to teach. I enjoy the notion that I grew and put up the food that I‘ll serve for supper. I like the idea of self-sufficiency and really don’t trust most of the food I find in stores. Why buy berries from hundreds of miles away when I can grow them here and know exactly what their growing experience was? Besides, the thought of smelling fresh baked blueberry muffins in the dead of Winter made with my own berries makes me smile.

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