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Prince Edward’s Cannery has a birthday

Katharine Wilson

There’s an upcoming milestone for Prince Edward County, the 45th anniversary of the opening of its beloved and busy Cannery.

The Cannery opened Nov. 10, 1975 and remains to this day a bustling hub of community members working with the wonderful staff to preserve food.

The organization I work for, Virginia Food Works, operates at the Cannery three days a week, making foods like sauces, jams and salsas for farmers and food businesses to sell commercially.

On Mondays, Wednesday and Saturdays from June to December, the Cannery is open to the public by appointment to can foods for home use. Folks can bring their garden’s bounty or bushels of produce bought from farmers to pressure can with the guidance of the Cannery’s staff. It has been an exceptionally busy year at the Cannery, so if you’re interested in making an appointment please call (434) 223- 8664 to schedule a day with as much advance notice as possible. Safety precautions in response to the pandemic are in place and important to follow.

The Cannery’s full schedule this year is reflective of the 1970s, when The Farmville Herald reported that “the amount of food processed in Virginia school canneries has nearly doubled” between 1973 and 1975. During this same period, six school canneries in Prince Edward and nearby counties closed, but the remaining ones stayed busy. The area needed upgraded facilities to keep up with demand, and the new Cannery building was the answer.

The local school canneries were similar to those that opened across the country as a response to the Great Depression under the New Deal. The canneries were used even more during World War II as people preserved what they grew in their Victory Gardens. On June 16, 1943, a canning facility opened in the basement of Farmville High School and produced more than 15,000 cans of vegetables its first summer.

The Cannery provided a place for people to preserve their food at low cost, and remained a valuable resource to the community even as advances in refrigeration and freezers evolved as alternatives for food preservation. Canneries across the country also provided important employment opportunities for women during and after World War II.

The first two managers of the FHS canning facility were Evelyn Simpson and Betty Hammond, both home economics teachers. When the new Cannery opened in 1975, the county hired Longwood University graduate Linda Wilson Campbell to run it. Patty Gulick serves as the county’s Cannery manager today, continuing the history of capable women preserving food and tradition at the Cannery.

Virginia Food Works’ staff and I are grateful to work in a canning facility with such a rich history, and will celebrate the Cannery’s 45th anniversary with a toast to the county that supports it and the many residents who keep its boiler running as they preserve food. You can find more gardening and food preservation resources on our website: www. virginiafoodworks.org/ Home-Canning-Resources. A special thanks to VFW Board Member Hannah Evans for her research on the Cannery’s history.

KATHARINE WILSON is the director Virginia Food Works. She can be reached at info@virginiafoodworks.org.