What happened to all the vegetables that came from the Victory Gardens that we discussed last week? Some of the produce was eaten, sold, or canned at home. However, some of it was processed at a school-community cannery operated by the school’s agricultural department. It is hard to believe, but near the end of World War II there were 3,142 school-community canneries in the United States (Naugher, 1946). Let’s see what we can learn about those school canneries.
School canneries were found primarily in the southern states, but they could be found in nearly every state. The map below shows the location of school canneries as of April of 1945 (Naugher, 1946).
School canneries probably originated in Georgia during the 1920s. In Wheeler’s (1948) book, Two Hundred Years of Agricultural Education in Georgia, he tells of two schools that started cannery operations in 1926. By 1932 the number of canneries in Georgia had grown to 87.
The Great Depression during the 1930s led to the further development of school canneries in Georgia and in numerous other states. People were encouraged to grow and preserve food during the depression. Numerous government programs (such as the Federal Emergency Relief Program, National Youth Administration, Farm Security Administration, and Public Works Administration) provided materials and labor to schools to establish community canneries. By 1938 there were 157 school canneries operating in Georgia.
The advent of World War II only heightened the need for community food preservation. There was a rapid expansion of school-community canneries to preserve the food being produced for the war effort. The construction of canneries was part of the War Emergency Program. By 1942 there were 383 school canneries in Georgia alone. The photo below is of the Alvaton (KY) High School Cannery built in 1943.
These canneries were fully operational commercial canneries. People would bring in their fruits and vegetables and do the work involved in canning the food. They might operate a large scale sheller or husk corn. Huge steamers were available. The agriculture teacher(s) (and in some locations the home economics teacher as well) would be available to provide guidance and instruction as needed. The clients would typically pay a per can or per jar fee for use of the facility.
As the people worked at canning their produce a feeling of camaraderie emerged and new friendships were created. Huslander and Titus (county advisors for Vocational Agriculture and Homemaking [respectively] in Tunkhannock, PA) wrote (1945, p. 11) “A successful community cannery gives to a community more than an opportunity to process and preserve high quality foods in a relatively short time. The Beaumont Cannery has brought together the factions and isolated groups of the community. Many persons, who for years past have not spoken to each other, now work shoulder to shoulder in the cannery. A sense of pride has developed in this community and a progressive attitude has taken the place of one of defeat.”
The newspaper article below tells when this school cannery in South Carolina would be open.
An article about the Pacolet (SC) School Community Cannery
Do any School-Community Canneries Exist Today?
C. B. Barclay, an area agricultural education supervisor in Texas, posed the question should the canning centers continue to operate after WWII ended? He wrote (Barclay, 1945, p. 109), “It is the consensus opinion among the many thousands who have availed themselves of this service that the program should, by all means, be continued after the war is over.”
However, after the war was over, the canning centers across the country started closing their doors. A number of factors contributed to their demise – modern supermarkets, home freezers, school budgets, changing tastes and other factors began thinning the cannery ranks. There are still a few in operation today.
I am not aware of any national database or statistics about the number of canneries today. Georgia continues to operate school canneries now known as Food Processing Centers. In Georgia, there are 27 operating school Food Processing Centers. Click here to see a list of the centers in Georgia. If you would like to see the Web Site or Facebook page for a school canning plant you could visit the Habersham County Canning Plant or the Eastanollee Cannery Following are several photos from these two school canning plants. Please follow the two links above and check out the other photos on their sites to get a better understanding of the school canneries.
Part of the facilities at the Eastanollee (GA) Food Processing Center
Community members in the Habersham County (GA) Canning Plant.
The following video link shows the operation of the Perry County (Georgia) school cannery. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iujNg5eiJa8. Not only does it provide a community service, but it is also a learning lab for high school students. There is also a video of the Thomson (GA) High School Cannery at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNaGcK3c57A. At least one Georgia school (and a few in Louisiana) also have meat processing facilities.
Some years ago, I took a group of graduate students on a weeklong “traveling seminar” class through several southern states. In Georgia, we visited a school cannery. The facilities were definitely 1940 era. The school administration had tried to close the cannery on a number of occasions but met stiff resistance from the community. It was still in operation and will probably continue to do so for years to come.
The photo below was taken last week at the Ceres (VA) Cannery. This facility is located behind the Agriculture Building at the old Ceres High School (where Henry C. Groseclose was the agriculture teacher). Even though the high school closed over 50 years ago (in 1962), the canning plant is operated two days a week during the summer by the county. This shows how important the cannery is to the community.
School canneries were an important part of many agricultural education departments during World War II (even though many predate the war). They were vital for the war effort. They provided a valuable community service then and still do today in numerous communities. I think the take-home message is if an agricultural education program is meeting the needs of the community, then it will merit the support of the community.
Barclay, C. B. (1945, December). Canning Centers After the War? The Agricultural Education Magazine, Vol. 18, No. 6.
Huslander, S. C. & Titus, I. M (1945, July). Pennsylvania’s Pioneer Cannery. The Agricultural Education Magazine Vol. 18, No. 1
Naugher, R. E. (1946), February). Improving the Program of Instruction in School-Community Canneries. The Agricultural Education Magazine, Vol. 18, No. 8.
Wheeler, J. T. (1948). Two Hundred Years of Agricultural Education in Georgia. Danville, IL: The Interstate.