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Preserve your own food at local canneries
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Not everyone has a pressure cooker at home that will allow them to process jars of jam or Grandma's pasta sauce. Luckily, there are several canneries around to help you out.

Many school districts around Northeast Georgia have an agriculture program and also offer a kitchen equipped to preserve anything from fresh-picked peaches to a freshly killed hog. In Stephens County, for example, the cannery that's adjacent to Eastanollee Elementary School has a kitchen and walk-in cooler. Employees there will not only loan you a cookbook to help you get started canning, but, if you have some meat you'd like to preserve, they'll help you cut it up, grind it and freeze-dry it.

Bill Walker, a part-time cannery employee who used to run the cannery until he retired several years ago, said he has been known to process a little bit of everything in the cannery, which is open year-round. Last year, he said, people made more than 7,000 trips to the cannery and canned more than 35,000 cans.

"People come in and they bring their beef, hogs in here after they kill them and work up their hamburgers," he said. "Vacuum sealing is 20 cents a pound, hanging it in the cooler is 10 cents a pound."

Stephens County Cannery processes both tin cans, which they provide, and glass jars, which you provide. Meat is 70 cents a can to process and vegetables are 65 cents. Glass jars cost 30 cents each to process.

At the Dawsonville Cannery on Allen Street, there are no tin cans, but Reggie Stowers, an agriculture teacher at Dawson County High School, will do the worrying about the pressure cooker for you. All you need to do is get your fruits, vegetables or meats in jars.

He said the cannery processes a lot of green beans, tomatoes, soup and applesauce, but he said they'll can anything you have a recipe for.

"The people come in and I teach them how to can it, how to get it all cleaned and ready to go into the containers," said Stowers, who has been teaching agriculture at Dawson County High School since 1982. "And they do the process to get it into the containers, and once it's in the jars, then I do all the pressure cooking to make sure all the timing is correct. During that time that the processing is going on, they can go eat or go shopping or go home."

Stowers said there are 27 canneries around the state, all tied to a school system's agriculture program.

The Dawson County Cannery will close for the season on Monday, but reopens the last week in June next year. Stephens County Cannery is open year-round, and another nearby cannery, White County Cannery, will be open Thursday before it closes for the season.

On a recent afternoon, Barbara Yoder of Fairplace, S.C., was busy at work with her daughter in the Stephens County Cannery making applesauce from nine bushels of apples. She said they preferred to come to the cannery because it had nice wide work spaces and industrial-sized tools to help make that load of apples go quickly.

"It goes so much faster. They have these stainless-steel cookers where you cook your apples," she said. "At home I helped my daughter do applesauce and, oh my, it was such a mess.

"We got here at 9 a.m. with nine bushels and we're already carrying a lot out," she added, at about 1 p.m.

Yoder said she also comes to the cannery with her church group, and recently they processed 224 glass jars of food for the food bank. She and her husband also have two hogs they are planning to butcher next month, and they will bring the meat to the cannery to process.

"I'm thankful for a place like this."

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