Cannery Operations (continued)
Once the cannery building was fully equipped, the operation was ready for participants. At the Bethel cannery, local farmers, initially assisted by the FFA (Future Farmers of America) students at Bethel School, grew and picked the produce. On canning day, people drove recently picked produce loaded into trucks and cars to the cannery. Local housewives were the primary users of the cannery, though men, families, and visitors also used the facility. In the beginning, FFA students picked produce and assisted home economics students with the canning process.
Workers unloaded the produce at the cannery for the processing that occurred in several steps:
- Clients arrived as early as 7 a.m. for the 8 o’clock opening since the operation was “first come, first served.”
- Hours of operation – 7 or 8 a.m. – 4 p.m., with production start-up time for a participant to occur no later than 1 p.m. in order to complete the canning process by closing time. The cannery was open two days a week in the early years and one day a week by 1960.
- Clients stood in line to register and receive their number for the day. That number would be placed on each of their can lids to alleviate any mix-up of ownership with the finished product.
- Produce, if required, was quartered, or chopped.
- For apples, the product was quartered, cored, and placed into a colander that separated the peel from the fruit.
- The most popular products were apples for apple sauce and apple butter.
- Other typical canning items included beans, corn, pumpkins, soup mix, and meat.
- The facility supplied the cans which, in the beginning, were free to consumers. Over time, consumers paid for the cans which ranged in price from 4 ½ cents to 20 cents, depending on the size.
- Food items were first cooked and transferred to cans.
- Can lids were placed and crimped by a sealer hired for the job. The patron’s number was placed on the lid.
- One hundred cans at a time were packed into a steel crate and hoisted into a retort where a line of steam would complete cooking of the food. A hired worker handled this portion of the procedure. Some reference was made to a pre-heating machine used prior to the steam retort.
- Cans passed through an exhaust tunnel.
- Various food items required different cooking times.
- After cooking, the crates were lifted from the retort and put into the cooling pool where they stayed until the cans cooled to a proper temperature for handling.
- Cans were unloaded from the cooling pool to be loaded into cars and trucks.
- People were responsible for cleanup of their pots and pans.
While the process required a good bit of effort, most workers assisted each other as needs arose. Frequently, lunch time involved ladies bringing lunch and sharing a picnic as well as community news while they were waiting for their food to process.
The Waynesville Mountaineer carried an advertisement with the following plea: “$250 Free! We offer free War Bond to Grower Producing.” Overseer of the project, the Haywood County Mutual Canning Association, Inc. offered First prize - $100 War Bond, second Prize - $50 War Bond, four next prizes - $25 War Bond. The goal of the offer of War Bonds to grow the best average crop of beans on one acre or more of ground was to feed the fighting troops at the time that World War II was winding down. Growers were to contract crops to the cannery. (The Waynesville Mountaineer - Thursday, June 7, 1945)
By August 1945, an advertisement called for the Bethel Cannery to open with all facilities ready for canning fruits, vegetables, and meats. I.A. McLane, supervisor, and Mrs. Joe (Tellie) Beverage, cannery manager, operated the facility each Thursday and Friday. Cans would cost between 4 ½ to 7 cents, depending on the size. (The Waynesville Mountaineer - Thursday, August 23, 1945)
“Bethel School Cans Beans for Europeans,” was the title of a newspaper announcement. Students at Bethel School would contribute 550 cans of beans, according to I.A. McLean, who doubled as Bethel Cannery supervisor and vocational agricultural teacher at the school. The process of ensuring a food supply for Europeans who encountered food shortages after the war was an important school benevolence activity. The school bought an acre of beans as well as the cans, the FFA boys picked the beans and assisted the home economics girls with canning at the Bethel cannery. As a side note, the FFA boys played a larger role in Bethel by assisting farmers with building silos and helping to pick vegetables due to the shortage of workers. (The Waynesville Mountaineer – Thursday, August 23, 1945)
While the European bean project received much attention, the entire community appears to have used the cannery facility through October, canning 5,000 cans. Bethel PTA, Haywood County, and federal programs provided operating funds. In compliance with federal requirements, training courses on food preparation and production were provided. (The Waynesville Mountaineer - Thursday, September 27, 1945)
By 1946, the Bethel Cannery was open on Tuesday and Thursday from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. according to R. L. Edwards, vocational/agriculture teacher who also served as cannery manager. By this point, participants paid a small fee to cover the cost of canning. Canning could start no later than 1 p.m. in order for production time to coordinate with closing time. (The Waynesville Mountaineer - Tuesday, July 30, 1946)
Bethel Cannery from Year to Year (1945-1976)