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Douglasville’s Canning Company

What is old is new again!

Dear Daughter occasionally goes to the trouble to post something on my Facebook wall. It’s always a moment of anticipation mixed with dread when Facebook notifies me. I log on thinking, “Oh, she was thinking of her mama “and then my mind turns to “Uh-oh, what did she put on there for all to see.”

Last week I found Dear Daughter had left me this link regarding reusable Swiffercovers on my wall along with a question that read, “Do you know how much money you would save not buying the refill packets?”

Let me clarify here that Dear Daughter is 18 and away at college.

She continued in her comments, “I have learned so many do it yourself things over the weekend. For real! I think I can seriously save our family so much money when I tell you all my ideas.”

I think she was using the DIY online videos to distract herself from the mountains of homework college life has suddenly dumped in her lap, but I am for saving money and finding new and different ways to do things.  However, my Swiffer mop and I are having quite a little love affair, so I don’t know if I can get rid of it anytime soon, but I’m willing to listen to Dear Daughter’s ideas.

Yes, I’m guilty of using various use it and throw it away type convenience products including food stuffs that I can utilize to save time–the already roasted chicken, the pre-cut fruit, bagged lettuce, etc. but if the situation was forced on me I can roll up my sleeves, gather the produce and actually can and preserve things.

Yes! I know how to use a Mason jar for its original intention. You didn’t think those jars were something trendy to drink your iced tea out of, did you? If I wanted to I could fill up a freezer in nothing flat with a garden full of produce.

The key words there are “if I wanted to.”

Growing up I never saw the shelves on my grandparent’s back porch empty. They were filled with canned green beans, okra, squash and the freezer was full as well with dried fruits, frozen peas and corn. My grandparents ate from the garden all summer and ate from the freezer and from canned goods the rest of the year. 

My father continues that tradition and to be honest about it he never does anything small and that includes gardening. He has a garden on my family’s place that has been “the garden” for more than 100 years. Five generations including my children have worked that land planting, plowing, picking up rocks, pruning and picking things from green beans to potatoes. Currently the garden spot covers a half acre of land and at 83, Dear Daddy continues to work it each day during the spring, summer and into the fall during collard season.

The summer I was 18 we had a huge crop of corn that once harvested filled my dad’s truck bed completely. My mother, grandmother and I worked around that truck for three days preparing the corn for freezing.

We worked in assembly line fashion. My grandfather and father shucked the corn removing the silk tassels and breaking off the knobby end of the stalk. They handed the ears of corn to my mom and my grandmother who set about slicing the corn kernels from the cob before stacking the cobs up for me to finish.

I found myself standing at the end of my dad’s truck bed with a sharp knife running the knife blade along the cob of the corn making sure every ounce of corn was extracted from the cob.  We worked fast.  My knife flew over the surface of each corn cob raking the remainder of the kernels from the husk causing milk from the corn to fly everywhere – on my hands, in the bucket, around the bucket, and face and in my hair.

We worked for hours, and when we took a minute to eat something I took a look at myself in the mirror and discovered I even had corn on my eyelashes. It was exhausting labor. My arms screamed in pain for days afterward.

No, I have never frozen creamed corn ever again, and have no desire to do so, but the work I performed over those three days was just a sample of the labor performed in so many households during the past here in Georgia and across the country.

This article titled Canned Goods for the Greater Good in Georgia from the Blog of the Digital Library of Georgia states,“Georgia boasts a history of industrious people who not only generated vast quantities of preserved goods, but whose canning efforts fortified the land that they farmed from, secured educational opportunities that had not previously existed, and supported national defense efforts.”

This is so very true. I’m sure if you look back just to the last generation in your family you have relatives that can tell you about canning clubs, 4-H Clubs and state and local fairs where folks showed off their gardening, preservation, and cooking skills. These activities do exist today but on a much smaller scale than in the past.

The DLG article continues, “In Georgia, canning clubs became extremely popular; thousands of girls were instructed and supervised by home demonstration or “canning” agents across the state’s participating counties.”

“Georgians had embraced home canning as a common household practice by the mid-to-late nineteenth century. Most kitchens, both on the farm and in town, likely contained some version of an airtight screw cap and glass jar: either one that was patented by John Mason in 1858, or any number of similar jars that were patented shortly afterward.”

In the late 1880s the citizens of Douglasville successfully worked together to create a business concern that would be a win-win for area farmers, businessmen and non-farmers alike. 

The Douglasville Canning and Preserving Company was established in 1887 with capital stock of $25,000. There were over 35 Douglasville businessmen who were the original stockholders including , , J. Penn Watson, A.W. McClarty, C.P.Bowen, Dr. J.L. Selman, J.T. Duncan, J.M. Abercrombie, J.K.Edge, E.A. Morris, Henry Ward, C.W. Weddington,and W.C. Hodnett.

The first president of the company was C.C. Post who is such an interesting fellow I’ll be giving an entire column to him as soon as I get all of the research I’ve compiled in some sort of order. In 1887 Post was a very recent addition to the city of Douglasville moving like a meteorite across the landscape. By 1893 he and his wife were gone having worn out their welcome, but in 1887 folks thought enough of him to appoint him as the canning company’s president.  Post hailed from the great beyond about as far above the Mason-Dixon Line as you can get–Chicago, IL. In fact, Post is the reason why Douglasville has a street named for the northern city. His home was located along Chicago Avenue.

The goal of the Douglasville Canning and Preservation Company was to provide a market for area farmers plus provide an incentive for the farmers to plant more fruits and berries. The company handled wild grapes, muscadines, wild strawberries, blackberries, and huckleberries. During the company’s heyday many peach orchards were planted in Douglas County to feed the canning business.

The business operated on a seasonal basis for many years with up to 15 employees. Fannie Mae Davis states there are indications up to 50,000 cans of fruit and vegetables were preserved each season.The cans carried a label with , the Indian leader, and bore the name Sweetwater which is said to be the English translation of his name. Davis also explains how the company meant added income to local farm families.

Many of the berries grew wild all over the county and many farm wives and their children scurried out along the countryside during berry season to gather product for the canning company since they could earn five cents for each gallon of berries. Buckets of them would arrive at the cannery daily during berry season.

The Douglasville Canning and Preservation Company existed until the early 1920s. Davis indicates in her work that she was unable to find a reason for the cannery's demise, however, in another section of her work she indicates hard times came to the county in the 1920s. I am making an educated guess the county could no long sustain the business.

Today, many in our community face economic hardship and everyone is looking for ways to cut corners growing their own fruits and vegetables and cutting costs with cleaning materials as Dear Daughter was suggesting.

The DLG article advises,“Home canning has regained popularity with Americans sharing a renewed interest in locally-grown food, handmade goods, and household thrift. Canning equipment sales are booming despite lean economic times, canning parties and can swaps are sprouting up throughout the country, and delicious recipes designed for storage in glass jars have recently shown up in cookbooks and food blogs everywhere.”

Recently we have seen a surge towards family farms, locally-grown food, and handmade goods right here in Douglasville with the Main Street Farmer’s Market on . The market has been held every Thursday since Sept. 20 and runs through Oct. 20 operating from 3 to 7 p.m.

The market features fresh produce, organic meat, goat cheese, handcrafted items, baked goods, specialty items, and live music provided by the very talented Jeff Pike. All local growers, artisans, and crafts people are welcome to participate.

Participating vendors have included Iyabell Acres, Heritage Farm, Blue Tailed Lizard Tamales, Abundant Harvest Gardens, Johnston Family Farm, Fairywood Thicket Jams and Jellies, and Zocalo.  For more information about the Main Street Farmer’s Market contact the Main Street Manager at 678-715-6092 or go to this site. You can see a promotional video here.

I’m heading to the Main Street Market this Thursday with my camera and will post the pictures next week. I hope to see you there!

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