Monday, March 30, 2009

My trip to the Mormon cannery

Mrs. Neighbor and I went to the Mormon cannery one evening last week. It was an interesting experience. People sign up to come in shifts every hour of the evening. When you walk in you are handed a slip of paper to fill out with your name, what church you attend and to check out what you want to buy. The food available to purchase is organized by shelf life. Then you go and wash and put on hair nets, aprons, and food service gloves. Everyone is listed on a white board with what you're buying and then everyone sets to work packing -not your individual order, but filling cans to fill the common food stores.

The cannery is in a house on a farm at the end of a dirt country road. On the outside it looks like a regular western farm house with cows in the field next to the house and dogs in a kennel and a plaque on the door. However there is no living space inside the house - the entire house has been converted (upstairs and down, floor to ceiling) into a cannery/food storage area. The wall was taken out between the living room and kitchen and there is a desk as you walk in and filing cabinets (where what you bought is filed away). There are long processing tables and a hoppers to fill tin cans and a way to put the tin lid on and seal it. Everything is packed in #10 cans. There is one white board with lists of places where you can get different information and other food storage items. This information changes regularly according to our host person.

In what would have been the master bedroom is flour processing where flour is poured into cans and sealed (and the mess is contained to that room), in the other old bedrooms, boxes are stacked on custom pallets floor to ceiling in a maze. And in what would have been the laundry room off the kitchen is an office for keep record of what is needed. The bulk foods are brought up from the basement and taken to the various processing stations.

There was an older lady in charge who told people what their job was and everyone set to working. I was given the task of folding cardboard boxes, and the lady in charge watched for a moment to be sure the packing stamp was on the bottom and I was keeping everything neat and straight. I thought it was because I hadn't been there before and was being kept out of the way that I was given that job, but by the end of the evening I realized that every job had equal importance. During the course of a half hour I built a mountain of empty boxes. As the cans came off the line every box was filled, labled, each packed with two plastic reusable lids. The full boxes were put onto a dolly and taken to the bedrooms and placed with other like. During the course of the evening one team had been filling the orders off the white board.

The work was strenuous with everyone working at top speed for one hour. There were no little children underfoot and there were so many people working we were packed in like sardines. There were old people working, strapping young men, and pregnant women. I noticed one quite pregnant woman sitting quite a bit on about the only chair while her husband did the work - each did according to their ability. The atmosphere was happy and people caught up with each other's news as they worked along side by side. As each order was filled the lady in charge would tap you on the shoulder and you would go and settle up. Only checks were taken and a receipt was given and your information was filed and your took your order out of the way to your vehicle and come back in and keep working your shift.

Mrs. neighbor and I were obviously outsiders but were treated very cordially. However at one point two men stopped behind us and said to the other "Well, I just figure the more of them that comes and works with us the less of 'em we'll have to worry about when the time comes."

When the hour was up, the white board was wiped clean the floor was swept, counters wiped, food stowed, packing tape placed in his location, and the next group was standing outside to come in and take their turn working at full steam for one hour. The last group of the night empties the trash and cleans the equipment.

It boggles my mind the amount of food processed every night, and the efficiency with which the whole operation clicks along. There is at least one such cannery in every town in the state and then less frequently in other states. No wonder their symbol is the bee hive. It was very interesting to see lines of people working on common food storage and yet just a little eerie. I know that in Salt Lake city there are entire huge silos that are kept full of food at all times. That must be where the bulk bags come from.

11 comments:

Peak Oil Hausfrau said...

That is fascinating! Thanks so much for recording your experience - should be helpful for anyone who wants to re-create a cannery. I wonder if there are any here in OKC?

Verde said...

Frau,

Here is a list of all the canneries in the country. Yes, there is one in OKC.
http://www.justpeace.org/nuggets13.htm#MORMON CANNERIES

Chile said...

There's one in Tucson but I was never able to get ahold of the right person to find out where it was and how to sign up to help. The number I was given for the Bishop's Storehouse just rang and rang.

Robj98168 said...

Mormons are the masters of prepping food for the long haul. Would be interesting to see how they do it!

ElastiGirl said...

fascinating - I had no idea this even exists - thanks for sharing in such a positive way!

ilex said...

Wow, what an amazing tale. I had no idea such a thing even existed. There are few Mormons in Detroit, and even fewer Mormon canneries.

Matriarchy said...

That's amazing! I wondered how that worked. There are a lot fewer LDS folk on the East Coast, but I hear there are loaner canning machines. I haven't checked it out yet.

eatclosetohome said...

Was this dry canning - like beans and flour - or was it also "wet" stuff like fruit and soup?

Nanstein said...

I sounds like a dry pack canning operation. I don't think they do wet pack anymore.

The comments that the 2 men made were about food storage. Mormons believe that they are going to be faced with disaster in which they will be unable to have work or an income of any way of obtaining food. So they store food during the plentiful years.

Remember Joseph of Egypt? Well think of that again. What would you do if you were without work, without food and without a way to get food.

The more people that are prepared for such a time the less the Mormons have to worry about having to share or worse, being ROBBED of their food that they so diligently stored.

Brandon said...

Here is a link to the LDS website that shows the locations and phone numbers of all their cannery operations.

http://www.providentliving.org/location/map/0,12566,2026-1-4,00.html

Laura Dale said...

I just wanted to thank you for your positive comments regarding the LDS cannery and your experience. I am a member of the church and we do believe that we should always be prepared for the unknown. Our family personally has had to live on our stores while my husband was out of work for several months a couple of years ago and this has just impressed the importance of preparing even furthur.

In reply to the efficiency you noted, I was able to go to a humanitarian project at the BYU campus once and I was in utter amazement! There were about 100tables set up and each table had about 4-6 people at it and in just over 1 hour our table packaged 3000personal hygiene kits for disaster relief. So if we were the average that means that we were able to do 30,000 kits as a whole in just about 1 hour!!! It was awsome!

BTW our local cannery says that they have just as many Non-members using the cannery as members now. So don't feel alone.