Sunday, December 07, 2008

Getting Canned

I've been feeling guilty lately about my blog posts, they haven't been living up to the original premise of this blog, mainly going where most people don't. It seems somewhere along the line fatherhood had over-ridden adventuring and my blog went from me being chased by bulls to me cleaning up poop. Lots of poop.

Well, fear not dear reader(s?) for I have a new tale of adventure that covers all sorts of pre-poop issues. It involves food, it involves unknown areas, it involves financial planning, and it involves hairnets!

Okay true, I've never blogged about wearing a hairnet before. I was just checking to see if you were paying attention. Now, without further digression I present Getting Canned:

It was a cold night last Tuesday as I pulled in the parking lot of the low, dark warehouse. Most of the leaves are now gone and moonlight sintered through the bare branches. A few other trucks were scattered through the parking lot, but they sat empty. I slid out of Red Rider's warm cab and hopped up onto the edge of it's bed. By flashlight I reviewed a many-folded piece of paper covered in finely-typed lists. I was here in the dark trying to predict what the future may be bringing and to make choices based on what will happen in that undiscovered country.

You may not realize this, but things have been bad this last year in America's bread basket. It was a wet summer and corn crops have too much surface moisture to store without rotting. Normally in a situation like this the corn would be dried with giant propane heaters. Unfortunately, there isn't enough propane available this fall to dry everything. Farmers tried delaying the harvest so that the corn would dry in the fields, but winter hit hard and very early. A lot of the corn is stuck in the fields. This also means that planting soybeans will be delayed in the spring.

This is a big problem, but not the biggest. That would probably be the skyrocketing of fertilizer's price over the summer. Making fertilizer is a very energy-intensive process and when oil was over $140 per barrel the cost of making fertilizer made purchasing the finished product too expensive for most farmers. They cut way, way back resulting in grains much lower in protein and carbohydrates than normal. The cost of fertilizer has dropped in the last few months but the amounts needed to completely replenish the drained soil is far more than can be delivered in time for spring planting. Next year's grain will not be as productive as past years.

While actual food shortages are unlikely, the cost of the food will go up. How much they go up is anyone's guess. Being the thrifty type I decided it would be prudent to purchased bulk quantities of certain things now. Misseswether is an excellent cook who makes most stuff from scratch. Yes, her Monday night pizza start out as flour, yeast, water and time. We normally buy in bulk from Sam's Club, but to hedge against the increasingly severe inflation of food costs we decided it was time to take action.

So I went with a LDS friend to their Houston cannery and packaged up a bunch of food!

Fun and hairnets, talk about a great evening!

In case you aren't familiar with the Mormon religion, one tenant is that they should not need the assistance of others. They are expected to keep a supply of food to get them through potential hard times, such as losing their job. They should have as much food as financially prudent on hand, ideally as much as one year's worth. Towards this end they have set up a number of canneries everywhere so as to minimize the cost of laying up these supplies for their flock. The neat thing is ANYONE (ie, non-members) can go there and use there services once. Now, if I'm stating this wrong I hope one of my LDS readers will correct me. I don't want to give false information.

I found out about this through the father of one of Miniwether's playmates. It turns out he is in charge of his wards emergency preparations, so he and I bonded instantly. When he mentioned a cannery was close by and I could go there with him some evening I jumped at the chance.

The process was simple. The cannery runs two 3-4 hour shifts Mon-Friday, one starting at 9am and the second starts at 7pm. When we arrived for the shift I handed the lady in charge the order form from here. Ten to twelve other people were also there. The total amount of food-stuffs of everyone's orders were added up then the bulk packages were brought over from the warehouse.

Empty cans soon to be filled.

We split into teams to fill, label, and seal the cans. As they are sealed others sorted them into boxes according to each person's order form. Once a bulk bag has been opened its entire contents needed to be canned. This resulted in some overstock of stuff. Once all the shift's orders were filled we could pick extras from this overstock to add to your order. One does have to pay regular price for the left-over cans, but the prices are so low it's hard not to throw in a few extras (I grabbed three extra 4.8 lbs cans of flour for $2.90 each).

The red are dehydrated refined beans, the white are oatmeal. The dehydrated refried beans are awesome!

The prices one the bulk foodstuffs was cheaper than anywhere else, including places like Sam's Club, though co-ops might be cheaper. However, the cost included sealing the stuff in cans which are a lot more durable than normal product containers. I ended up dropping $178 and left with 45 #10 cans of stuff like flour, grain, dried onion, macaroni, sugar, evaporated milk, pinto beans, and other stuff we use on a daily basis. Of course, most of these things have a 10-30 year storage life, so we aren't in a rush to crack them open and start chowing down (except for maybe the dehydrated refried bean!). I had the smallest order of the dozen people and even still it took us less than three hours to seal everything and clean up afterwards. Sidenote: they are not a store, you do have to actually help can the orders.

My order, tucked away.

As I mentioned before, you don't have to be a member of the Mormon faith to use this service, but non-members are only allowed one visit. This came about after the Y2K scare due to a large number of people canning stuff and then selling it at a very high profit. This causes taxation headaches for the church and spoiled open access to the canneries for us honest folk.

Every cannery has a particular item that they specialize in and send out to LDS foodbanks world-wide. The Houston cannery specializes in peanut butter. The machine pictured above does nothing but make and can peanut butter. It smells great in this room!

You don't even need to go with a church-member. You can just call up the nearest cannery and set up a time for you to go work a shift. Sidenote: the day shifts are usually all women and they really appreciate having a guy show up to do the heavy lifting! Also if you are worried about them trying to convert you, don't be! Everyone was having too much fun to worry about such things. I really enjoyed the whole experience, I got to go someplace most people don't (though they could) plus it'll save me money. It was definitely a win-win adventure.

Yeah, that's more like it.

Adventure! Excitement! Most excellent dehydrated refried beans!



Brad said...

Sounds like you had lot of fun, not to mention the peace of mind afterward.

Now to set up my turn.

BigDaddyTX said...

So do they sell the peanut butter there? Was it dehydrated to be packed long term? I see it's not on the list to buy, so I assume not, but I know it exists.

Merriwether said...

Sadly, they only sell the peanut butter when they are actually making it, which occurs 2-3 times a year. It is regular creamy peanut butter, not dehydrated or 'de-oiled". I'm not sure how long it can be stored.


TOJJ said...

Yay! A post about Mormons and food storage! :) I've never gone to a cannery, but hope to do so in the future. My profile picture is actually of me goofing around at our grape welfare farm in Fresno. One of my favorite things we do as a singles group all year is participate in the Church's grape harvest here in the Central Valley. The grapes are dried and made into raisins.

There are many different LDS welfare farms throughout the U.S. and the best part is the food produced there is QUALITY food. Seriously, I've never tasted a better dried apple than the ones produced by the Church, lol :)

(sorry for the long link, but it's the most recent description of the food produced)

I didn't know they limited visits for non-members; makes sense though if people were trying to "scalp" food. Sadness.

TOJJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TOJJ said...

Oh, and here's a link to an article about the grape welfare farm:

Jamie Hansen, the guy in the first picture shown, is such a nice guy. So funny though, one of the leaders who was driving us in this year kept driving by as we were chatting with him because "if you stop, you'll never get away." Gotta love those chatty types :)

Merriwether said...


Thanks for the info, I was hoping you'd chime in on the subject. Do you know if all the stuff (grain, oats, rice, etc...) that they have at the Mormon warehouses come from Mormon farms? I bet the grape harvest is fun.


Windrider said...

Hey Merri,

Wow, that looked like it was a lot of fun. I've always had a stash of dried goods on hand for lean times. They can make all the difference in the world.

I ran a cross a site you might like the other day.

clarktx said...

Try for a way to shorten those long links.

Anyway I'm sorry I missed the canning and I will be calling them up soon to see if I can do the same.

TOJJ said...

As far as I know, yes, all the foods at the Mormon canneries come from Mormon welfare farms. Your LDS friend, who's the emergency specialist for his ward, would be a more accurate source to ask.

Shreela said...

So if you, a non-Mormon, already went, could you return with your friend? Or is it a one-time deal only, whether non-Mormon's go by themselves, or with a Mormon friend?

The main reason I'm asking is so I can know how to fill out my order form. If it's a one-time only thing, I'd want to buy more, of course.

PS: I signed up for your foraging class; hope it was in time before the class filled.