Along with the new Agriculture Facility, Gilmer Schools has also moved their Cannery to the new location at Clear Creek Middle School.
Serving people from several counties including Pickens, Fannin, and Murray among others with even a few from both North and South Carolina according to Mike Bushey who runs the facility. Though the facility is used by numerous citizens, it is the students who Bushey says benefit the most from the facility.
FYN recently returned to the Agricultural Center to take a closer look at the new cannery and talk with Bushey about the effect on our students.
As a part of the FFA program, students become very hands-on with all they do through raising and caring for animals, to studying farming, to the recent nationally-renowned Parliamentary Procedure Team. While the cannery is already a staple in Gilmer’s Community, a few newer additions have come since relocating.
One of these great new additions actually came as six additions. Six new large cookers replace the older ones at the previous location and not only allow the students to increase the volume of fruits and vegetables they could prep for canning, but come fully equipped with an overhead lift to help with the heavy loads. Additionally, these cookers are tied to a recording system for temperature, Bushey says, that give an actual proven schedule for the required 240 degrees as well as the duration of the temperature.
According to Bushey, Gilmer is the only Community Cannery in the state that has this equipment and is fully certified to can apple sauce and apple butter.
However, some of the improvements come from even little things as Bushey said they purchased a second blancher. With certain items requiring to be run through the blancher, a second hugely expedites the process as Bushey says they may have 35-40 people in the cannery on some days. Small things like hot water on tap instead of boiling all the needed hot water will further expedite procedures to push the new facility further.
Much of the additional equipment, from the de-seeders to the can press, is all hands on for both students and community members who utilize it as well. Bushey praised the Gilmer Board of Education’s support for the facility and specifically the cannery as he says it’s not just farming and extracurricular activity, this program reinforces every lesson students learn in regular classes as well.
Many lessons allow students to utilize their other courses such as math when they go for land measurements or science with the vast animal and plant science programs. As Gilmer’s Board of Education is beginning to look at incorporating STEM programs into their education, Bushey said they already are learning through application with the FFA program. It’s real world applications of the lessons they pick up every day.
Still more comes as Bushey says students get ownership of their programs in FFA. The new facility reinforces that as they may raise animals and learn to budget for them, take care of them, and deal with issues as they occur. The Cannery itself requires maintenance, upkeep, and supplies. Though they do charge community members a small fee for using the facility, those funds go towards the equipment’s maintenance and replacements parts when needed. Students go hands on in the Cannery to process food from start to finish, ending with a product they own.
“It shows how much the School System is behind Agriculture. I think this is a testament to all the people, the teachers and the thousands of students that have gone through that program. It’s a culmination.” said Bushey about the new Agriculture Center.
The program began in Gilmer County in 1930 and it is the community support, the kids at the high school showing what they could accomplish, and the culmination of those factors that have made this agricultural county known not only statewide, but nationally.
Bushey is not the only one excited about the cannery as Dr. Barbara Wall, Georgia Department of Education State Director for Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education, spoke at the ribbon cutting after touring the cannery. Dr. Wall offered her recall of her first time she truly realized what Agriculture Education was all about. She had visited a cannery and was amazed by its tools and capabilities. She was so excited that she contacted several media outlets and told everyone she could until the cannery director called her and told her to stop because he was too busy.
Dr. Wall went on to praise Gilmer’s facilities as well and her excitement at the “mileage you will get out of this facility.”
While the mileage seems to already show in Gilmer’s illustrious agriculture programs, Bushey says the real highlight every year is the banquet, which is also set to be held in the Agriculture facility this year. “Unlike a lot of teachers, we have these kids for four years, most of them. Sometimes more than once during a school year. Seeing them in a lot of cases as that shy ninth-grader turn into that great speaker and great leader. Just making them better people.” Seeing his students’ accomplishments over four years, seeing them grow, watching them on their way to being really successful and great community members is what Bushey pulls from the banquet.
On average, the cannery has run an average of 20,000 units that can be a quart, a pint, or a half-pint, in the past. Bushey estimates roughly 1,000 people use the cannery every year with many being repeat customers. But with new equipment and new capabilities, it seems only time will tell the true benefit this facility brings not just to our students, but to the community as a whole.