The Contrarian: Canning Peas

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Many of you remember Bill and Mavis Rushak as longtime operators of the Dryden bowling alley. We get into all kinds of discussions at the Seniors Centre and one day Mavis told me that when she was a toddler some 80 years ago, her grandfather Howard Lutz was manager at a factory at Emo where they canned some kind of food.

She remembers opening a door and going into a room where there were big vats filled with shiny cans immersed in boiling water. She said it was pretty scary and she got out before she got into trouble.

She remembers another room where rows of shiny cans on a conveyor were getting labels put on. She wondered if I knew anything about such a plant.

So I did some research, well, actually I asked my cousin who lives in Emo to do some nosing around. She found a very old lady who remembers a particular location in Emo being referred to as the ‘pea cannery’. So I googled ‘pea cannery in Emo’, and came up with a historical sketch from the Fort Frances Times September 27, 1995 special 100th anniversary edition, here is a quote.

“A canning factory was established at Emo, and district farmers for years boasted growing the best peas and beans nationwide in major agricultural fairs” It shouldn’t be surprising that the Rainy River valley was proud of its peas and beans, they are legumes, and legumes do really well in our part of the world; clover was the foundation of agriculture here and clover is a legume.

Or that they sent stuff to fairs, that seems to have been a hobby in those days, one Wabigoon Valley farmer even won first prize for his potatoes at a fair in Chicago! Or that the canning plant has disappeared, all of our Canadian food processing seems to have disappeared in favour of importing our food.

Even BC’s Fraser valley, one of the best gardens anywhere in the world, and which 30 years ago had all kinds of canning plants and freezing plants for all kinds of veggies, now pretty much only produces alfalfa cubes for Japanese horses!

Peas grow really well here, in earlier times it was common to plant oats and peas together; the oats support the pea vines, and the peas feed nitrogen to the oats, and the mixed oats and peas made good high protein animal feed. Our neighbour F.T. Brignall was one of our most progressive farmers in early years and apparently he claimed that the best mix for silage is OPV, that is, oats, peas and vetch grown together.

The advantage of adding the vetch is kind of lost in antiquity, but maybe it is something to be looked into. Perhaps there is a synergy that makes OPV better than, say, OP or OV. Maybe we need to do some experimenting.

And maybe we need to revisit growing peas and beans as a crop as well. Anyway I managed to acquire a tiny package of vetch seed this winter. I don’t have a farm, but I think I will plant it along the outside of my garden fence, just to see what it does.

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