The "Of Course I Can" poster was created by the U.S. War Food Administration in 1944 as part of the nationwide victory garden program. Victory gardens made an important contribution to the home-front effort by producing a significant amount of food (approximately 40 percent of the vegetables consumed in 1943) and by providing a way to contribute to the war effort for those who could not fight on the battlefield. The book "Eating for Victory: Food Rationing and the Politics of Domesticity" by Amy Bentley contains a chapter examining victory gardening and canning during the war, gender politics, and how the nation responded to the call to do their part in the war by gardening and canning.
Canning was an important part of the victory garden program, as it allowed the bounty of the harvest to be preserved for the winter. Canning was a common activity during the war: in 1942, 64% of women canned food for household use; in 1943, the percentage was 75%. On average, families that canned put up 165 cans or jars per year during the war.
Although most of the canning was done at home, about 5,000 community canning centers were established across the country. These centers were places where specialized equipment like pressure canners (devices that allow the food to be heated beyond the boiling point of water, thus killing pathogens that can survive in boiling water) or very large hot water baths could be used for a fee — sometimes the user paid per can or jar, sometimes they donated a portion of their canned goods to the needy. Although 5,000 is vastly more than we have today, the centers were used by only about 1% of those who canned in 1943. Most people didn't know they existed, already had basic equipment, didn't need a pressure canner, or knew someone who had what they needed.
I wonder how many community canning centers exist today. "Stocking Up", from the Rodale Food Center tells about a revival of canning centers in the 1970s and 80s, indicating that there were over 100 in the early 80s. I performed a quick and not very skillful internet search and found only two: one in Citrus County, Florida and one in Jacksonville, Florida. (I imagine that there is a comprehensive list somewhere on the internet — if you know of such a list, please point us to it in the comments.)
At the Citrus County center, customers bring the food, spices, vinegar, and jars. After packing the jars, a staff member processes them in a water bath or pressure canner. The service is free for residents of the county. In Jacksonville, customers bring their own food and jars, then pay a per hour fee on top of a per can fee ($7.50 per hour, per group, including processing time, plus 65 cents per quart can, 45 cents per pint can). Jacksonville also provides educational programs, like a class for youth that begins at the farmers market and ends in the canning center, where they learn about the basics of canning and then get to participate in a hands-on canning project.
The idea of a community canning center has great merit. Some of my personal experience with canning has included purchases of specialized equipment thats sit on a shelf for most of the year (probably > 360 days a year). At a canning operation, in contrast, the equipment might be used non-stop during the peak canning season (or seasons — in California and other warm climates there might be busy times outside of the summer, like citrus season in the winter). In addition, if a canning center was designed from the ground up, it could have a much higher energy efficiency than a home kitchen, using induction heaters for the water baths, solar water heaters, and so on. An article at Health Guidance looks at many questions that need to be answered when planning a canning center (for example, "What is the minimum water pressure and is it constant?", "What is the availability and cost of gas (natural or LP) or of fuel oil?", "What will be the charge for processing a pint or a quart of food?"). And, of course, there is the benefit of bringing people together to share their knowledge and enthusiasm.
With the Victory Gardens 2007+ project and Slow Food Nation's Victory Garden at San Francisco's City Hall, the idea of victory gardens has been revitalized. As we discuss victory gardening, canning should be part of the discussion, just as it was during WWII.
The "Of Course I Can" poster was downloaded from the University of North Texas Libraries Digital Collection and is in the public domain.