This photo taken Oct. 25, 2018, shows the sun rising over the Glade Hill Cannery in Franklin County, Va. (Stephanie Klein Davis /The Roanoke Times via AP) (Associated Press)

GLADE HILL, Va. — When the door of the Glade Hill Cannery swings open around 7:30 a.m. on a chilly Thursday, visitors find themselves peering into a wall of steam, like looking through fogged up glasses.

But the churchgoers who gathered at the cannery around 4 a.m. to spend the day making and canning 400-some quarts of apple butter for a fundraiser don’t seem bothered by it.

Nor does Ronald David, who stands near the 50-gallon vats of bubbling apple butter in progress, wearing a blue apron. After running the cannery for 25 years, he’s used to it.

David took the helm at the Glade Hill facility, one of two community canneries in Franklin County, in 1993 after retiring from DuPont Co.

“I had to have something to do,” David said.

So two days a week, for about six months out of the year, he mans the cannery. David helps folks to “put up,” as the process is known, just about anything that can be canned. His wife, Carole, keeps the books.

David had little experience with the cannery prior to taking charge of the operation. His wife canned at the Glade Hill facility, and his church used to make apple butter there, but David didn’t can himself. He was not deterred by these facts.

“I said if I can learn it, I will,” David said.

And learn it he did. Although charts hang on the walls detailing the processing time for various canned goods, they aren’t for David’s benefit.

He’s the person patrons turn to for help. They bring the food and the cans, and David shows them how it’s done.

When Frank Toney, 51, shows up wanting to turn Golden Delicious apples into applesauce, David gets him started.

“He makes it so easy for you, you forget it every time you come,” said Toney, of Wirtz.

Toney comes to the cannery annually, but he doesn’t have a go-to item he likes to put up.

“Depends on what the pantry looks like,” he said.

David easily jumps from one task to the next, stirring apple butter, canning pinto beans and setting patrons up with equipment.

As he prepares to open a pressure cooker filled with sweet potatoes, David knows exactly what’s coming.

“I’ve got many a facial at this job,” he said.

The collections of burns on David’s forearms are a testament to his experience. They’re not necessarily an occupational hazard, David said, but rather the marks of “a little stupidity on my part.”

Heat and steam are part of the process. David said someone once called the fire department because so much steam, which they’d mistaken for smoke, was emanating from the building.

Though community canneries are not as popular as they once were, the Glade Hill operation survives, thanks in large part to loyal regulars. David attributes it to tradition.

“The people that come, their mamas and daddies used to come,” he said.

Richard Hopkins, 62, is a perfect example. He has childhood memories of coming to the cannery with his mother. Today he comes with his wife Debbie, 59, who was introduced to canning when she married into the Hopkins family.

The couple, who live in Sontag, come to the cannery regularly. When she has a good garden, Debbie Hopkins said, she comes in weekly. ...

Patrons of the cannery know each other, Richard Hopkins said, giving it a family vibe.

“Everybody will pitch in to help everybody,” he said.

It’s not all regulars, though.

Lucian Preston, 27, is one of the freshest faces at the cannery on a recent Thursday morning. ...

Preston, of Boones Mill, was part of the group making apple butter for a church fundraiser.

“It’d be great if younger people did it,” he said of canning. “It’s all going to fade away.”

Some county residents don’t even know the cannery exists. During a recent presentation at the Westlake Library, David met a woman who lives just two miles down the road from the cannery who had no idea it was there.

David would like to see word of the cannery spread, and also add Saturday hours to make it more accessible to folks with the traditional nine-to-five job.

“They’re paying taxes and it’s supposed to be for taxpayers,” David said.

The county’s canneries in Glade Hill and Callaway are funded with taxpayer dollars. The school system administers the program, and runs it with money supplied by the county government.

The two canneries received $53,346 for the current fiscal year. They are expected to generate $15,620 in revenues, said David Terry, finance director for the school division.

Though the cost of operating the canneries is greater than the revenues they bring in, the local government continues to keep the lights on. That’s perhaps unsurprising in a county with a proud agricultural heritage.

“There are still people that garden and that can,” said Roddy Moore, director of the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum in Ferrum.

He said canneries date back to the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration and the heyday of victory gardens. But after World War II ended, Moore said, they started to fade away.

“I think we’re very fortunate in Franklin County that our supervisors have kept these canneries going,” Moore said. “They see the importance of the cannery for the communities.”

So does David.

The Glade Hill Cannery doesn’t have firm hours. ...

Some make appointments with David, others just show up.

But David doesn’t mind the inconsistency or the early mornings. He’s happy to help the people who walk through the cannery’s door. They are the reason that David is here.

“I just enjoy talking to people,” he said.

Sometimes he gets sidetracked chatting with folks, David admits. He cracks jokes as he works.

Though David recently turned 75, he has no plans to retire from the cannery he has run for 25 years.

How long will he stick around?

“As long as I feel good,” he said.

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Information from: The Roanoke Times, http://www.roanoke.com

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