Some gardeners in a pickle over scarce canning supplies

Published 6:50 am Wednesday, September 9, 2020

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MARSHFIELD, Vt. — It’s the time of year when gardeners are turning their ripe tomatoes into sauces and salsas and cucumbers into pickles. But a boom in gardening and preparing food at home during the coronavirus pandemic has led to a scarcity of supplies with which to preserve them.

From Maine and Vermont to Louisiana and West Virginia, gardeners have reported being in a pickle when it comes to finding certain sized glass jars, the special lids to safely seal them, or the bands with which to screw them on. They’ve gone from store to store and some have given in to paying higher prices online for certain precious so-called canning supplies.

“We have been everywhere,” said Vanessa Ware of Hurricane, West Virginia, who said she went to at least a half-dozen stores after running out of supplies for her tomatoes, peppers, corn and sauerkraut canning. She still had enough leftover jars and lids but not the bands, so she started looking — and looking. And a search of online retail sites proved to be frustrating due to price gouging.

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The entire canning industry has seen an unprecedented demand for supplies as more consumers prepare meals at home during the pandemic, said a spokesperson for Newell Brands, owner of Ball, which produces Mason jars and other supplies.

“The demand has resulted in supply constraints, extended lead times and recently limited product availability at stores and online,” the spokesperson said. To replenish the stock as quickly as possible, the company said it’s increased glass production, found additional lid manufacturers and expanded its pack out locations.

The scarcity didn’t surprise Elizabeth Andress, project director for the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

“There seem to be more people canning than ever before — from the much higher number of inquiries coming into the National Center for help than in the past, and from the large number of participants I hear are attending virtual food preservation classes that Extension educators around the country have been offering,” said Andress, a professor and Extension food safety specialist at the University of Georgia.

More people put in gardens or expanded their existing plots this spring out of initial fears of a possible food shortage or apprehension about going to the grocery store during the pandemic.