Finally...The Pickle Factory!

I seem to be lagging further and further behind on my list of "To Be Blogged" posts...lately I'm either (1) too busy to blog, or (2) unable to put together a coherent sentence, much less an entire blog post. We're working on getting the fall schedule finalized (yes, I'm behind on that as well...;-)), and hopefully I'll keep things up to date a bit better.

Several have asked about the pickle factory story, so hopefully I'll remember enough of it to tell here. I wish I had pictures of the tour itself, but I don't, so you'll have to use your imagination a bit. :-D

First, apparently I'm not the only one who wasn't aware that we *had* a local (relatively local, anyway) pickle factory. :) When this trip came up, I was envisioning a totally different location. I had no idea that Bryant Preserving has been making pickles in Alma for over 60 years!

Second, this trip was one of those that was as interesting to me as to my children (even moreso, as far as the younger ones are concerned ;-)). I don't know a *whole* lot about factories in general, but as the daughter of an industrial engineer, I did grow up hearing a fair amount about manufacturing and production, time and motion studies, and various aspects of automation. I've been in a variety of manufacturing plants over the years...from really large to really small, making everything from corrugated boxes to kitchen cabinetry to heavy machinery to frozen foods to grand pianos. I guess I have enough of my daddy in me that this little plant fascinated me!

Our tour guide was the grandson of the man who founded Bryant Preserving 62 years ago. You could hear the pride in his voice as he shared how his grandfather had started the business, and the changes that had occurred over the years in this still-family-owned company. The day we went, they were pickling watermelon rind. If I remember correctly, they produce pickled watermelon rind 6 weeks out of the year. The rest of the year they pickle all manner of other things...okra, baby corn, beets, eggs, mushrooms, green beans, carrots, and even brussel sprouts! Peter was especially intrigued by the variety of things they pickle, and by the fact that the one thing they *don't* pickle is cucumbers! Somehow I had never thought to explain to my pickle-loving children that pickles could be made out of anything else...so this was quite educational for them. :) (We had a great economics discussion on the way home on *why* a small factory like this would *not* pickle cucumbers. I think Peter has a real bent in the direction of economics...he really got into our discussion!)

We learned that while many of the other products they pickle come from all over the globe, the majority of the watermelons they pickle are grown right there in Alma. They are a special variety that are larger than most watermelons we see in stores, and the sweetness of the watermelon flesh is very inconsistent. Because of this, most of the actual fruit ends up going to local farmers to feed livestock (pigs, I think). The watermelons are peeled, the flesh is cut out, and then the rind is cut up for pickling.

This was one of the most interesting aspects of the trip for me. When I first walked in, I felt like I had been transported through a time warp. I was amazed at the lack of automation in the process. Our guide later explained that while many of their other lines are much more automated and technologically up-to-date, the watermelon rind process is virtually the same as when his grandfather began pickling watermelons 61 years ago. Wow! What a history lesson. :) This gave the kids and I another springboard for discussion on the way home, as we discussed the changes in manufacturing over the years.

The most eye-popping step in the process was the peeling of the watermelon. There were large tables set up with people standing in front of the table peeling these *huge* watermelons with what looked like antique razors...you know the kind our grandfathers would have used, with the double-edged razor blades? These peelers appeared to be about two inches wide, and they would peel off little 2-3 sections of watermelon peel at a time.

Now. It was *hot* in the factory, and it had a very odd odor (my children weren't quite as kind in describing the smell :)). There are few jobs I can imagine that would be as tedious as standing at a table peeling watermelons by hand with a razor blade! The kids and I decided that was a job we *definitely* would not want to have.

I had really debated about whether or not to even attend this trip, as it was scheduled rather suddenly and ended up falling on what we had planned as our first day of school. But...we hadn't been on a field trip all summer, and I decided we would use this as our "Back to School" trip. :) I'm so glad we did...it was well worth it. We all even got our own jars of pickled watermelon rind to bring home!

The *best* thing about this trip, though, was that after four years of scheduling field trips, this was the first one we had been on since Billy and I handed over the reins to the new Activities' Directors for our group. I'd forgotten how much fun field trips can be when you aren't worrying about all the things you have to worry about when you are in charge! Kim is doing *such* a great job, and we are looking forward to many more great trips this year.


Life at the Lake said...

Thank you so much for blogging about this field trip!! *I* really wanted to go on this one but my one and only student did not want to go and we had an early dr. appt. that I was afraid would make us late so I didn't sign up for it. I am much like you in that I didn't realize that factory was there and what all they pickle. Very interesting!!

Kim said...

I loved reading your review of the field trip. May just put the link on the loop. Thanks!