Hernando County is paying Jennifer Raines' salary — at least for now — but her training came free.
Raines' mother, Flossie, ran the Little Rock Cannery for nearly 20 years, often with her daughter at her side.
"I was here all the time," said Jennifer Raines, 29. "I used to get off the school bus here."
She learned to sterilize the glass canning jars and to screw the lids on just firmly enough to guarantee a good seal. As a kid, she wasn't crazy about spending her afternoons at the cannery, but came back regularly as an adult and, for example, cooked and put up baby food for her daughter, who is now 9 years old.
Another bonus that comes with Raines: her mom's consulting services. Raines calls her mother "whenever something isn't working right. ... She knows every little sound (the equipment) is supposed to make."
All this is a way of saying that the county has found a good person to run the cannery, which is just off U.S. 98, about 8 miles north of Brooksville.
Also, there's a good group of volunteers, working hard to figure out how to keep the cannery running without the county's help.
When the Leadership Hernando class of 2013 stepped forward several months ago, I figured its interest would wane when it realized what a big commitment it had taken on. At a media open house on Wednesday, I was glad to find I'd been completely mistaken.
The number of folks who have paid to use the cannery this year has climbed in recent weeks from 96 to 113, nearly half of whom have paid the $50 fee for a one-year membership rather than the $10 for a single day.
Leadership Hernando's plan to make the cannery pay for itself includes attracting a lot more members, which is why it staged a Family Fun Day on Saturday, and this coming Friday will host Christmas at the Cannery. It's an all-day event, which will include, among other highlights, a free haircut, manicure or pedicure for anyone who buys a one-year membership.
The group also hopes to work with the Hernando County School District to find educational grants to help fund the cannery — appropriately, I'd say, because of all that can be learned about how food is grown, prepared and preserved.
With a few modifications, the cannery also could be approved as a commercial kitchen, meaning Leadership Hernando could raise money by selling, for example, salsa or spaghetti sauce. If these taste like the other cannery products I've eaten, they should fly off the shelves.
What else is going the cannery's way? What else makes me think that this plan to keep the cannery running — unlike two earlier attempts since the county stopped funding it four years ago — can be permanent?
Well, the County Commission is also fully supportive. It earlier budgeted $20,000 to keep the cannery open through Jan. 1. Last month, it agreed to extend the date through the end of September if Leadership Hernando can come up with a viable budget, which it hopes to present to the commission in a few weeks.
But for all that the cannery has going for it, it still needs one more thing — you, your neighbors, your friends. Visit the place and pay your $50, maybe this Friday, so you can get a haircut as part of the deal.
You'll not only be helping to fund the operation; you'll be showing you believe in it. You'll tell the commissioners and Leadership members that their faith in the place is well deserved.
You'll show that you value fresh food and the skill to preserve it and that you realize there is something special about learning this, face to face, from Raines or working shoulder to shoulder with experienced canners who always seem happy to help.
You can confirm the appeal of the cannery to members not only from Hernando but — as has already happened — from Tampa and even Sarasota County.
And you'll show you believe in tasty food, such as the batch of carmel-apple jam that novice canner Rachel Watler whipped up — under the direction of Jennifer Raines — on Wednesday.
"Oh, my goodness," Watler said, after dipping a spoon into a pot of fruity, sugary, spicy goo. "That's so good."