Ramping up local eating by preserving the harvest

On September 8, 2012, Root & Branch will be offering Preserving the Harvest: Taking local eating to the next level. At this workshop we’ll be exploring ways to make the most of the growing season and eat locally year round. Building the skills to preserve and store local foods through the winter is key to supporting our local food economy and increasing our food sustainability. I posted the following a few months back, but now that we’re knee deep in the abundance of the season I think it bears repeating!

Here are some tips for making the most of the coming harvest:

Update your definition of local eating. In a place like Saskatchewan, where the growing season is short, it’s easy to assume that eating locally is only possible for a few months of the year. But actually, with a bit of knowledge and planning, Saskatchewanians can eat our own local foods all year round. Not only that, but we can reduce our carbon footprints dramatically by learning how to eat what we grow in February as well as August.

Learn the best ways to preserve seasonal foods:

  • Learn which preservation techniques are best for different foods. For example, why freeze root vegetables when they can keep for months in cold storage?
  • Hone your food preservation techniques and learn new ones. Maybe you’ve experimented with freezing foods, but haven never tried canning them. And maybe you’ve heard about fermenting or dehydration, but don’t have a clue how to start.
  • Learn from parents, grandparents and older neighbours, who often have decades of valuable experience they’d love to share.
  • But also keep in mind that some wisdom has changed over the years. The science of canning, for example, is significantly different now than it was in your grandparents’ day. Make sure you have up-to-date information about safe food preservation techniques.
  • Consider taking a class in your community…oh wait! Like the one Root & Branch is offering on September 8, 2012!

Get to know your seasonal foods. Knowing when different foods become available helps you make the most of when they do!

  • Ask at your local farmers’ market about what will be coming available in the next few weeks, and plan preservation activities accordingly.
  • Ask about buying in bulk, which can often be more affordable. Farmers sometimes even have “seconds” that may be a little less pretty or uniform, but which are perfectly good for canning or freezing. Or at the end of the market they might be happy to get rid of what they weren’t able to sell for a little less.
  • Get to know how long the varieties in your own garden take to mature, so you can make time to preserve them when they’re as fresh as possible.
  • Keep good garden records, so you can learn from your own experience year to year.

Think about the materials you’ll need. Many food preservation techniques require little to no special equipment, but it pays to get organized before you’re drowning in food. Remember that foods preserve best when they’re at their freshest, so make sure you’re ready to go when the produce is!

  • Some materials are harder to find at the height of the growing season. For example, supermarkets often run short of canning lids at the height of summer.
  • Some materials will be more affordable during the off-season. For example, you’re more likely to find a good deal on a canner or dehydrator in February than in August!

Don’t make food preservation into an exercise in overconsumption! Just like everything else, it’s easy to fall into the habit of thinking you need to buy a ton of new things to take up a new hobby or learn a new skill. Fight the urge!

  • Look for used equipment at garage sales and thrift stores. As they wind down, older people often get rid of perfectly great equipment (e.g., canners, jars, etc.) at reasonable prices.
  • Don’t be shy to share equipment. Food preservation equipment isn’t the sort of stuff that’s in constant use, so why not borrow from a neighbour, or go in on equipment with a friend? For example, my mom and her friend wanted a steam juicer, which cost nearly $200 new and would only be in use a couple months out of every year. So they bought it together!

Treat food preservation like an art form. It’s no wonder that artisanal cheeses, breads and preserves are all the rage. Craftspeople who perfect food preservation skills are true artists, and food preservation offers all of us the potential for wonderful creative expression. Just as nothing in the world compares to the taste of a tomato picked fresh from the garden, there is nothing more satisfying than enjoying your own fermented sauerkraut, making fresh pasta from your own homegrown wheat, or sharing your own fruit preserves with friends and family!

Want to learn more about preserving your own food? Join Root & Branch at Preserving the Harvest: Taking local eating to the next level, for a broad, hands-on introduction to freezing, canning, fermenting, drying and using cold storage to preserve your own seasonal food.

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