Saturday, January 10, 2009

Expand your consumption of local food with home canning and food preservation

Focusing on local food products has become increasingly popular as people seek healthier food and try to reduce global warming pollution. Growing gardens is on the rise again as people see the potential for fresh fruit and vegetables out their back doors. Even modest gardens and one or two fruit trees can create tremendous bounty for one family, but does anyone really want to eat 40 pounds of tomatoes before they go bad? The answer is home canning with Mason jars. Canning used to be very common a couple generations ago, and it is on the rise again as people reallize they must take more control of their food sources instead of leaving it solely to mega-polluting agribusiness.

Last summer in cooperation with a local urban farming and environmental group ( I was the instructor for a home canning seminar. I had taught myself the year before how to do it, and I was amazed at how many people, young and old, turned out for what I considered one of my nerd hobbies. About 25 people showed up to watch me boil water! Actually I discussed many technical details, but it was hardly the sexiest show in town.

Home canning fits in well with the local food movement because it allows people to fully take advantage of local crops, instead of only having them in season. For example if you can locally grown apples, then you are using local apples for most of the year for your desserts, fruit salads, and applesauce instead of buying what is at the grocery store.

Consuming locally grown food is an important way to reduce global warming pollution. A common figure tossed around is that the average American meal has traveled 1,500 miles. A great deal of the transport is caused by shipping foods to places where they are out of season, like tomatoes from warm growing regions (California, Florida, and Mexico) to winter regions. Another large source of all the food travels are centralized processing facilities that have replaced smaller regional operations over the years. This massive shipping of food back and forth across continents and even around the world causes tremendous amounts of fossil fuels to be burned, which exacerbates global warming. Of course some food transport is necessary with coffee being a glaring example, but most of it is unnecessary.

You can reduce the amount of fossil fuel pollution associated with your food by selecting local food whenever possible. When something you like is in season, find a canning recipe, buy a bunch of it, and preserve it. Then you will be able to enjoy that local food for all or part of the year before resorting to the supermarket.

I have a website about home canning where I have assembled my knowledge. I've been working to get the website ready for the coming growing season. This week I added the following recipes:

Applesauce canning recipe
Tomato canning recipes

Whether you garden or only shop your local farmers' market, I encourage you to learn about home canning. The food quality is substantially better than mass produced food and it will connect you with your local food system.