COLUMBIA — Stephanie VanVranken and her daughter started preserving their own food 15 years ago.
Since it was so much work, she hasn’t preserved in years, but now she’s back on the bandwagon. VanVranken’s daughter, Erika VanVranken, had several failed attempts at starting a garden but finally succeeded this year. They saw this as the perfect opportunity to attend a food preservation workshop.
“My daughter put in a garden, and we decided to do it together,” Stephanie VanVranken said. “Hopefully she’ll have enough produce so we can preserve some of it.”
For more information on home food preservation, go to the National Center for Home Food Preservation Web site. Or contact Vera Massey by phone at 445-9792 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Stephanie VanVranken is most interested in preserving her own salsas and jellies. “The salsa I made is better than anything I can buy at the grocery store,” she said.
Although MU Extension has offered food preservation courses for years, the popularity has increased recently due to rising food prices, concern about food safety and the struggling economy. There was a waiting list to register for them this year.
Three food preservation workshops are being offered this month: freezing and drying; water bath canning; and pressure canning. The pressure canning workshop is already full. Every chair was filled for the water bath canning session on June 10, and the attendees all varied in age and experience, from those who had canned since childhood, to those who had never done it before.
Vera Massey, a nutrition and health education specialist, hosted the workshop at the MU Extension center located west of town. Massey started the sessions to teach people the benefits of home food preservation, which she said protects the overall quality of food and preserves its nutritional value. She also stressed the importance of eating and shopping locally during rough economic times.
“It is important to eat locally because of quality,” Massey said. “The food is at its peak freshness as compared to if it was shipped from another country. There is a concern over how food is grown. If you produce yourself, you know what goes into it.”
She closely follows the latest food preservation research. Since foods can be covered with pesticides, people are becoming increasingly interested in knowing exactly under what circumstances their food is grown, Massey said.
“For me it’s about asserting control over what I’m eating,” said Erika VanVranken. “I feel that whenever you buy things that aren’t local you have no idea where they are coming from and their history, like who grew them and what conditions they were grown in. I want to try to know where my food is coming from and I feel like if I’m growing it that’s the best way to know.”
Even those who grow their own food acknowledge the importance of shopping locally.
Pam Mietzner is an experienced gardener and has 11 raised-bed gardens. Although she preserves some of her own food, there are some items she buys locally.
“I don’t have strawberries yet, so I go to the farmers' market and get fruit from them and preserve that,” Mietzner said. “I want to support the other local growers also.”
Massey said that besides the nutritional value of eating fresh food, it's a way to consume whatever food you want during any time of the year.
Mietzner appreciates the freedom to eat seasonal food at a later date.
“You’re just waiting for the next thrill from your garden,” Mietzner said. “You can take something out of the freezer in the winter that you grew over the summer. It’s a whole different relationship with your food. It’s awesome!”
During a time when money is tight, workshop attendees hope to save not only food but maybe some money as well.
"It is most economical when you’re growing the food yourself or have an abundance at a reasonable price,” Massey said. “The ideal situation is if you have access to your own garden. You may have costs up front but it is a long-term investment.”
Erika VanVranken would like to save money, but also sees home food preservation as a way to go green.
“It is an initial investment, but I hope that I will save money,” Erika VanVranken said. “You can reuse everything, like jars. It doesn’t generate any waste.”
But despite all the practical benefits, Massey said that food preservation is just a fun activity.
“In the stressful times we live in, food helps pull us together,” Massey said. “We can re-establish our relationships with friends and family through food.”