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Food preservation and community

November 24, 2010

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

The cost of food is rising and is expected to continue to rise. Over the past year, beef prices have increased about 6 percent; pork is up 10 percent; poultry 1.4 percent; eggs more than 11 percent; dairy nearly 2 percent; and fresh vegetables more than 4 percent. Only fresh fruit, cereals and bakery prices have dropped.

How can people cope? The first response is often to buy store brands, clip coupons, look through grocery ads for items on sale and buy in bulk.

After paying set prices for purchased food, the next response can be to raise the family’s own food. Meat, fruit and vegetables can be raised in a suburban yard. While meat raising is limited, since many municipalities allow up to three chickens—enough for eggs, but not for meat, growing fruit and vegetables seems much more feasible.

We’re long-term advocates of raising at least some of the family’s food, extending from Sonia’s parents’ big, messy city garden through our daughter Lin’s current gardens, which include heritage tomatoes and peppers, several types of garlic and potatoes, and, of course, members of the squash family.

Not only does home-grown produce save money, it provides healthier food with a grower’s ability to know what went into and on it, and increases our food and energy independence.

During the prolific growing season in the Midwest, nature seems determined to smother us with her bounty. But after four months of plenty, where does the food come from? Some of the excess can be preserved for the pleasure of eating almost fresh foods during the dark months.

We are also long-term advocates of food preservation and have taught several workshops on the processes. Canning, freezing and drying are skills anyone can learn. According to Mary Blackmore, root cellaring offers another less labor-intensive technique of winter storage. It requires some underground cold site, which a family might not have, but the other techniques can be employed in any kitchen.

Many preparation books, ranging from simple Kerr and Ball canning guides through the University of Georgia’s 376-page So Easy to Preserve are available for novices and advanced cooks alike.

For those who are not sure they want to invest in a set of food preservation equipment, community kitchens have been established. Some have employees who oversee all aspects of preservation, others are grassroot co-ops. People can experience the money-saving success of keeping, not composting, their excess.

We recently spoke with Cyndie Hall, who is in charge of Rockford neighborhood gardens, about community gardening and cooking. She told us there are 37 neighborhood gardens and that several schools have them. Many of her gardeners are ready to preserve food and would see a community kitchen as a welcome addition. In some west Rockford neighborhoods, as much as 28 percent of the population has no access to transportation and must rely on quick marts for their food, nearly all of which is processed. Community home canning would provide this population with access to preparing their own nutritious stored food. Certified kitchens that meet health department standards are expensive, but Hall was confident grants are available. This region may have reached a critical mass.

Information about canning is also available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402. Booklets include “Home Canning of Fruits and Vegetables” and “How to Make Jellies, Jams and Preserves at Home.” For information about starting a community canning kitchen, contact the Director, Ball Food Preservation Program, 345 S. High St., Muncie, IN 47302.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. The Vogls and the IREA are members of the Environmental Hall of Fame. Dr. Robert Vogl is vice president of Freedom Field, and Dr. Sonia Vogl is a member of Freedom Field’s Executive Committee. The Vogls consult on energy efficiency, renewable energy and green building. They have 3.2 kW of PV and a 1 kW wind generator at their home. Forty acres of their 180-acre home farm are in ecological restorations. They are active in preserving natural areas and are retired professors from Northern Illinois University. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the Nov. 24-30, 2010 issue

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