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Growing, preparing and preserving your own food

July 31, 2013

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

Food independence has become a true local sustainability and energy success story. Six years ago, keynoter Alisa Smith’s presentation at the Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair based on her book, Plenty, was a huge success. Since then, an entire thread of food-oriented workshops has been offered each year.

Demand for locally-grown foods has been growing. As a result, more is being made accessible to the public and more people are growing at least some of their own. People want to know where they can purchase locally-grown food, how they can produce their own, and how to prepare and preserve it once they have a harvest.

At this year’s fair — set for Aug. 17-18 at Ogle County Fairgrounds in Oregon, Ill. — nearly a dozen workshops focusing on food and gardening are being presented. Workshops will help audiences learn about growing their own food and how to do it. Successful gardening nearly anywhere, improving the soil and encouraging beneficial insects will be covered by a well-known gardener (Saturday, 2:30 p.m.). Weekend homesteading will present firsthand experiences raising produce and animal products, growing fruit and vegetables in the city or country, and extending the growing season using simple, inexpensive structures (Saturday, 3:45 p.m.). Additionally, the benefits of native plants, both edible and inedible, will be discussed (Saturday, 1:15 p.m.).

Another workshop will present the successful work being done to create a local sustainable food security system for DeKalb County. In only its second year, the community gardens have grown to more than 10 acres and 200 raised beds at 40 sites around the county (Saturday, 10:45 a.m.).

Aquaponics, an aspect of the growing urban agriculture movement, produces food through the use of a self-sustaining system. Fish and vegetables feed each other in a continuous cycle of reuse. An aquaponics project, undertaken by a local high school class, should encourage thinking and action toward this closed-loop type of gardening, which can be done anywhere, even indoors (Sunday, 2:15 p.m.).

Special foods demonstrations and discussions should interest people in trying to emulate processes themselves. Raw foods chef Brenda Richter will emphasize the health benefits and values of eating foods in their pure state (Saturday, 10 a.m.). Vegetable fermentation, an ancient method of food preparation, is making a comeback in American kitchens. Recipes will be shared (Saturday, 1:15 p.m.).

A perennial favorite, new and expanded, will answer the question of how to prepare and preserve your bounty once you have it in an overview of canning, freezing, drying and creative ways to prepare foods after they have been preserved. Simple cheese- and yogurt-making will also be covered (Sunday, 11:45 a.m.).

Wild and domestic game acquisition and processing will emphasize living simply and environmentally responsibly and will offer minimal-footprint methods of what may seem daunting but can be done by almost anyone (Sunday, 10:30 a.m.).

Equipment for food preparation will also be addressed. Having an environmentally-friendly kitchen, working without expensive appliances, cutting waste and even cooking when the electricity goes out will complete the food cycle workshops (Sunday, 10:30 a.m.).

Other related, although not specifically food-oriented, workshops will also be presented.

From producing one’s own food through preparing and preserving it to obtaining the necessary equipment to accomplish these goals will give fair visitors renewed confidence in their ability to experience food independence. Visit www.illinoisrenew.org for the complete workshop schedule.

Major sponsors of the fair are The Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, The Rock River Times, Northern Public Radio, Clean Line Energy Partners and the Kickapoo Foundation.

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. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the July 31-Aug. 6, 2013, issue

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