Preserving the harvest

Melissa Gibson | CNHI News IndianaLONG LASTING: More people are becoming interested in learning how to preserve their food, making it last throughout the winter.

As the growing trend of eating healthy and stretching the dollar continues, more residents are interested in preserving their food and making it last longer.

Zion Nature Center recently played host to a class that focused on how to preserve the summer’s bounty.

Taught by Mindy Murdock, park naturalist and self-proclaimed avid gardener, the class looked at the multiple ways to preserve food.

“This isn’t a 101 on canning or pickling,” Murdock said. “We’re looking to highlight some ways to use something you see at the farmers’ market that you love, but think, ‘I’ll never get through all that before it goes bad.’ There are foods that you might not realize you can freeze.”

Murdock said studies show a large majority of customers often throw away the fresh produce they pick up at the grocery, and many have an over-abundance of food from their garden that eventually goes to waste.

“It goes along with backyard gardens and backyard chickens — they’re really gaining in popularity again,” Murdock said. “I’m hoping people will come to the program that have ideas about things they’ve tried and things that have failed. For gardening, that’s the best way to learn.”

For more serious canning and preserving enthusiasts, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Lebanon offers community classes geared toward saving those extra harvests at the Harvest House.

Located on the church property at 950 E. Washington St., Lebanon, church leaders decided helping the community with nutrition and offering educational opportunities was one way they were able to give back.

“In 2012 we decided to do a community garden,” program coordinator Sandy Dailey said. “A lot of people plant and then forget about it and you don’t see them again. So we teamed up with Shalom House and began providing food to them and St. Joseph’s food pantry.”

Dailey coordinates the planting of the large garden with everything from 84 varied tomato plants and 300 feet of green beans to okra and kale. She also coordinates the variety of volunteers who come out to help weed, harvest and clean throughout the season.

They have people all over the community that donate plants and the Zionsville Boys and Girls Club, Girl Scouts, Boone County Master Gardeners, individuals and many others donate their time to the project.

Individuals can also come out and pick what they need to take home, but Dailey asks that people don’t pick the plants clean and instead leave some for others to enjoy. Two years ago, the church took the gardening and community sharing program to another level.

“It’s called the Center for Congregations, a Lilly Endowment program,” Dailey explained. “We implemented the grant last year and, with matching from our diesis downtown and Lilly, we ended up with about $47,000 that we used on Harvest House.”

After months of surveys and analyzing what the church has that they could offer to others, nutrition and education was determined to be the biggest asset.

Set in the original church building on the property, the 815 square foot block building is now the site of several classes, including summer Jr. Master Gardner programs and the Texas A&M Learn, Grow, Eat and Go program. Both teach youths how to grow their own vegetables, the importance of nutrition and recipes they can take home.

Dailey is one of several now certified to train others on educating the class and teaching others.

Another service offered to families is the canning equipment.

“We do water bath canning, we have a new pressure cooker and we have a freeze dryer,” Dailey said. “We found that many people said they wanted to can, but it was too expensive to do so. By the time you buy all the supplies, it can be expensive.”

Through Harvest House, classes are offered teaching canning and other preservation methods, and individuals with over-abundance are able to use the equipment to save food for themselves or to donate.

“We also do vacuum sealing and freezing of fresh corn and more. We can many of our vegetables and we’ve freeze dried strawberries, pineapple, kiwi and pears. Everybody loves it and it lasts forever,” Dailey said.

Dailey said she’s happy to share her expertise with others. She added that there are plenty of people in the community who want to learn the ins and outs of the canning process, so it’s not uncommon for groups to come in and assist in the work.

“Last year a young gal came out and said her dad had given her a trunk load of corn and a lot of it went to waste because she didn’t know what to do with it,” Dailey said. “We could have frozen those ears of corn for her.”

Canning classes are currently scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 17, 20 and 27. The water bath classes will teach making and canning salsa, canning green beans and canning tomatoes.

For more information, Dailey posts messages on the church’s Facebook page so others can join in the discussion, or she can be reached by emailing to sandydailey@att.net.

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