Yes, we can: 'Interest is exploding' in gardening, food preservation

While the economy took a downturn the last few years, consumer interest in local and organic foods made an upswing. Consumers want to know more these days about where their food is grown, and many are growing at least some of their own food.

"We're seeing a big shift from what you might think of as more 'traditional' gardeners in the past," said Linnette Goard, OSU Extension field specialist in food safety, selection, and management. "Many new gardeners are into sustainable agriculture. They have backyard gardens that just keep expanding."

For example, Goard has been working with a family who decided they wanted to replace one store-bought item per year with something they can grow. Their project started with chickens. Then they added goats, and this summer they grew tomatoes. You can see their story in a new video that Goard just recorded. The subject: how to properly can and store tomatoes.

"Interest is exploding," Goard said, especially in urban areas. She's seeing different people with different purposes for digging in the dirt. More men and more couples are getting involved in gardening. Some are recent retirees making a connection to nature. Others are people wanting to lower or eliminate sugar, salt, or pesticides from their food.

Extension emphasizes the science behind preservation, so everyone who cans or freezes fresh fruits and vegetables understands why certain procedures must be followed precisely.

As a result of increased home gardening, OSU Extension is seeing a renewed interest in home food preservation; and Extension family and consumer sciences (FCS) professionals are reaching out -- teaching the basics of home canning and food preservation through demonstrations and workshops. Extension emphasizes the science behind preservation, so everyone who cans or freezes fresh fruits and vegetables understands why certain procedures must be followed precisely to ensure a high-quality, safe product that they and their family can enjoy.

Video (9:20): Linnette Goard and Melanie Forsythe demonstrate how to can tomatoes.

Good information on demand: The word gets around

In spring 2013, Goard and the home food preservation team worked with Extension FCS professionals throughout the state to update their food preservation skills through hands-on training and revised educational materials in home food preservation methods to be ready for the summer canning and freezing season.

In demonstrations and hands-on classes, participants learn basic food safety principles, how to use home canning equipment properly, and techniques for canning, freezing and drying fruits and vegetables. "I'm amazed" at the response to the classes, Goard said.

OSU Extension is up to the task. There were at least two dozen home food preservation classes offered this summer, and several more are planned for late September and October. The schedule is posted online at http://go.osu.edu/foodpreservation.

"The interest in this is more than I imagined."—Linnette Goard

In her role as field specialist, Goard is also teaching a significant number of privately scheduled classes for grant-funded projects, libraries, and other organizations. "The interest in this is more than I imagined," said Goard. For example, a library in Medina sold out a 40-person home canning class, with 25 on the wait list. Goard agreed to do a second class to accommodate the wait list. The second class sold out completely, and the library had to create yet another wait list.

The requests and the phone calls keep coming in -- Goard received twice the amount of phone questions about food preservation issues in the first two weeks of August 2013 than she did in all of August 2012. Sometimes the callers are consumers who have been directed to Goard by Jarden Home Brands, the parent company of Ball Corporation (which makes glass canning jars). Goard worked with Jarden on a project last year, and now the company forwards questions that it can't answer to Goard.

Connecting people to further information

Extension also has online resources and other connections to address questions related to home food preservation. Consumers can use the Resources link onhttp://go.osu.edu/foodpreservation or visit http://ohioline.osu.edu, click on "Food," and click on "Food Preservation" for a series of fact sheets. Another reputable resource is the National Center for Home Food Preservation at http://nchfp.uga.edu/.

Food safety is also an important topic related to home food preservation, and "I have a good working partnership with the Food Industries Center," which hosts the Food Safety Info Line, said Goard. "They send food preservation questions to me, and I send relevant questions back to them." You can visit the Food Safety website at http://foodsafety.osu.edu or call the Info Line at 800-752-2751 (toll-free in Ohio, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday) or emailfoodsafety@osu.edu.

Goard is available by email at goard.1@osu.edu or by phone at 330-725-4911, ext. 107. You can follow her on Twitter at @lmgoard.

-- Cheryl Buck, OSU Extension