Foraging with friends and gleaning for good is very much back in vogue.
Locally folks like Asiya Wadud of Forage Oakland and Iso Rabins of forageSF, as well as North Berkeley Harvest, PUEBLO Urban Youth Harvest in Oakland and Anna Chan (aka The Lemon Lady) in Clayton have that covered.
Now comes canning for a cause. The Sonoma County, Northern California group Let’s Preserve is a community effort to continue old-fashioned (now newly chic) food traditions, make good use of excess produce, and help those in need.
This past harvest season in Healdsburg, Santa Rosa, and Petaluma thousands of pounds of gleaned apples, tomatoes, and quince were preserved and donated to local food pantries, in an effort, says one organizer, to close the gap between waste and want. Apples and tomatoes were canned for sauce, the quince became filling for empanadas that were frozen for future use.
Merrilee Olson, who runs her own Sebastapol-based food business PRESERVEsonoma, didn’t grow up hungry but her family needed help to put food on the table. Her single mother, who was raising three kids on a state salary in Lincoln, Nebraska, frequently used food stamps to provide dinner for her children. Now a professional chef who works with local farmers and artisan food and wine clients, Olson wanted to find a way with food to give back.
She teamed up with Judy Christensen from Slow Harvest in Healdsburg and Elissa Rubin-Mahon of Artisan Preserves in Forestville and last summer offered a training workshop for volunteers who want to galvanize their community to preserve gleaned, surplus fruits and vegetables.
Last month, she led a group of volunteers who peeled, cut, cooked, and canned 300 pounds of apples to benefit the COTS Petaluma Kitchen.
Food pantries will accept preserved products that have been processed in a commercial kitchen under the supervision of someone who is food-safety certified, says Olson.
Nobody doubts the need is out there. NPR reported this week that the number of people on food stamps hit a new all-time high; as of September nearly 43 million people were using the program, according to data released last week. “Food insecurity is reaching frightening levels,” says Olson. “We believe we can make a difference in our communities by preserving and making healthy food available where it’s needed.”
Last month, KQED’s Forum addressed hunger in the Bay Area. In San Francisco, one of every five children is at risk of going hungry and the numbers are similar in other Bay Area counties. During this holiday season, food bank and soup kitchen operators are reporting a spike in the number of families that are seeking food.
“I’d love to see every community in the Bay Area doing its own preserving and feeding their neighbors in need,” says Olson, who notes that groups as far away as Minneapolis have been inspired by their model to can food for the needy. She also points to Anya Fernald‘s Commando Canning events, Yes We Can Food, in Oakland as a local example.
In the future, Olson would like to include other preservation methods — such as curing, pickling, and drying — to ensure that good produce finds its way to the underserved. She’d also like to reach out to families in need to teach them preservation techniques so they can more affordably feed themselves.
Clearly, community canning events do good. They’re also fun. “We get volunteers from 18 on up — at our last event we had eight young adults from the Coast Guard — and everyone had a good time sharing stories in the kitchen and around a table at a potluck afterwards,” says Olson. “There’s nothing like food to build community.”
To learn more about how to start something similar in your area or to sign up for future community canning events, visit the Let’s Preserve website.
Do you know of similar efforts in your area? Let us know below.
Thanks to Jennie Kimmel and Agustin Guiterrez for sharing their photos.
[This post originally appeared on KQED's Bay Area Bites.]
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