In recent weeks, panic from the COVID-19 virus has created long lines in grocery stores. In some cases, shelves have been cleared out of essential items. Residents are stocking up on everything from pantry staples to toilet paper, in efforts to comply with recommendations from the Center for Disease Control to stay home and avoid large gatherings.
In the Pacific Northwest, dining in at restaurants is temporarily restricted, allowing only curbside take-out options. As of this writing, one major U.S. city has imposed a three-week “shelter in place” directive, effectively creating a 24-hour curfew for most of its residents.
Rethinking where your food comes from
This current coronavirus underscores the importance of food security for our families. Imagine that instead of traveling to a store to purchase groceries, all you had to do was head to your garden, canning storage area, pantry or freezer to find everything you need to prepare delicious and nutritious meals for the ones you love.
When you commit to planning and growing a vegetable garden, you’ll be able to go outside to “pick dinner” all summer long. And, with careful planning, you’ll have the ability to preserve many of the crops you grow. If you are limited on garden space, many local farms offer u-pick opportunities during summer months on everything from tomatoes, green beans and berries. All of this bounty can be safely preserved to be consumed later in the year.
Most single family residences have enough landscape space to allow for a few large raised beds. Many neighborhoods also offer community gardens where spacious plots provide an opportunity to grow an abundance of food.
Freezing summer berries is quick and easy
Each year, my organic farm produces a heavy crop of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. I grow enough to sell some of them fresh at our farm stand as well as freezing a few hundred pounds for our own use. As these crops are picked, they are spread out in a single layer on a cookie sheet lined with a “sil pat” type of baking mat. After a few hours in the freezer, roll up the edges of the mat to loosen the frozen berries. Store them in a zip-lock freezer bag and use a marker to identify the type of berry and date. By doing this, my family is able to enjoy organic berry smoothies as a breakfast staple, all year long.
Canning tomatoes, jams and salsas is a great option
My go-to guide for canning is the “Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.” It offers 400 delicious and creative recipes for today. I’ve been safely canning food for many years. My favorite items to can are tomatoes, jams and salsas for the simple reason they only require a water-bath method for preservation. So there’s no need to drag out the heavy pressure-cooker. And once the canning is done, all that’s required is storage on a shelf, freeing up precious freezer space for other items such as meats and berries.
I prefer to can whole tomatoes during the busy growing season because it’s less labor intensive than prepping marinara or other finished sauces. I prepare three varieties, a Mexican spice version, an Italian spice version and a plain recipe that’s ideal for making tomato soup.
A quick whirl in my food processor creates the perfect sauce for either an Italian or Mexican inspired dinner. The only thing better than opening up a canned jar of tomatoes is slicing the one you just picked in your summer garden. When I pop the lid on a jar of canned tomatoes, it smells just as good as the day it went into the jar. To ensure food safety, follow all recipes and processing times to the letter.
Storing meats for later use
Every few years, we head to the Junior Livestock Auction at the Clark County Fair to bid on a hog raised lovingly by a local 4-H student. Lamb, beef and goats are also available for purchase. After your winning bid, select one of the fair’s recommended butcher shops to do the cutting and wrapping of your animal. The butcher allows you to pick the thickness of your steaks and how many you want in each package. A few weeks later, your locally raised meat is ready to pick up and store in your home freezer. This program not only supports local students involved in 4-H, but it’s an excellent way to stock up on meats that your family loves.
Backyard chickens are also a good option.
If you live in a rural area, you may also raise chickens to provide your family with fresh eggs throughout the year.
The value of whole food
Fresh picked vegetables and fruits are best eaten fresh. At this point, they contain the highest level of nutrients. As spring approaches, there’s no better time than right now to begin planning your garden.
Seeds can be ordered online and delivered right to your door. In Southwest Washington, we are blessed with one of the best growing seasons in Washington State.
The WSU Clark County Extension Master Gardener Program is an excellent place to start your garden journey. Master Gardener volunteers are the go-to resource for communities seeking researched-based solutions for the ever-changing world of horticulture and environmental stewardship.
The program’s answer clinic is open for emails and calls right now. Volunteers can answer your garden questions and connect you with resources. To learn more about the Master Gardener program and to connect with the answer clinic, visit https://extension.wsu.edu/clark/master-gardeners/.