- Author: Margaret J O'Neill
I am excited to share that I have just recently graduated as part of the 2021 cohort of UCCE San Bernardino County Master Food Preservers! Yay and congratulations to my fellow graduates! I'm so excited to try many of the new things I have learned, and the training has shown me many new possibilities for my home gardening food growing adventures, letting me take it to the next level. This year's six month class was held online, and, San Bernardino County residents in the program participated along with trainees from all over the state. Graduating Master Food Preservers will volunteer in their county of residence. Localized training and hands-on experience will occur as COVID-19 restrictions lighten. Completing my Master Food Preserver certification has been on my dream to do list for many years since I first heard about it during my own Master Gardener training. It was worth the wait!
I grew up gardening, cooking, and preserving the bounty from their gardens with my grandma and mom, so we could enjoy produce throughout the year. The Master Food Preserver slogan is “Preserve Today, Relish Tomorrow” and it is so true. As gardeners, we have either experienced firsthand, or seen the joy that comes from the first tomato or squash plucked from plants we've planted. It's such an exciting time and feeling of accomplishment. You planted that plant, you watered it properly, kept weeds and pests at bay, and gave it the TLC it needed. To see that first produce appear is exhilarating! Then the plant keeps producing and the feeling is like “Wow, I didn't know this plant could make so much produce!” Then it rolls over into “Oh my, what in the world am I going to do with all of this produce? The neighbors are hiding when they see me coming with more tomatoes!”
That moment when you begin running out of room on your counter and things are getting ripe faster than you can handle (I'm looking at you apricots: not ripe on Tuesday and falling on the ground on Thursday!) is when knowing some basic food preservation skills is a game changer. Food preservation techniques also allow you to take a smaller harvest of really special, hard to grow, or unique produce and save it to enjoy throughout the year. I love eating home-made apple sauce and apricots in the winter, and having home grown tomatoes throughout the year to grab from the freezer or cupboard and use in a recipe. It is also such a wonderful feeling to reach into the cupboard and pull out my own dried herbs that can be grown even in a small space, like an apartment patio (see last month's Coordinator Corner blog on the Three-Tiered Herb Garden).
You don't have to become a University of California Cooperative Extension Master Food Preserver volunteer to learn these skills, however. Program coordinator Dee Denton and Master Food Preservers offer free classes online and one day soon again in person. For several years our Master Gardeners have offered a series of talks (currently online, but typically held in person at San Bernardino County libraries around the county) throughout the year called “From the Garden to the Table” where Master Gardeners teach attendees how to grow food seasonally and Master Food Preservers teach attendees how to preserve it using a variety of techniques that are safe and effective. (Food safety is an important part of food preservation.) We have also offered these classes together in schools through local Parent Engagement Centers for several years, having community members participate in planting activities, pickle, and freezer jam making, and more.
Join us the second Sunday of each month for our online “Ask a Master Gardeners and Master Food Preserver” time from 11am to 1pm. During that time, we also do short 15 to 30 minute talks and demonstrations for you to enjoy as well. One other place you might be able to find the Master Gardeners and Master Food Preservers working together is at some of our local community gardens. Each month we have combined presentations at the Rialto Community Garden and the Seeds of Joy Community Garden in Ontario. For more information on those talks check out our monthly newsletter or our online calendar: http://mgsb.ucanr.edu/. We are slowly expanding these presentations to other community gardens. Look for us at a local garden near you or send an email to our helpline (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call them (909)387-2182 to see if we can come teach classes at your community garden too! Just like the Master Gardeners, the Master Food Preservers also have a helpline (email@example.com) where you can reach out and get all of your preservation and food safety questions answered and get some great, tested and approved resources and ideas! Also check out their website: https://ucanr.edu/sites/sbmfp/. On their website under resources, you can link to the statewide website that has many great recipes for all of your harvest.
Didn't have a bountiful harvest this summer? That doesn't mean that your preservation dreams are done for the year! I had a grrrrreat start to my tomatoes and then the spider mites also had a great start to their season and while I was not looking they took my plants down to the ground!! Arggggg!! While food preservation is a great way to deal with a huge harvest, you don't need tons of food to save a bit to enjoy throughout the year. You can also connect with other gardeners you might know online or in person. Look for a community garden near you (reach out to our Master Gardener helpline for more information on that), or check out the many local farmers markets that offer fresh and local produce from local farmers and community gardeners in your area.
Together, our University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener and Master Food Preserver programs are here to help you grow a productive garden to safely preserve and enjoy your harvest for weeks and months to come!