Green Living: A Winter’s Worth of Local Foods

Steve Waller

green living, canning skills, healthy food, winter prep, U.P. holistic business, U.P. wellness

As the awareness of organic, local and healthier food grows, another trend is bringing the whole process of wholesome food consumption closer to home. Actually it’s coming directly into the kitchen, right where it was when I was a little kid spending harvest season on my grandparents’ family farm in Oconto, WI. In the 1950s thru 70s, many people still “grew their own” (food) and because food ripens seasonally, they needed the skills and equipment to “put it up,” making summer’s wholesome abundance available the rest of the year.

Almost everybody knew how to do it. Then came refrigeration, flash freezing, industrialized production, TV dinners, instant pudding, global distribution and, almost instantly, everybody forgot how to do it. I’m speaking from experience. What my grandparents knew my parents forgot, and my wife and I, avid gardeners, had to relearn from scratch, carefully. When preserving food, learning from mistakes has consequences.

A few years ago we received a couple of gift jars of homemade jam, lovingly made from fresh-picked Yellow Dog Plains blueberries. We carefully stored the jars in the cabinet above the sink, anticipating a frigid winter morning warmed with toasted English muffins or pancakes smothered in Yellow Dog blueberry jam. That never happened. After a few weeks, the blueberry jam jars exploded. That’s right… EXPLODED! The cabinet and kitchen were splattered with glass shards and an indelible blueberry stain. Why? Simple. They made a mistake, fortunately a merely messy mistake. Other preservation mistakes can be fatal. Then why do it? Because you can. You should. You must.

Local farmers did their job and brought abundant, fresh, healthy food to your co-op and farmer’s markets.

It’s your job to buy and eat as much of your favorite local food as you can. If you “put it (local food) up,” you can buy and eat a year’s worth, instead of just a few days worth. That’s better for the farmers, for you, your local economy and your family. Since food today travels an average of 1,500 miles to get to the American dinner plate, local food saves energy and ensures that local environmental and food safety standards are met. Who is really watching those foreign producers anyway? Better yet, canning jars are almost perpetually re-useable, then recyclable. So, if you are as we were and need to re-learn the art of food preservation, you need a reliable source. Who should you trust?

The Ball Brothers Glass Manufacturing Company began manufacturing fruit jars in 1884 in Buffalo, New York. For over 125 years, Ball® branded glass jars and lids have been manufactured exclusively in the United States, (now Muncie, Indiana), and are known worldwide. Ball has produced the definitive guide to food preserving, the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving, (under $10), since 1909. The Blue Book has been guiding novice and veteran food preservers for over 100 years! Grandma had one and she lived to a ripe old age. Visit their website at or catch them on facebook

Generations have trusted the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving to get them started with simple beginnings like freezer jams, to beans, tomatoes, meats, fish, fruits, pies, vinegars, just about anything digestible. You’ll learn to can, dry, pickle, and freeze. The recipes are easy, time tested, simple and delicious. Grandma ate like this. She was slimmer then than we are today. Have you forgotten? Maybe it’s time to start remembering – and preserving. No mistakes! As summer winds down, the harvest moon (September 12th) should remind us that harvests can last more than a few days.

Steve Waller’s family lives in a wind and solar powered home. He has been involved with conservation and energy issues since the 1970s and frequently teaches about energy. He and a partner own a U.P. wind/solar business called Lean Clean Energy. He can be reached at

Excerpted with permission from the Fall 2011 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. All rights reserved.