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On October 30th, Milwaukee Area Science Advocates (MASA) had the opportunity to present a canning and preserving food demonstration at the Milwaukee Women’s Center. This was an event aiming to introduce the idea of canning jam and pickling vegetables to preserve food harvested during the summer months for winter storage. Jardin Home Brands generously donated a canning kit to demonstrate with, and we used fresh fruits and vegetables collected from organically grown sources. It was amazing to see the excitement of the children and involvement of their parents at the event. At the beginning of the event, one child questioned, “What is in this jar? Vinegar? Gross!” Later in the event, his sentiment changed to, “Wait, this is actually delicious, when do I get to eat it?”

When the idea for canning was first presented, I was really excited to share my knowledge of gardening and canning, but the event had more of an effect on me than I had anticipated. There was something very special about sharing family traditions. Not only did I have to opportunity to pass along my family traditions, but I learned from the attendees ways their families have gardened and preserved food over generations. There is something powerful and comforting about a collective shared experience among neighbors, especially as we head into the holiday season. My childhood memories are full of berries in the sink and snapping beans. That is my brother pictured, circa 1992. That year, we had over 20 pounds of strawberries to clean, hull, and boil. One of the older residents at the Women’s Center shared similar experiences. She commented, “I appreciate you being here today. It brings me back to my childhood of a sink full of garden fruits and jars of jam to be made.”

My grandparents grew up on a farm during the Great Depression. They spent the spring, summer, and fall months harvesting food that would sustain the family throughout the winter. Farming and preserving was not only a necessity, it transformed into a way of life. A ritual to be followed the same as Sunday mass or making dandelion wine during prohibition.

Sometime after the Great Depression, due to the increase in genetically modified foods and the gamut of pesticides and herbicides, the scarcity of food became a thing of the past. But despite the bounty of commercially available and affordable food, my grandparents continued to garden and preserve food. It was as natural as breathing, to follow the rhythms of growing and harvesting seasons, planting and liming seasons. The harvest moon actually means something. Yet, despite the ingrained behavior, over generations that mentality began to change. My mother canned goods as I was growing up, but less because she needed to, and more because my grandmother was aging and still insisted it be done.

There are many benefits to growing and preserving one’s own food. Not only is there a sense of accomplishment from working to produce your own food –anyone who has ever run their hands through fresh soil can tell you that. But also, the effort put into planting, harvesting, and cooking food provides a respect for the nourishment that goes into our bodies. Importantly, growing food in-house lets you control what chemicals your food is exposed to. Moving forward, we are excited to continue to share our experiences and knowledge about gardening, planting, and preserving techniques with the Women’s Center through the Urban Garden Project.

Lastly, (and subjectively), home grown food tastes better. It just does.

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