Increasing interest in locally grown food is spurring a revival of ancient methods of preserving that food. With all the effort that goes into growing it, the next step is finding ways to store it for future consumption.
For decades, few people thought about where their food came from, beyond the grocery store shelf. But that’s changed in recent years and many people are interested in knowing more about the food they eat. Melissa Chase is the state coordinator for the Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Master Food Volunteer program.
“They want to know where it’s coming from, they want more control over how it’s prepared and processed.”
Chase runs the Master Food program, which trains volunteers in food safety, nutrition, and food preparation. At the end of a 30-hour program, volunteers give back 30 hours of their own time by working in outreach for the Virginia Cooperative Extension.
Interest in the Master Food program is especially strong in Northern Virginia, where the sprawl of Washington DC has reduced the amount of farmland and the availability of local foods in the region.
“There’s very limited space to grow food there and they want to be able to have more control over where their food’s coming from, so we’re getting a lot of interest in the program from that perspective.”
Chase says many volunteers are motivated by a revived interest in food preservation, a skill that was likely practiced by many of their grandparents and great-grandparents, but lost in the modern world.
“Something else I hear from folks, especially from cities, is I think they’re starting to realize how dependent they are on having their food brought in from other locations.” People want to do it themselves and be self-reliant, much like preparation for natural disasters.
The cooperative extension also offers a Master Food Preservation program for people who have completed the Master Food Program and want to take the next step. From canning and freezing methods to fermentation, an ancient method of preserving food beyond the growing season.
“With the amount of information that we have available to us on the internet one of our biggest challenge is making sure people are getting their information from the right sources, so part of our mission is to help people figure that out and teach them to do that.”
The Master Food Preparation Program is still fairly small only about 150 people statewide, mostly in northern and southwestern Virginia.
The training is given once a year, depending on demand. Charges vary by location, but it’s typically around ninety dollars for the thirty hours of training. Chase says some people who have taken it have been able to start businesses and teach others in their communities about food prep and preservation.
The Virginia Cooperative Extension is celebrating its 100th birthday this year.