I live in Seattle but spend a fair amount of time in Mason County, a picturesque, heavily wooded part of Washington State about an hour northwest of Seattle. This mostly rural county is dotted with lakes, divided by rivers & streams, and has enough saltwater inlets to keep us happily eating a variety of shellfish & seafood all year 'round.
This past March when my husband and I attended the annual NMCCC Crab Feed fundraiser I noticed a little blurb on the paper placemats on our table, looking for people interested in a project called the Coalition Canning Corps.
I couldn't wait to get home and call the contact number, but I held off just in case the person on the placemat was recovering from working the fundraiser. Sure enough she had been, but when I got in touch with Linda Archambeau the next day she was tired but more than happy to talk. Linda is a seasoned food preserver and has been the main engine pulling this mighty little CCC train along, though she has some great support too. I knew I'd made the right call, and that we would be working together soon.
Linda's dilemma: she knew there were far too many hungry people in Mason County in need of nutritious food, and that there were plenty of generous families and farmers, including herself, willing to donate produce. The NMCCC (our "parent" group) had collected over 1,000 canning jars and donations of canning equipment. People were willing to learn to help preserve the bounty, but it isn't that simple. Proper permitting is required to donate preserved food. It needs to be done safely, in a health department-approved kitchen, and their needs to be documentation to go with every jar that is preserved.
Fast forward a few months to last week and a photo I took of Linda, in the just-the-right-size commercial kitchen offered to our group by the Hood Canal Masonic Lodge, located in Belfair. Here is Linda, signing the mandatory permit from the USDA that makes it legal for us to donate the CCC's preserved foods. Not sure I'd ever seen her smile this big. Clearly a happy day for all of us.
It took months, actually a couple years, to get to this point, but now we are pretty much unstoppable. Thank goodness for Linda; she would not give up. She made telephone calls, sent emails, and filled out a mountain of forms, but she did it. A small group of regulars show up on the 2nd Friday* of every month where either I or Linda guide them along, teaching preserving as we go. We gather to wash jars, prep the donated produce, cook, process, check seals and label our goods.
Everyone pitches in and we always have a very good time.
Peaches & apricots plus lemon juice & sugar, going into the preserving pan.
Peach halves in light syrup.
Our USDA permit also requires us to verify pH levels, and log data, but these are fairly simple tasks and a common practice of many preservers anyway. Once the jars are labeled they can be used in community meals or distributed by the NMCCC, which provided 34,000 meals in Mason County in 2011 through their 4 different meal programs. (Before our permit came through, we gathered to learn how to preserve. Now that we are legal, we will continue to teach preserving, but we can also share the preserved goods from each session with the community.)
I was just looking again at the brochure the CCC distributes to spread the word. These 4 lines of goals & objectives pretty much sum up what we do:
1.) Train community members how to can safely.
2.) Use and preserve foods that would otherwise be wasted.
3.) Help to feed the hungry in our community.
4.) Bring the home touch back to what we put on our tables.
Is it possible for you to do this in your community?
Of course it is. It's not only possible, but I think it's necessary.
I feel blessed to be a part of this Coalition Canning Corps.
Sauerkraut, fermented first, then canned for shelf-stability.
*We hope to eventually have enough volunteers (and knowledgeable preservers to guide them) to have 4 teams. Then each team would can once per month, but theoretically we could have a team in the kitchen canning something every week of the year.
As my dad said to me as I was growing up: "Think big, start small, and expand." I know he didn't invent the saying, but it sure has resonated with me a few times over the past 40+ years, especially with an opportunity like this.