When it comes to the bountiful Sonoma County harvest, the abundance can be too much to eat all at once.
People end up throwing out even their home-grown garden produce. But there is a way to keep all that extra food from going to waste, while increasing food security.
Volunteers in the Sonoma County Chapter of the University of California’s Master Food Preserver program educate the community on safe practices of home food preservation, including pickling, canning, dehydrating, fermenting, freezing and more.
“The goal of our program is to help people to eat more healthy food and to extend the food budgets for low-income families and seniors,” says Amber Driscoll, a certified volunteer of the Sonoma County chapter’s 2022-23 volunteer training program.
The Master Gardener program and the Master Food Preserver program are agents of the University of California’s agricultural and natural resources department and work through the UC cooperative extension department. While the Master Food Preserver program has been around for 30 years, the Sonoma County Chapter began more recently in 2020.
“Just like the Master Gardener program, individuals train to be volunteers who teach workshops about how to preserve food to prevent food waste, reduce family food bills, extend the life of home grown garden produce and help meet the food needs of low-income households,” explains Driscoll.
Dried, frozen, fermented and canned foods made from summer and fall produce from an abundant garden—or from the farmers’ market—are a great way to enjoy healthy food all year long and save money.
“Food preservation at home can seem scary to people who are concerned about food safety and instead end up throwing out food, even their own homegrown garden veggies,” explains Driscoll. “Our program gives people the hands-on tools, support and even access to equipment needed to can, dehydrate, freeze and ferment just about anything, and it is all free to the community.”
Besides working with the public and communities in need, Driscoll also educates the community.
“I also get my hands dirty—so to speak,” laughs Driscoll. “I teach workshops, specifically on fermenting, which is my favorite. I also plan to teach some dehydrating classes, which will include how to use dehydrated foods to make easy, healthy meals.”
There are two upcoming specialty classes on Nov. 3 and 4 on cheesemaking, where participants will learn to make two kinds of cheeses, queso blanco and mozzarella. Participants take home the cheese they make, along with a cheese-making basket and recipe booklet.
“We provide free outreach, events, demonstrations and classes for everyone in the county, focused on spreading information and encouraging food preservation in low-income communities where extending the life of nutritious food can help alleviate the risk of food-insecurity,” says Driscoll.
To take a class, learn more or sign up for the newsletter, visit ucanr.edu/sites/MFPSC.