— So many of us have lost the ability to do so many things our grandparents could do. Many of us can’t make meals unless they come from a box. Many of us can’t drive a stick shift, or survive without the Internet, because we’re too busy or haven’t had the need to do such things. And then there’s Jan Green.
You don’t get rich working for a nonprofit; there has to be other incentives involved and for her that is teaching others. Green grew up on a farm and possesses those skills our grandparents had. A nurse, when her four boys grew up and moved away, the farm became too much. So, she moved to Downtown Akron, closer to work, started volunteering for Let’s Grow Akron and ultimately retired. She knew that there are plenty of weeds to pull, acres of land to till, but there is also a great need to preserve the harvest.
Otherwise, all that hard work turns into compost. You see, with farming, crops come in at different times. Carrots may be ready to harvest one week, two weeks from now; cucumbers, or corn, it doesn’t matter. The point is during these times one can only use so much or give away so much before the need to preserve food becomes apparent. Wasting food in a food desert is one of the greatest sins.
Many of us are too fortunate to realize it, but be assured in parts of Akron poverty exists and access to healthy food is limited in areas called food deserts.
The USDA defines food deserts as “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets and healthy food providers.” The USDA’s Food Access Research Atlas labels many of Akron’s neighborhoods as “low income” and “low access.”
These combined indicators force many of Akron’s residents to frequent corner stores within walking distance of their homes that offer mainly processed foods with little or no nutritional value. One of Let’s Grow Akron’s goals is to combat this forced culture for these areas.
That’s where Green’s skills are especially valuable. She teaches free canning classes in the Summit Lake area as part of Let’s Grow Akron’s Healthy Foods Preparation and Preservation Community Education Program with support from Akron Summit Community Action.
Many people learn what they need and then can at home. However, over time the program has also attracted regular participants such as Grace Hudson, Sandra Saulsberry and Patrick Mills.
So regular, in fact, they formed a group called Community Canning. With canning there can be a great deal of prep work, whether it’s peeling or cutting or blanching in addition to the fact that everything needs sterilized. In the case of the group, many hands make light work and they learned if they formed a sort of assembly line the work can go faster. In the end each person takes their produce home.
Green proudly says these folks know everything she knows in the department of food preservation, and she encourages them to teach their skills to other community gardeners. She hopes with the additional expertise, the program will expand to other areas in need.
But what if Let’s Grow Akron could take another leap and make their canned goods available to the public? First it starts with turning blighted areas into food plots, bringing the community together to tend the gardens, growing additional food to feed neighboring families and ultimately grow such an abundance of food it can be sold in order to create an economic benefit within the whole chain.
Exploring this possibility is under way. Green is now a Certified Better Processor as Let’s Grow Akron sponsored her to take the Better Processor Certification, a course conducted at UC Davis.
Unfortunately, with canned goods there is a speed bump in this process. The food needs to be prepared in a licensed commercial kitchen and each recipe needs to be sent away to be tested and receive its own licensure.
This dream may be too big for the organization having limited resources, but big or small this program has already proven to be something extraordinary.
In 2015, 45 participants attended a series of 10 weekly food preservation classes. They learned the importance of growing and eating fruits and vegetables, meal planning and preparation, and to preserve the garden harvest using canning, freezing and dehydrating methods. They were able to preserve 812 jars of produce — quite an achievement! We have a skill now remembered instead of forgotten.
The program is always in need of supplies, whether its jars, lids, pots, pans, pressure canners, and the list continues to grow. Even if the program can’t use donated supplies, they are able to distribute extras to those in need, those who now know how to can but need the supplies for their home. If you’d like to participate they’d love to have you! To participate or donate please contact Let’s Grow Akron at (330) 745-9700.