Healthy Plate, Healthy Planet Series:
by Anita Doyle, Becketwood Member
The arrival of canning season and ongoing questions about food justice bring back memories of an important project we took on a decade ago: The 1500 Servings Project.
It started with the question, “Why are we doing this?” It was July, and we were just getting started with preserving the early harvest of black raspberries. We had read Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and were acutely aware of the Miracle that is fresh produce. We began to wonder what we were trying to accomplish with this preserving. Was it to save money? Somewhat maybe. Was it for health reasons? Probably yes. We think that the food we grow and pick ourselves is healthier than pesticide-grown food. Was it fun? Depends on when you ask. Was it satisfying? Definitely yes!! It’s immensely satisfying to grow, harvest, preserve, prepare, serve and eat your own food.
Then we began to wonder what it would take to put away enough locally grown produce to feed ourselves all winter. So we embarked on the 1500 Servings Project. We figured that was the number of servings of fruits and vegetables we would need for two people for five months of winter, December through April. The arithmetic is as follows: 5 months x 30 days = 150 days x 5 servings per day = 750 servings x 2 people = 1500 servings. We decided to make a general rule that one cup of fresh produce would equal one serving, whether it was berries, squash, or tomatoes.
So with the goal of 1500 servings in mind we set out to can, freeze, pickle, dehydrate and store every bit of produce we could get our hands on. We picked bushels of pears from our neighbor’s tree (with their permission, of course); took away all the extras we could manage from our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm share; combed the local farmers’ market for bushels of apples, and agreed to take any excess produce off the hands of our gardening friends. We devoted most weekends to the project and managed to rope a few friends into helping out.
On November 30, 2008, we tallied it all up. We estimated that we had 1327½ servings, 172½ servings shy of the 1500. We were delighted. If we had had room for more squash and potatoes we would have made it.
So we ate our way through the winter. We gave some away as gifts and were able to serve quite a few local/home-grown meals to our guests. The best thing was to be able to open a jar of our own canned pears in February. Really, there is nothing better.
Here are a few things we learned. Nectarines need sweetener. Use stored beets by the end of December. Butternut and orange squash go by fastest. It is best to store squash in the kitchen where it is warmer and they can get good air circulation. Don’t make so many dill pickles. You can never have too many carrots. Grape leaves need to be harvested early in the season.
We never repeated the 1500 servings project, but it did change the way we look at produce. We still do a bit of canning, we've added fermentation to our repertoire, and we fill our freezer with green beans and local blueberries. We don't have the freezer or storage space that we used to, or a pear tree next door, so non-local fruit has crept back into our diet, but we make sure it's U.S. grown so it doesn't travel so far, and certified organic is a given for all our non-local produce purchases.
And we feel the injustice of our food system, where food is inequitably distributed, where food deserts and government agricultural policy limit people's access to healthy produce. We long for a food system where simple, healthy organic food is the norm rather than the exception. Food is good – grow it, buy it, cook it, eat it, enjoy it.