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With trips to the grocery store feeling more like running a gauntlet than shopping for basics, there is renewed interest in old ways of securing the harvest. What that looks like is different for each family, but it might include growing a garden – or maybe just a plant or two – or preserving fresh fruits and vegetables straight from a local farm this summer. With either or both, a little preparation and some expert help can make all the difference.

Grow your own food

“You can get the whole family involved with planting – that’s something I used to do as a kid,” Mille Davenport, Director of Clemson University’s Cooperative Extension Home and Garden Information Center, said. “Make sure you have an area with full sun. It needs to be close to a water source so you can irrigate.”

Choose your family’s favorites, but make sure they are suitable for your space and for growing in the Upstate.

“What does everybody enjoy eating? Let kids have some input on what they want to eat,” Davenport said.

By now, the ground is ready and waiting for gardens. Davenport said popular warm season plants include tomatoes, squash, zucchini, eggplant, beans and more. 

If space is at a premium, try adding in veggies where you can or planting in containers.

“You can plant a tomato plant in your flower bed and do the same with herbs,” Davenport said. “You don’t have to have a garden spot.”

For containers, choose determinate or bush varieties of vegetables that will do well in a small space. 

And don’t be afraid to give gardening a try. 

“Start small,” Davenport said. “As you get comfortable, you can add more next year. When it comes to gardening, we’re always learning. If you face challenges this year, don’t give up. Keep trying. It’s an ever-learning process. Look at it as a learning opportunity for adults and kids.”

Enjoy some summer next winter

While fresh fruits and vegetables are at the peak of flavor and readily available, it is a great time to store your family’s favorites. Adair Hoover, a food safety agent with Clemson University’s Cooperative Extension Service, said it is important to put safety first. 

“My best advice if they want to preserve food this summer – freezing, drying, dehydrating, fermenting even – would be to make sure they are using reliable sources,” she said. 

Summer usually brings a full schedule of canning classes to Clemson Extension offices, but the need for physical distancing means that is still uncertain for 2020. 

“Meanwhile, we have the HGIC (Home and Garden Information Center),” Hoover said. “Almost all of the food safety information there is specific to preserving food.”

While YouTube and food blogs can be great sources for meal planning ideas and everyday recipes, Hoover said they may not be reliable sources for preserving food. And the potential risk is high if your grandmother’s canning recipe hasn’t been tested and deemed safe.

“Use science-based information,” Hoover said. 

Be sure to follow approved recipes exactly and practice excellent hygiene by washing your hands thoroughly and cleaning all surfaces. 

“Be prepared before you start,” Hoover said. “Read through everything and have everything ready before you start.”

If canning is intimidating or the equipment needed isn’t readily available, trying freezing food instead. Hoover said it is important to use exact blanching times for freezing.

“That will really increase the quality,” Hoover said. “How you do it is really going to affect how it comes out of the freezer.”

The Home and Garden Information has a wealth of resources for growing and preserving food. Visit https://hgic.clemson.edu for details and updates on class schedules. 

For safe sources for canning and preserving recipes, see HGIC Fact Sheet 3001: https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/finding-reliable-recipes-for-safe-food-preservation.

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