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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

A Permaculture Harvest

Harvest rewards at D Acres Permaculture Farm. Photos courtesy of D Acres.

Harvest rewards at D Acres Permaculture Farm. Photos courtesy of D Acres.

By Josh Trought

In the Northeast, with our short growing season, the practice of developing a resilient food system depends on preserving the harvest through the winter months. Preservation provides a mechanism to extend food availability beyond fresh picked.

A goal of food preservation is to embody the least amount of energy in the process while maximizing the flavor and nutritive qualities. The process allows the wealth accumulated in fresh food to be stored until the next harvest. There are multiple options, recipes, and methodologies for preserving the harvest that have been utilized by humanity throughout history.

Food products must be preserved with care. Improper storage can result in spoilage, and the subsequent loss of time and energy invested. Undetected spoilage can also result in food contamination, which can be a serious health hazard. In particular, meat and canned low-acid foods such as tomatoes, green beans, and cucumbers should be processed and stored with care to avoid contamination issues.

Freezing is a relatively new option to preserve food. The post–World War II industrial era brought freezer storage capacity to the general population of the United States. Freezers saved the time and effort of canning and other means of preservation. Frozen food was relatively easy to process and prepare, and popularized for our generation by TV dinners and microwaved conveniences. Aisles in groceries were soon lined with freezers catering to these profitably packaged products.

Freezers consume large amounts of energy to maintain this luxury. The majority of homes and stores in America rely on fossil fuels and nuclear energy to maintain these frozen spaces. Freezer trucks are required to transport the subzero cargo across the United States. This fragile, insecure network is dependent on continuous inputs of energy to deliver caloric value to the people.

For all the energetic consumption, the results obtained from this preservation option are also dubious. While the initial processing may be quick and simple, with the exception of ice cream, the quality of the food is always diminished by the process. Colors fade and textures become limp and soggy as a result of freezing. No food product is as nutritious or flavorful as it once was before being frozen.

Freezer failures can also result in catastrophic food losses. The mechanization of this food preservation method means that our food security depends on our capacity to repair and maintain this technology.

Harvest at D Acres

Harvest at D Acres

Fortunately there are many traditional food-preservation techniques that have enabled humans to store their harvests at least until the next growing season. These include smoking, canning, fermenting, dehydration, root cellaring, pickling, and processing of dairy and meat products. Canning requires an initial investment in containers and the energy of preparation but has provided reliable food for generations. In addition to fermenting beverages, humans can derive nutrition from fermenting cabbage by creating sauerkraut. Infrastructures such as smokehouses, icehouses, and root cellars are all traditional to our region, and all provide reliable, flavorful, and low-tech alternatives to dependence on the freezer process.   

One of our favorite alternatives at D Acres is the solar dehydrator. The unit consists of a solar heat–collecting mini-greenhouse and racks of plastic screened trays which allow the hot air to circulate up through the unit. There is also a wood firebox below the screens in case cool weather necessitates a smoldering fire to be maintained.

There is an entire chapter dedicated to food preservation in The Community-Scale Permaculture Farm published by Chelsea Green, based on practices at our farm in Dorchester, New Hampshire. D Acres is hosting a three-day Nose to Tail Porcine Festival this November 68, where we will prepare traditional dry-cure and smoke recipes. Contact www.dacres.org for more information.

Josh Trought is the founder of D Acres farm in Dorchester, NH, and the author of The Community-Scale Permaculture Farm that was reviewed in the June 2015 Issue of Green Energy Times on page 25. You can read the review at www.greenenergytimes.org/?s=Community+scale+permaculture+farm.

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