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When Food Preservation Fails

The moment when you open a can of home-grown green beans to meet a putrid stench rising from the jar. When you sprout your own wheat berries but waited a day too long to dehydrate them and they are beginning to grow mold. When you go to collect pears from your tree and have to cut out huge brown spots and you feel that you are throwing out half your crop.

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I hate it. I hate the waste of food and money, I hate the frustration of hard work ruined, and I hate that I failed somehow in my efficiency and skill of providing for my family in this way. There’s not much that’s more disappointing to me in the way of homemaking than to see good food gone bad.

But amid the maddening mistakes that come with growing and preserving your own food, a positive outlook can still be had. Here are three pluses that counterbalance the challenges.

1) You are making an effort to know your food. When you choose to preserve on your own, you know where your food came from, how it was grown, and what kinds of additives are in the can. Even if you make mistakes occasionally, you are still, on the whole, doing well by eating more fresh and local food. Your preservation failure is not reason to give up the cause. (Chances are that supermarket food can and does get wasted just as much, if not more so, than your home-preserved food- it’s just that you blame yourself a lot more when your hard work goes to waste!)

2) You are probably experiencing less waste by preserving at home. It seems sometimes like cutting out all those buggy spots on the apple has to be more wasteful than buying a jar of applesauce, right? But not so. If you weren’t taking the time to cut out the spots, the apples would simply be falling to the ground and rotting. And what we don’t realize is that tons of good food gets wasted in the industrial food market. If an apple isn’t perfect, it gets rejected. If the basil is too tall, it gets thrown out. If an animal is sick, it gets killed instead of treated. You get the point. You are actually saving food, even when it seems like a lot needs to go into the compost.

3) You are honing your skills. It can be really disheartening when you find your canning jar lids didn’t seal properly. But just think- from every mistake you make, you learn a lesson, and you’re unlikely to make the same mistake again. Think of it as a bump on the path that taught you how not to trip. Mistakes are there to teach you to pick back up and do better when you try again next time.

I am preaching this to myself as I’ve had a few big discouraging preservation mistakes this past week… Take heart! It’s not reason to give up. Keep trying and you will continue to learn and get better at saving your own food to eat year-round.