GYOV founder Stacey Murphy developed our Harvest-into-Meals food preservation system that gives you strategies for eating fresh year-round, whether it’s out of your garden or from the farmer’s market.
Having a food preservation system helps you:
• Manage the harvest you have coming in without overwhelm or waste
• Enjoy garden-fresh nutrition year round
• Take the guesswork out of meal planning
• Plan to preserve your favorite staple foods
• Open up time and energy to enjoy other activities
Like any new skill, learning to manage harvest takes time and energy upfront. But as you incorporate a food preservation system into your routine, it becomes second nature with time.
The first step in creating a food preservation system that works for you is setting goals. Goals that work for you and your lifestyle are all about…YOU! So put away those “shoulds” and focus on what you actually want.
The best kind of goals create habits, especially if it’s a daily habit or a weekly habit. Habits make accomplishing your goals automatic, just like brushing your teeth.
Whatever kind of garden space, time, and energy levels you’re working with, be realistic about what kind of food preservation system will work for your lifestyle. If you have a busy life with lots of priorities, your plan should be enjoyable and easy to execute in the time you have. If your time is flexible and you’re looking to take on a new project, be realistic about how much you can take on at once without burning out.
• Set some small goals that you know you can accomplish (ex: I want to learn how to lacto-ferment vegetables). Easy wins create momentum!
• Set some stretch goals so that if you manage the small goals, you have something to stretch for (ex: I want to lacto-ferment 20 quarts of sauerkraut from my own cabbage).
• Differentiate between rate-based goals (ex: I want to can two quarts of tomatoes per week) and overall goals (ex: I want to can all of the pasta sauce I need for a year).
How many hours per week can you commit to preparing and preserving food?
• Do you have friends or family who can help with prep work?
• What materials or supplies do you need to get started?
• What kind of preserved food excites you?
• In your garden, do you want to grow food specifically for preservation? Or do you want to grow easy foods you enjoy and figure out how to preserve them later?
After you’ve set realistic goals for your food preservation system that align with your values and lifestyle, it’s time to do the math. If you plan to grow vegetables in your garden specifically for preservation, this step is crucial for your crop plan.
For example, if your overall goal is to grow and preserve all of your own tomatoes for pasta sauce for a year, you need to figure out:
• How much pasta sauce you eat in a year (in quart jars)
• How many tomatoes it will take to make that much pasta sauce
• How many tomato plants you need to grow that many tomatoes (tip: overestimate here to account for loss)
It’s okay to estimate in the beginning! You’ll use what you learn this year to create a more specific plan next year.
The third step of your Harvest-into-Meals food preservation system is to create or adjust your crop plan for the next growing season so that you’re growing for preservation. To do that effectively, you’ll need to create a harvest log.
A harvest log is a list of crops you’re growng. Every time you harvest, you note the amount of each crop by weight or by bunch. This empirical data comes straight from your garden and gives you a clear picture of how much harvest you can expect from your plants and your space. Start simple with one or two of your staple crops.
Make it a weekly event: harvest your produce, log your harvest, and plan what to do with it. You can see everything that’s available for the week (see Step 4) and create your meal plan (see Step 5) in just a couple of hours.
Even if you don’t have your own garden, you can note when different crops become available at the farmer’s market. And look for sales. For example, at the end of a tomato season, farmers may have discounted boxes of tomatoes perfect for preservation.
You want to use or preserve all of your harvest each week. Naturally, some may end up in the compost bin, but dividing up your harvest will help you reduce waste.
First, separate out all of the best-looking produce. That’s what you’re going to preserve! When you preserve food, it has to be blemish-free. Blemishes increase nutrient loss and can introduce bad bacteria.
Those tomatoes with blemishes? Those are what you’re going to cook or eat raw this week! Just cut away bad sections and incorporate the good bits into your meal plan for the week.
If anything is blemished and damaged beyond edibility, or if it has mold growing on it, that goes into the compost. When you compost, yucky vegetables go back into your garden as nutrients.
Don’t have a compost bin yet? Toss food scraps outside instead of putting them in the trash. Food scraps don’t biodegrade in landfills–but they do contribute to methane emissions and climate change.
You might want to keep certain food scraps and do something with them. You can make apple cider vinegar out of apple cores and peels. As long as they look good and aren’t moldy, you can also cook vegetable scraps into stock for soups.
Could you commit two hours to meal prep each week? This little bit of structure could lead to lots of creativity. Plus, strategically planning your meals ahead saves you time and energy in the long run.
If you can successfully plan one week of meals at a time, you can conquer the whole year.
• What does a well rounded meal look like for you?
• What do you eat when you are in a hurry?
• How many meals are you eating on the run?
• How can your loved ones help?
Step six is the preservation step, so you’re going to spend some time here. This is where you take all the planning that you’ve done and you actually do each process.
Then the seventh step in your preservation system is to create a preservation log. A good preservation log is going to tell you:
• What you preserved and when
• How much you have on hand vs what you already ate
• Progress on your rate-based goals
The most important goal of your preservation system is to make everything visible. Things disappear quickly in the back of your refrigerator or shelves, and you forget about them.
• Keep a dry erase board on your fridge for reminders
• We read left to right, so orient your “eat by” food dates left to right
• Add drawers and label lids
• Tiered shelving
Your log might be your pantry itself, where you just have everything labeled very clearly. Or you might want to create a paper log or a digital log. However you track so that you can follow along. You can improve your system for next year so that you can reset your goals.
Learning to preserve your own food can be a big project or just a few simple steps–it all depends on your lifestyle! Either way, having a food preservation system in place will simplify your process and turn new skills into lifelong habits.