Students learn about food preservation
HURLEY - From planting to growing, harvesting to eating, youth in Iron County are getting a hands dirty approach to learning more about the food they eat.
Over the last three years, fifth through eighth grade students have participated in a "Garden to Market" program through the Iron County University of Wisconsin-Extension office.
"The program gives young people a chance to learn about small scale agriculture, opportunities at farmers markets and how they can contribute to greater food security in their school and community," said Neil Klemme, 4-H youth development agent.
Within the UW-Extension office, multiple departments work together on a wide variety aspects for students, including learning leadership skills and community engagement through youth development, gardening and nutrition education and food preservation through family living education.
Food preservation is new this year, helping to continue education even when the temperature drops. In December, program participants learned how to make apple butter and cranberry sauce, using a water bath canning method, as well as learning about dehydrating.
"The youth really loved the activities and are excited to learn more advanced food preservation techniques," Klemme said. "These programs were also open to all youth involved in the 4-H program here in Iron County and several youth in other clubs attended."
Because of the success of the program, Iron County is sending two youth, Riley Kangas and Hunter Fisk, to attend a statewide food summit later this year. The program has become such a success that the program's participants were featured in an article in Wisconsin Counties magazine.
"We are so proud of these kids," Klemme said. "They have identified ways in which they have benefitted and grown through the program, and how it has given them the opportunity to provide their communities with fresh, healthy and local food. Now they are ready to share their story with a statewide audience. We couldn't be happier with the impact this is making on their lives and ours."
" ... It's a great opportunity for our youth to share the work they do and shine a spotlight on Iron County" he said.
The goal is to expand the preservation portion of the program to adults. In years past, the UW-Extension office partnered with Michigan State University-Extension office educator Lucia Patritto from Gogebic County to host a comprehensive, week-long food preservation course.
Because Patritto died in 2014, the expansion has been put on hold.
"I personally felt unprepared and ill-equipped to teach food preservation solo," Klemme said. "Because, if you knew Lucia, she was the 'food preservation lady,' and could answer the most complicated question off the top of her head. She had a vast knowledge of food preservation and taught me so much. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with such an exquisite woman. In addition, the state UW-Extension food preservation specialist was updating and making changes to the Master Food Preserver program."
"With those two factors, it seemed reasonable to take a break to evaluate and plan the community food preservation workshops with more knowledge and improved state program."
Klemme hopes to continue to program well into the future.
"We wanted the youth to understand that there is more to just plopping seeds in the dirt and picking them," Klemme said. "Offering the opportunity for the youth to understand and actually preserve their own food gives them a chance to explore more aspects of local food. ... We are blown away by the Garden to Market group. They are thoughtful, intelligent, kind and humorous group of young people who are making a huge impact in their communities. The nature of the program and the activities challenge the youth to think critically, problem solve and take leadership."
"We have witnessed these youth gain these skills and grow. They are exceptional young people, and have a great impact on creating a healthy community" Klemme said.