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Colorado State plans new Extension Office class for post-recession homesteaders

Canning comeback



When spring-planted veggies are ready for harvest later this summer, the forward-thinking among us will set some aside for preservation — whether by canning, pickling or both. It's a skill some learned from their parents, but if you missed that boat, there's still hope for hopping on.

The coming months will see the inception of a new opportunity to learn food preservation by way of the Colorado State University Extension Office, where 31-year-old Briana Rockler started in March as El Paso County's first Family and Consumer Sciences agent in seven years. The position, she explained, is sort of like what once was called "home-ec" in school but now entails a scientific rigor that rivals that of federal food-safety inspectors.

"My family had a cabin in Wisconsin where my grandma would take me out picking and we'd can everything," Rockler says. Her grandmother was a child of the Depression, she says, and her parents, though not farmers, lived a back-to-the-land ethos while raising her in Boulder.

Canning and pickling fell somewhat out of style in the latter decades of the 20th century, though they had a glimmer of resurgence at the turn of the millennium. For Rockler, an education in biology and public health spurred that renewed interest in food preservation.

"I talked to my mom about it and she was like, 'Well, just use grandma's cookbook,' and I'm like, 'Mom, I don't want to poison myself!'" Rockler laughs, adding that the biological risks are simply not what they once were — hence the shift away from heavily processed foods is in vogue.

Urban homesteading is as much an economic trend as it is cultural. Post-recession retail figures show a nearly 12 percent rise in sales of canning-related items, according to data-tracking firm Nielsen Co. Simply put, food preservation is a cheap, reliable way to ensure you'll have something to put on the table even if you lose your job.

The recession may have squeezed individuals the tightest, but institutions were not immune. CSU cut this office's Family and Consumer Sciences agent in 2009, and El Paso County had been without formal, publicly subsidized food preservation classes since then.

Interested parties did have options. You could pop into Buckley's Homestead Supply on Colorado Avenue to learn from local experts. You could head down to Pueblo County's Extension Office, which had its own Family and Consumer Science agent until last December (and will hire someone new by July.) And public libraries with internet access offer endless information on the subject.

But Rockler says that she gets about two to three inquiries about food preservation a week. For now, people can sign up for her cottage foods class — a required certification for anyone looking to sell potentially hazardous foods at farmers markets. Sometime this summer, food preservation classes focusing specifically on canning and pickling will come online. Sometime after that, Rockler says an emergency preparation class is likely to take shape.

"Especially here, with all the wildfires and landslides, it's more popular to think about getting ready to hunker down and survive the apocalypse together," Rockler says, with only the slightest hint of irony. "This was a lost art for a while, but it's coming back."

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