When I plan for world domination, to be the Master of My Domain, I plan small. Cozy. Domestic, even. And if it can be home grown and fit in my pantry, all the better.
Yes, friends, I am talking about Master Food Preserving. I’m enrolled in an eight-week Family Food Education/Master Food Preserver training program through Oregon State University Extension. For a small materials fee, you can learn everything you’ve always wanted to know about water-bath and pressure canning, pickling, jamming, drying, smoking and freezing. There are labs on making flavored vinegars, dehydrating herbs, making fresh cheese, and root cellaring, among other topics. Pictured is my first lab work, canned pears and carrots. The course meets once a week all day at the OSU Extension classroom facility in Eugene, and focuses not only on techniques and nutrition but also food safety. We heard, for example, a horrific oral history about a woman who survived botulism, and have heard a few talks on how to minimize food-borne illnesses and various nasties in our digestive tracts.
After the class ends, we take a certification test, and devote at least 40 hours over the season to manning the state-wide food preservation hotline, giving workshops, manning booths at fairs and markets, and helping the community with food safety issues related to the summer harvest. We can also take an extra class and become certified to work as educators at the Lane County food pantry distribution sites.
The program has been around for over 25 years, with many volunteers returning year after year. There are many people helping out who have been with the FFE/MFP for a dozen or more years, and the instructor, Nellie Oehler, has been with it since the beginning. She’s an excellent teacher, knows her stuff backward and forward, and has that mellowed, competent, cheerful leadership that only the best, most experienced teachers have. I’m learning much more than canning from watching how she runs her class. We have guest speakers and labs with women who have been doing that particular thing (making corned beef tongue, testing pressure canner gauges, canning tuna, making flavored oils) for many years.
Sounds fantastic, no? Well, howzabout if I told you that the program and all others run by OSU Extension will likely be canceled after some emergency funds run out some time next year? In our dire statewide budget crisis, we’re fortunate to get to choose between the OSU Extension programs and stuff like animal control and education for teenage mothers. Aw heck, let’s just cancel them all, because we can’t afford any of them with a no-budget mandate for the upcoming fiscal year! In these times, it is difficult to justify any program run with state funds, but I am sick to think that we’re competing with other essential services, especially now that food prices are increasing and there’s more of a need than ever to education people about how to garden, raise vegetables, preserve food crops, and make handling safer and better for everyone in our community.
Nellie is retiring this year, and I know she’s fought for years to keep this program going. Its outrageous popularity (I think we have over 50 people in the training program this year) and continued success (check out the links for some statistics) are testaments to really successful, inspirational grass roots programming. I am appalled that it may end with a whimper. I really hope something can be done to keep these services available. There was a community hearing last week, and many of the OSU volunteers attended to support the programs, but the future does not look that bright. Would that we could pressure can this moment in time, but sadly, some things just don’t do that well sitting on the shelf.
So with that, I’m curious about other Extension programs in different areas of the country. If you are reading this and know of a program in your area, I’d love to hear about it. Extension programs are part of a contractual obligation, it is my understanding, of all land grant universities. Even if the land grant university is not in your town (as it is about 45 minutes away from mine), it can still fund programming in other counties throughout the state. And I think all states (or almost all?) have land grant universities, so if you don’t know about your local extension programs, please check them out! If you wait, they may not be there when you need them.