Home Food Preservation Series Goes Virtual

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Home preserved tomatoes in ball jars.Back in March, as the Covid-19 Pandemic was starting to affect our daily routines and lives, North Carolinians were putting the finishing touches on their garden and food preservation plans for 2020. I was also putting the finishing touches on the plans for my 2020 Home Food Preservation Programming for extension in Haywood County. After the mandate to work remotely from home I eventually ventured out to the grocery store and was shocked to see the empty shelves. It was reported that even though the food supply chain continued to have the ability to produce, process and deliver food to consumers, shoppers were purchasing much more than they needed.

Graph showing outcomes and impacts of online home food preservation series

As a Family & Consumer Science extension agent I was challenged with the mandate of working remotely from home while continuing to offer food safety programming on the topic of home food preservation. I could write articles and include photos of past programs but I knew that my most successful programming was done face to face in real time and that I would need to quickly move my programming to a virtual in-person platform if I wanted to keep my audience engaged. Through technology the public can search the internet for Home Food Preservation information and find research based information as well as risky, unsafe advice. Getting the research based information and education on home food preservation out to the public was critical because people were going to preserve food with or without the information and it was evident that home food preservation would experience increased popularity in 2020.

I approached Cathy Hohenstein, FCS agent in Buncombe and McDowell counties and Sue Estridge, FCS agent in Madison and Yancey counties about offering a series of online home food preservation classes. After a lot of planning and practicing we took the leap. Thanks to online ticket sales we maxed out the number of tickets we could offer for each free online Zoom session.

We scheduled a series of five programs: Introduction to Home Food Preservation (68 participants), Hot Water Bath Canning (76 participants), Pressure Canning (69 participants), Freezing Made Easy (76 participants) and Dehydrating Made Easy (76 participants) with a total of 354 participants. Evaluations showed that 100% were comfortable choosing a food preservation method, 97% increased their knowledge of pressure canning, hot water bath canning, freezing and dehydrating and 91% have a plan to safely preserve food through pressure canning, hot water bath canning, freezing or dehydrating. Impacts of the series include increased food security, increased use and preservation of local foods, and a reduced risk of food borne illness and spoilage in the home food supply.

Now that the canning season is behind us for 2020 we have learned that North Carolina as well as the nation experienced an unprecedented demand for home food preservation supplies and equipment. When that demand was met with slowdowns in the manufacturing process many were left without the supplies they needed to preserve their harvest through canning. Weather home food preservers were prepping for an uncertain future, they had more time on their hands, they grew more food, or they were simply trying food preservation for the first time, home food preservation has experienced an increased popularity during this pandemic. Family and Consumer Science Extension Agents in Haywood, Buncombe, McDowell, Madison and Yancey Counties met the demand with a researched based virtual education series on home food preservation.