A massive 30-40% of all produce grown in the USA goes to waste, according to a recent report from the US Department of Agriculture. However, many of us are committed to reducing this statistic, minimizing food waste at home as much as possible. For those who grow produce for their own kitchens, the opportunity to reduce waste is even greater. There are steps the organic gardener can take to ensure that as little as possible of their harvest goes to waste.
Storing And Packing
Food is wasted when it isn’t consumed before it reaches the end of its shelf life, a growing concern in developed countries. After a successful harvest, the risk of wastage for gardeners is high, but paying proper attention to storage can prevent produce from spoiling and going to waste. The secret lies in understanding how to store the specific items you grow, as different fruits and vegetables have different requirements. Only unblemished produce can be stored, and it’s important to check it regularly and remove any decaying items in order to preserve the rest of the harvest. Leafy tops should be removed from root vegetables, which can then be stored in a single layer in a box or on a tray. A layer of damp sand will preserve their quality and prevent them from losing moisture. Onions and garlic should be hung in a warm, shaded space to cure for around four weeks, and then moved to a cooler place. Pears and apples can be stored in slatted trays with spaces between the fruit to encourage air to circulate.
Not all produce can be stored this way, and sometimes a glut means that you need more than one way to prevent wastage. Soft fruits like berries won’t keep for long, but freeze well, or can be made into jellies and preserves. Bottling and canning are good options for most items, and can be stored for years. Carefully sterilizing the jars and using a pressure canning method will kill bacteria and ensure the food is safe to store. Sliced vegetables can be salted or dried, either in a dehydrator or in the oven at a low setting. To most closely match the fresh form of the product, freezing is a good option for most items, providing you have the freezer space.
Fresh ingredients can also be turned into meals and bakes as soon as they’re harvested to prevent them from spoiling, although, again, batch cooking requires you to have the freezer space to accommodate everything. Fruits can be made into crumbles, pies and purees, while vegetables can be cooked up into soups, stews and curries. If you plan to batch cook, research a variety of recipes before you begin to stop you getting bored of the same meals, and really let your produce shine. You can also consider selling or sharing your creations with your community, or exchanging ingredients with other growers.
Food waste is a huge problem in developed countries, and with growing food comes the responsibility to preserve it. But by seeing preservation as a crucial part of the harvesting process and embracing a variety of methods, home growers can play an important part in reducing food waste.
Author: Jenny Holt
Jennifer Holt is a freelance writer and mother of two, who loves nothing more than to play, “where has the cat hidden itself now.”