With rising food prices, consumers are trying to find ways to save the family food dollar. It is reminiscent of the 1970s energy crisis that fueled spiraling food costs some 40 years ago.
Are we headed back to the future? Home gardening and food preservation has been a family food source for generations. Yet actual costs must be analyzed in order to decide if money can be saved by growing and preserving food at home.
Home gardening is a source of produce that many food preservationists use for canning, freezing and drying. According to Colorado State Cooperative Extension, costs associated with home gardening include equipment to till the soil, seeds, fertilizer, pesticides and water, as well as time, energy and price of land.
Three methods of food preserving for produce include canning, freezing and drying. Canning is usually more economical than freezing, but labor intensive and time-consuming. Freezing is less involved than canning and the results are more like fresh produce; however, the equipment is more costly to purchase.
Drying would be more economical if solar power could be used. The cost of storage requires little space or energy. However, drying can be time consuming and humidity in Georgia prevents sun drying from being a realistic option for drying fruit. It is never recommended for vegetables.
Along with the produce, additional costs for canning and freezing will include jars and packaging, water and fuel for processing, and added ingredients such as sugar, spices and salt. The electrical energy a freezer requires to maintain that 32 degrees F required for freezing depends on several factors such as the temperature of the room where the freezer is located, how often the freezer door is opened, size and maintenance of the freezer, energy rating of the freezer, and the amount and turnover of food in the freezer.
Comparable energy costs associated for canning will vary depending on the length of processing time and how efficient the burner is in maintaining the desired processing temperature for the product. Canned foods must be stored in space that is not too hot in order to preserve quality and prevent spoilage, be protected from freezing which could cause jars to burst, and that will protect food loss due to accidental breakage. Ideally, canned food storage should be 50 to 70 degrees F.
Drying does not require expensive equipment when solar power is used for food preservation. However, as stated above, in many areas of the country it is impractical. Using oven drying is a more costly method, but often necessary. Electric home dehydrators are less expensive to run than your household regular oven. As with canning and freezing, additional costs include water, energy and added ingredients such as salt and marinades.
Consider the costs of produce and ingredients, supplies and the necessary equipment, energy which includes both fuel and personal, as well as time. Balance these costs over purchasing the same food produced by commercial manufacturers. It will give you a good idea about savings and might surprise you to learn the actual costs involved in growing and preserving food at home. Yet, the satisfaction of growing your own food may not be figured in dollars and cents and provide benefits beyond the balance sheet. Garden goodness from your pantry shelf does not always carry a price tag.
Sources: Colorado State University Extension, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.
Carin Booth is the family and consumer sciences agent at the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Office in Hall County. She can be reached at 770-535-8293 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column runs on a monthly basis.