Over the last few months the boys have been privy to the following:
- Gardening Lilliputian style (I will explain below)
- Saturday trips to the farmer’s market which include wild excitement over the first of the seasons, the goodness of fall bounty and everything in between
- Foraging for berries in or near Kamloops (Saskatoon berries, raspberries and chokecherries)
They saw pots full of fruit that became many jars of jam and jelly.
They got to taste a modest crop of potatoes from our garden, as well as zucchini, chard, kale and strawberries.They sliced apples for drying, tasted the results and packaged the dried goodies for storage.
It makes sense that after all of that and after reading and discussing how people lived in Canada back in the day, before and after the Europeans came, we would dedicate some time to learning about food preservation.
The reasons why they would learn and understand the multi-faceted process that is food preservation go beyond the rather simplistic ‘because it’s cool to have a homemade jar of jam or…(fill in the blanks)’. In our little school, we are shooting for the big picture. The bird’s eye view if you will.
So our lesson went from brainstorming about all the ways one could employ to preserve food (canning, freezing, drying, smoking/curing (for meats), sand storage (root vegetables), with variations of each, to discussing about what happens in each of them, why, how and where does it leave food in terms of taste, quality, appearance and usefulness.
Relating the gist of it may sound dry, yet our conversation was anything but. Among others, there had to be an answer for the question: Why store food when you could buy fresh produce and other foods year-round without turning our house into canning central?
Care to guess? Here’s our side of it:
- because we preserve food we grow or forage for ourselves (meaning it is picked at the peak of its goodness),
- because the farmer’s market is a seasonal festival of exquisite tastes (everything tastes better when picked at the peak of its ripeness)
- because of the incomparable quality of a meal you can cook using your own pantry or freezer. It ties a family together and it gives a different meaning to home cooked.
- Plus, think of the stories that sprout from a steaming bowl of soup or a stack of pancakes carrying the purple veil of chokecherry jelly.
We discussed the meaning and necessity of local food versus food grown conventionally, most times in mono-cultures, and we tied it in with the health element.
What goes into growing food? Hard work, enriching the soil using natural methods (compost and manure), more hard work and plenty of fresh water, plus a community to sell it to or people to share it with. Conventionally grown food often comes with chemicals many of which can have effects on the brain, endocrine system and they can also increase the risk of allergies and chemical sensitivities. It also comes with a variable-size carbon footprint, depending where it is shipped from. Possibly some low-paid workers in there too. Another level of unaffordability you could say.
That was part of today’s lessons. From understanding why fruit becomes mushy when frozen and then thawed, to why meat and fish can be cured by using salt, we crossed into chemistry and back into biology, agriculture and spent a good chunk of time on ethics too.
It’s the big picture that counts indeed. Fragmented learning can be done by memorizing facts and phrases if needed, but learning that helps them make sense of the world we’re in only happens when facts are tied in with thinking and asking questions.
No self-consciousness, no fear of ‘stupid questions’; it’s all about thinking, wondering, bringing stories together, historical facts too, adding scientific explanations and leaving it all a bit open-ended so the conversation can continue at a next meal, at the next apple slicing or tasting of the apricot jam that invites itself to a cup of hot tea on a cold fall afternoon… To be continued.
Gardening in a clay-rich soil like the one we have at the moment where we live is a mighty challenging deed. Growth is stunted which makes produce small. Plus, deer traffic through the back yard… well, you know. They help themselves. If they don’t get to it, wild rabbits do. It’s both amusing and frustrating, with an element of awe which comes from realizing that we share the living space with wild creatures. A lesson for another day…