"How cost-effective do you think this is?"
Let me introduce you to the elephant in the room. Or is it? For me, it varies.
This is my second season canning. I am not an expert and I'll leave the heavy analysis up to the professionals, but I can share a few insights based on my very limited personal experience.
For my first ever canning project, I decided to make dandelion jelly. Last Spring our yard was an ocean of dandelions and since I had been researching the health benefits of the dandelion plant, it seemed a good candidate for my canning project. The jelly turned out fine, it had a mild honeyish flavor with a beautiful golden color. The dandelions were free, the time was my own and for the price of a few jars (reusable) and nominal ingredients I produced a half dozen jars for our pantry. The catch? It was extremely time consuming and labor intensive. Picking and cutting the flower petals off of a bucket of dandelions was not as fun as I imagined and after several hours of that and questioning my sanity, I realized that the dandelion wine project I had earmarked for the future would not likely be made by me. Lesson learned.
Also, with "free" you get what you pay for. Last year I had the opportunity to pick several buckets of peaches from an abandoned tree. I was thrilled with my bounty and rushed home to get some jam made asap. Well, the peaches were extremely small and ran the gamut between overripe and underripe. After several hours of skinning, pitting and cutting out the bad spots, I managed to produce a few jars of peachy goodness. This year, I purchased large sweet peaches from our farmer's market and was very happy to do it.
Not all free stuff is problematic. I've been picking wild berries for years and even though they are smaller than commerical berries, the abundance more than makes up for the size. Also, while not technically free, all the produce harvested from our garden is certainly of high quality and at very low cost. We have several young fruit trees that aren't producing yet. They were reasonably priced and shipped in bare root condition. When they eventually yield fruit, the first harvest will more than make up for the cost, but how do you account for the time spent waiting?
Buying produce from a farmer's market is a completely different scenario. Here, there is money changing hands, so you have a higher cost up front. You can buy bulk and get better pricing, but you are still shelling out money vs growing it yourself. For me though, the market is invaluable for time and space management. In order for me to get two bushels of tomatoes ripe all at once for a canning extravaganza, I'd have to plant my entire garden in all tomatoes and nothing else! It saves time to can in large batches and you have to factor that in. Also, when I'm out of peppers or garlic, it is easy to pick up a few to complete a canning run instead of trying to replant some in the garden.
So where does that leave us? Canning and food processing equipment can be expensive, and you'll need jars. Lots of jars. If you are careful, you can pick up jars inexpensively or even free from watching Craig's List or Freecycle posts, and yard sales. You could also post that you are looking for canning jars and sometimes people will offer them to you. Since jars are reusable, this front end expense becomes less of a factor over time. You also might need a food mill, food processor, pressure canner, fruit press, steamer, etc. but I have found a lot of canning can be done with the simplest of equipment. My hand crank food mill was bought used on E-Bay very inexpensively. I water bath can most things and when it comes to low acid foods, I freeze them. My focus is on preserving the food, I'm not worried that it takes me a little longer because I am using a knife and cutting board instead of a food processor. It is a great way to stay in touch with your food, literally and figuratively.
Which brings me to my final point. This year, while experimenting with canning and preserving, something finally clicked in me and I was able to figure out what was going wrong with my health. All the processed food I was eating was making me sick. When I pared my diet down to mostly fresh and home grown foods, my body responded with a resounding YES! I feel better than I have in years and the weight is still coming off. Being so close to my food has heightened my awareness and made me rethink how I eat and what food I want to put into my body. There is no price tag you can put on that.
So, canners, what do you think? Is canning cost- effective? Is this only about money? Lifestyle? Health? Family? Why do you can and how do you calculate the cost? Please share with us. :)
Also, join the ongoing discussion at our Facebook home: www.facebook.com/thepocketfarmer.
Hope to see you there! :)