Op-ed: Our Home Canning Tradition Could Conserve Food, Increase Sales

January 17, 2016   Tags:

By: Adam Taylor

As winter continues, many West Virginia pantries are packed with the fruits of labor from the fall harvest. Green beans, tomatoes, potatoes, pickles, sauerkraut and many other artisan products are tightly sealed in glass mason jars and marked with a date.

Canning is part of this state’s culture and has been done in homes for generations. While canned goods are very common, you will not find them for sale at the place you would expect most, your local farmers market.

According to the West Virginia Food Code, canned items that could support pathogenic microorganism growth or toxin formation are considered potentially hazardous and therefore cannot be sold to the public unless produced in a commercial kitchen by a state licensed manufacturer. These requirements make small-scale production costly and impossible for most West Virginia farmers. However, the risk of toxin formation is easily eliminated by use of proper canning techniques, such as pressure canning for low-acidic items like green beans and potatoes.

The West Virginia Farmers Market Association (WVFMA) in conjunction with the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition (WVFFC) is proposing a change to the current law during the upcoming 2016 West Virginia Legislative Session that would allow for canned items processed in-home to be sold at farmers markets, farm stands, consignment and on online farmers markets. With consumer food safety being the largest concern, the new legislation would require a series of precautionary protocols in order to process foods in-home. Protocols would include education/certification of the producer, such as attendance at a Better Process Control School, inspection of the producer’s facilities, and registration with the Local Health Department.

If passed, this legislation will have a significant economic impact on West Virginia farmers. According to a 2014 study conducted by the WVFMA, a single West Virginia farmers market, on average, grosses $97,000 a year while operating only from April through November. An extra three months of selling could create a healthy increase in gross sales.

In addition to added revenues, extended selling would benefit those consumers in rural areas of West Virginia who are plagued by food desserts, thus allowing year-round access to nutritious locally grown food. This legislation would also decrease the amount of food waste from unsold or blemished products. According to Shelly Keeney, market manager at the Wild Ramp in Huntington, they throw away 100 pounds of unsold fresh produce each week. This unsold or blemished produce could be canned, and then sold during the winter months when locally grown fresh produce isn’t as available.

In West Virginia, home canning has been done for many generations, and will continue to be a vital part of the culture that so many in this state take pride in. Not only will this legislation increase economic development and help eliminate food waste, it will work to “preserve” the culinary art of the state, and make locally canned products available to those who need them. Voice your support for the Cottage Foods Promotion Act to your local state senator and delegate.

Questions regarding the issue can be sent to WVFMA Executive Director Jeremy Grant at jgrant.wvfma@gmail.com.

Adam Taylor is the project coordinator for the West Virginia Farmers Market Association where he manages the Vendor Launch and Farmers Market Promotional Program.

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