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Taking Advantage of the Bounty

     When I am cooking, there are several things that are really important to me. Although my husband and I are overly busy with work and travel, it has become a high priority that the food we eat be fresh, reduced in preservatives, and local as much as possible. Granted, the neighborhood in which I live does not have a farmers market that is open on days when I can get there, but we do make sure to grow some of our own food and look for roadside stands when we are driving.
     Part of being a conscious consumer is knowing that you are helping your community. It is my perspective that if you are able to find what you love locally, you are getting more nutritious, fresher food at a lower price and helping the economy within your town. Many local farmers and producers make their living from just a short period of time every year which means that the freshness is only available for a limited time. So what to do?
     Personally, I love to can and freeze fresh produce in order to have chemical free, fresh tasting food year round. For example, last year, our garden produced a plethora of tomatoes and yellow squash. Although it took a couple of days, with minimal cost (basically just the jars and freezer bags), I was able to make canned tomatoes and frozen squash that has been amazing to have during the non-season times. The tomatoes were great for the cold months when stews and chili was the desire. The squash was used in casseroles, stir-fry, and just basic fried preparation (although I do oven-fried, but you get the point).
     I think that it is important for all of us to look at what we can do. This approach is not only healthier, because I used no salt or other preservatives, but it is also great for budget-conscious people because you buy the produce when it is in season, thus cheaper, and have it during the out-of-season, and more expensive, months.
     So I challenge all of you to take a step back and see what you could do. Is there a farmer's market? Could you plan a gathering of friends for a canning party where everyone gets together, makes salsa, and cans the product together? Everyone leaves with a great stash of fresh, nutritious salsa for the coming months and everyone pitches in to cover the cost. I recommend doing some research. If you don't know how to preserve fresh food properly, call your relatives, look online or purchase a book (I recommend the Ball Book of Canning). Once you start, I promise you will love the way it makes you feel to preserve your own food.

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