Katherine Stewart, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
Bumper crop of bell peppers? Cabbage coming our your ears? Summer’s bounty is a beautiful thing—until you realize you’ve got more produce than you could possibly eat before it begins to spoil. Canning is a centuries-old method of food preservation, and while home canning has never gone out of practice, it has seen quite a resurgence in recent years. Fermenting, another, even older—we’re talking millennia—method of preservation, is seeing a similar surge in popularity, as news spreads about the health benefits of fermented foods. (Also, pickled okra, right?)
The Southern Center for Agroecology is a local non-profit that grew out of Little Rock Urban Farming, a community-based food enterprise that specializes in the production of organic fruits, vegetables, herbs and cut flowers for local markets. The center hosts workshops on things like gardening, composting, growing mushrooms, backyard poultry, beekeeping, and more, as well as leading educational programs for kids and aspiring farmers.
“We want to engage the community in a creative and exciting way,” says Chris Hiryak, the executive director of the Southern Center for Agroecology and also the founder and owner of Little Rock Urban Farming. “Our goal is to meet people where they are. The canning and fermentation workshops are an expression of that.”
The workshop series each consist of three sessions, each of which focuses on a different fundamental concept of the preservation method. The canning series begins with canning basics and pickled okra, moves on to understanding pH and using oil with marinated bell peppers, and ends with a no-sugar applesauce recipe. The fermentation series covers beverages (ginger beer and kombucha), cucumber kimchi and sauerkraut. Workshops are taught by Angela Gardner, the food preservation expert at the Root Cafe, and will be held at Natural Grocers in Little Rock. Sessions are $35 each (inclusive of all supplies), and they’re not contingent, so you can pick and choose any or all of them.
If you’re wondering what exactly “agroecology” is, you’re not alone. The center defines it this way on their website: “Agroecology is concerned with the maintenance of a productive agricultural system that sustains yields and optimizes the use of local resources while maximizing the positive environmental and socio-economic impacts of modern technologies.” Or, as Hiryak succinctly paraphrases, “growing healthy food while conserving resources.” According to Hiryak, this method of food production is the way the world is moving. “This is globally important,” he says.
And you thought we were just talking about pickles! To learn more about the Southern Center for Agroecology, please visit their website. The canning workshops take place on July 27, October 19 and December 7; the fermentation sessions take place on August 24, September 21 and November 9. To learn more about these events and to register, visit the canning event page and the fermentation event page. If you’re in the Little Rock area and you have a general interest in healthy living, check out the Little Rock Food and Health Study Group, which will resume meeting in August to learn about and discuss various subjects in the areas of diet, exercise, sleep and stress. It’s hosted by Karl Heinbocker, the program manager for the center.