In the depth of winter, when I open a jar of black raspberry jelly or syrup, the smell immediately transports me back to summer. I can see the dark purple berries, hear the gnats buzzing round my ears, feel the hot summer sun on my head and hear the delightful songs of the wood thrushes.
While modern civilization has done a good job of separating us from the discomforts of the natural world if we so choose, it hasn't actually removed us from it. We still rely on the bounty of nature. While fruits and preserves are readily available at markets, going out in the fields and forests to pick and preserve what they yield reminds us of where our food comes from and connects us with our hunter-gatherer natures.
Homemade jams, jellies, apple, pear and tomato sauces and salsas are easy to make and can be far better than anything available at the store. Making them yourself, you can reduce or eliminate salt, and greatly reduce the amount of sugar in jams, jellies and syrups. There also is the great satisfaction of surveying your shelves full of summer produce. You will never feel richer than you do at the beginning of autumn if you have preserved summer's bounty.
I read recently that our species is consuming the food and energy production of one and a half Earths per year. Moreover, our food production has fallen behind what is required for current population growth. Somehow, we need to produce more food with less energy input to make human life on earth sustainable.
While growing your own food, foraging for the wild bounty of nature and buying from local growers doesn't solve the problem entirely, these are steps in the right direction.
Wild backyards, wild community spaces and backyard and community gardens can play a role in making healthier and more sustainable lives.
Introducing children to the growing, harvesting and preparation of food through the establishment of school gardens is also a step in the right direction.
But setting aside the impact our lives have on our communities, I think that growing and preserving some of our own fruits and vegetables substantially changes the way we think about food, making it seem to be less of a thing and more of a process embedded in nature. If you grow your own food, along the way you will face trials and tribulations of weather and competitors, and have losses and gains. You will find it could almost always have been better and worse.
And in winter, taking a jar off a shelf or a package from your freezer, you will be reminded of all that went into it, when the days were long, the sun was warm, and the air was filled with fragrance.
Celeste Maiorana is a member of the Washington County Forest Conservancy District Board. Visit the board's Web site at www.wcfb.sailorsite.net to learn more about forest communities and projects you can do.