Catch and Store Energy

by Sherrie Kelly

By Jess McGlinchey

The autumn leaves are falling, and winter is fast approaching. As the season of bare feet and fresh fruit is coming to an end, the residents of the Sustainability House are busily preparing for the months of frozen ground and short daylight hours. You may have wondered, how do you eat locally when your backyard is covered in three feet of snow? Here at the sustainability semester site, we’ve got it covered.

My favorite of David Holmgren’s twelve permaculture design principles, is “catch and store energy”. Previous to my introduction to the homesteader movement and permaculture, I would have instantly taken this as a recommendation to build some solar panels or a windmill. Now I see it as a much simpler and encompassing idea. As we lose those precious hours of sunlight, we lose the plants that carry out the photosynthesis that convert the solar energy into sugars that our bodies can use. This is where it is essential for us to intervene.  In theory, we could turn into carnivores and rely on the resourcefulness of other animals, or we can work to convert today’s sunshine into the perfect lunch on a cloudy winter’s day. In many ways we are making our own “fossil fuels”, just not quite as old, and a tad easier to access.

The great thing about food processing in the house is that there are currently twelve sets of hands living there. If you have never stored food for the winter, I’ll tell you now, it’s a process - one that’s significantly better when you have friends to take on some of the work and keep you smiling as the hundredth tomato passes through your hands. When we did tomatoes at the house, we went through three large crates with a team to sort out bad fruits, a team to blanch them (in other words dunk them in boiling water until the skin began to crack), a team to peel the skins off, and another team to cut up the skinless tomatoes and put them in the freezer. Three hours later, we had plenty of tomatoes stocked up, and that’s not even counting the jars of sauces and salsas that were made earlier in the season.

These tomatoes are destined for the freezer, the dehydrator, or some mason jars, but we have plenty of other ways to store food around here. Our root cellar is the perfect place for all of our favorite sturdy winter veggies. Here we’ll be able to keep our carrots, parsnips, beets, Brussels sprouts, and potatoes, fresh and delicious. If we ever need a break from all of the winter squashes and root veggies, we are only the twist of a lid away from a variety of deliciously preserved sour kraut, pickles, dilly beans, and other awesome fermented foods.  And for something sweet, we’ve turned bushels of extra apples into jars of applesauce and cider, and trust me it’s no easy feat to have “extra” apples with me around. As for our greens, its still just a quick trip out the door to the garden where the beds of kale will be there to harvest well after there’s snow on the ground, and bags of chopped Swiss chard line the shelves of our freezer. When we need to spice it up, bundles of herbs and strands of hot peppers harvested just before the first frost hang in our barn, ready for whatever creative dish a house resident dreams up.

Here at the house, we all come from different backgrounds, from suburban houses to farms, and have a great range of food experience. But living here together, we’ve all managed to improve our skills in the art of preserving the abundance of fall through the cold of a North Country winter.