By Maria José Subiria
Jonesboro resident Diane Soroko wandered Wednesday amid the fresh fruits, vegetables, jams, sauces and baked goods on display at the Clayton County Extension Service's twice-weekly farmers market. Inside the service's offices, at 1262 Government Circle in Jonesboro, others were taking in a free class on food preservation.
"Fresh, home-grown vegetables, and homemade apple pies, you can't beat that," Soroko said. "I think this is awesome."
The Extension Service is offering the farmers market in its parking lot each Wednesday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., and each Saturday from 9 to 11 a.m., until Sept. 19.
Ten participants attended Wednesday's food-preservation class, which was held in conjunction with the farmers market and conducted by Clayton County Extension Agent Sandy Foster.
"I have a garden, and I have a lot of fruits and vegetables, and a lot of them would go bad," said Stockbridge resident Amanda Jackson, who participated in the class. "If they didn't have a class here about food preservation, then a lot of my stuff would've went bad and wasted."
Foster shared tips on canning and freezing fruits and vegetables from the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service College of Family and Consumer Sciences.
"The reason that we preserve food is because it's an old-fashioned thing," Foster told the class. "You had to have a way to store food so you would have food for your family."
As fruits and vegetables produce enzymes, it causes them to mature, said Foster. The notion that freezing fruits and vegetables completely stops these enzymes from growing is erroneous, she said. It simply causes them to grow and develop slower than normal.
"Even if they are frozen, theses enzymes have not been inactivated," Foster said.
To begin the process of freezing produce, an individual should boil vegetables for no more than two to five minutes, explained Foster. For fruits, one can syrup pack, sugar pack, dry pack or unsweetened pack them. Vegetables may be stored in containers, or plastic bags, and fruits should only be stored in containers with wax paper on top before sealing, she added.
"When you put them in the freezer spread them out, until frozen, then you can stack them," Foster said.
"I have not canned in quite a few years, and I kind of wanted a refresher course," said Jonesboro resident, Linda Wenz, who has lived in the area for 37 years.
"I didn't know there was a difference between salt and canning salt," she added.
Some participants ventured to the Extension Service's farmers market after the class, as vendors offered a variety of options for customers. According to Tom Bonnell, horticulture program assistant for the Cooperative Extension Service in Clayton County, the farmers market began operating on Wednesdays this year mostly so that Clayton County employees would be able to shop during the week, though the market is open to the general public. Bonnell said the free food-preservation class would be offered again Aug. 26, in conjunction with that day's farmers market.
Palmetto resident Gail Irvin, a vendor at the market, said her most popular item is homemade fried pies.
"I enjoy just talking to people, and it gives me exposure," she said. "I've got repeat customers here looking for the pies."