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While your plants in the garden may still be small, it’s already time to start thinking about harvest. When the bounty is ready, there’s not much time to waste. Loads of produce can come ready all at once, and without a plan in place, they sadly could go to waste.  

Giving it away is one approach to decreasing food waste. Family, friends, neighbors and co-workers will likely be thrilled to get fresh crop. However, consider also donating to those in need. Many food pantries or food rescue organizations will accept fresh produce. In fact, many “Grow a Row” campaigns encourage gardeners to plant a row designated specifically for donation.

Another method is to preserve your produce. Whether it’s in the form of canning, freezing or drying, preserving allows you to enjoy your fresh produce all year long. Since most people have a freezer unit already, freezing is likely the easiest and less costly of the three; you just have to come up with the space in the freezer! Most vegetables need to be blanched (boiled for a short time) to preserve flavor, color and texture before being cooled and packaged for freezing. Dehydrating is another form of food preservation, but generally requires a food dehydrator, which dries food efficiently at 140 degrees.

Canning is probably the most complex of the three, but it may yield the most desirable results. Canning does present some risk of dangerous foodborne bacteria if not done properly. However, once you know how to follow safe procedures, seeing all of your jars of produce lined up is like pure happiness. Learn the most-up-to-date steps and gain hands-on canning experience in “Yes! You CAN: Preserving Practice with Tomatoes” at Heartland Community College on June 22 from 8:30 to 12:30 p.m. Cost is $49 per person. To register, call Heartland at 309-268-8160 or visit www.heartland.edu.

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Cherry tomatoes

Olive oil

Seasonings, if desired (salt, pepper, garlic, Italian seasoning, etc.)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash tomatoes, discarding overripe or damaged tomatoes. Place a layer of tomatoes on a baking sheet and drizzle with just a bit of olive oil. Top with seasonings, if desired. Roast for 20 minutes until tomatoes are soft and fragrant. Allow to cool. Pack into containers, leaving headspace; seal and freeze no longer than 10-12 months. To thaw, place in the refrigerator overnight.

Yield and nutrition analysis depends on amount and type of ingredients used.

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Smith is nutrition and wellness educator for the University of Illinois Extension, McLean County. Contact her at 309-663-8306. 

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