Teaching home food preservers

Sarah Lewis is what you might call a renaissance Extension agent. Based in Juneau, Lewis became the Southeast Alaska family and community development agent after working as an architect for 20 years and receiving a master’s degree in social work.

Lewis already had a strong interest in food security and emergency planning before she joined Extension, and she had trained as a Master Gardener and served on local foods groups for several years. She also wrote a freelance column for the Juneau Empire called Main Street Homesteader with articles about cooking, urban homesteading, food security, sustainable architecture and other topics.

Although her food preservation skills were definitely at the hobby level, other Extension agents and a food focus group in Juneau helped improve her skills, her knowledge of food safety and her ability to teach educational programs.

The agent has offered a variety of programs since then, including food preservation and cooking classes, emergency and disaster planning, and sessions on starting a small food business. With travel support from the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, she traveled to 12 Southeast communities to test pressure canner gauges, teach food preservation and talk about establishing a food business and the state’s requirements.

However, since continuing travel funds are limited, Lewis developed a program aimed at training community members to teach safe food preservation classes on their own. Participants in the Safe Home Food Preservation Certification class must complete six online food preservation lessons on canning, dehydrating and freezing foods, attend a two-day workshop and take an exam to be certified as a home food preserver. Certified food preservers can then teach people in their communities how to safely preserve Southeast Alaska’s local food resources. She is also working on videos and other distance-education methods to deliver programming.