Harlem Can, Can!

Just Food Trainer Classie Parker with the Food Bank's Head Cook, Cathy Sturry

If you've ever been to a workshop led by Just Food Trainer Classie Parker, you know that canning is even more fun when there's dancing involved. Last month members of Harlem Community Farm Share learned this fact first hand. CSA members joined staff and clients of their distribution site, The Food Bank for NYC's Community Kitchen and Food Bank of West Harlem, in the food bank's community kitchen where together they learned how to prepare and put up applesauce. Highlights from the classes included: the shaking in the spices dance, Classie's 'can to get a man' humor, and the 4 pounds of apples each participant received to try their new found canning skills at home.

This isn't the first time the food bank and the CSA in Harlem have shared each other's resources. Each week, leftovers from the CSA are donated for use in the food bank's weekly meals. CSA co-coordinator Carey King estimates that the Farm Share has donated upwards of 5,000 pounds of fresh produce to the food bank this year alone. The CSA also encourages members to donate items from their share once a month to go toward a Community Kitchen Dinner, where CSA members team up with food bank staff to prepare and serve the Friday meal.

When coordinators of the Harlem Community Farm Share found out they had won a free canning workshop from Just Food, they couldn't wait to share the experience with their distribution site. CSA member Katherine Miller, who helped coordinate the workshop, stressed the importance of the community aspect of Community Supported Agriculture. Harlem Community Farm Share works hard to be an asset to their distribution site: "It's really important to us and we were grateful to be able to do something for them. We were really excited to be able to share this experience with our partners at the Food Bank for NYC."

Members of Harlem Community Farm Share won the canning demonstration as a prize for bringing the most CSA members to Just Food's 2011 CSA conference last March. Harlem Community Farm Share squeaked by the more than 60 other CSA competitors and immediately requested Classie as the trainer who would lead the workshop.

In order to bring the food bank into the workshop, Katherine Miller got in touch with Shanon Morris, the food bank's dietician, and worked out the logistics of having the workshop in their kitchen. With apples in abundance in October, Classie and the CSA selected applesauce as their demonstration product.

In addition to the basics of food preservation, workshop attendees learned that canning isn't the complicated process most people believe it to be—it's a fun, simple, delicious way to enjoy seasonal bounty year-round. Carey was thrilled to have Classie's fiery spirit there to engage participants and assure them they can, can!

Food Bank Program Manager Christine Kaye (left) and Harlem Community Farm Share member Aissatou Bey-Grecia show off the final product.

"When you think about canning you think, oh my god, botulism, I'm going to make my friends sick or I'm going to break glass—it's a little intimidating. Classie made people feel really comfortable and empowered to do it." Attendees also took home a bag of apples each and a canning booklet developed by Just Food, equipping them with the knowledge and materials to try their new found canning skills at home.