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Buried Treasure: Preserve the Harvest in a Root Cellar
Infographic by CustomMade
Imagine eating homegrown cabbage, beets, potatoes, onions, carrots, apples, and other produce on a winter evening, without the use of canning or refrigeration. Before home refrigerators, this scenario was commonplace thanks to the low-tech root cellar.
A root cellar is any food storage area that uses the earth to cool, humidify, insulate, and preserve produce through the winter months. Root cellaring has a long history in America. Crumbling root cellars built of stone, earth, timber, brick, and concrete dot the hillsides of New England’s old farmsteads. Today most people depend on supermarkets to provide year-round produce that’s shipped from all over the world, but there are ample reasons to heed the wisdom of our ancestors and build a root cellar.
Root cellars benefit our health and finances. They make it possible to save garden surplus and load up on local produce at farmers’ markets when it’s cheap and plentiful. A number of studies suggest long-term storage of local food would be more sustainable for our society than our current agricultural system. An estimated two thirds of America’s winter vegetables are grown in California’sdrought-stricken Imperial Valley then shipped around the country. In fact, our produce travels an average of 1,494 miles before we eat it. By going local, we could reduce the environmental impact of food transport. According to a Canadian study, replacing imported food with locally grown food in just the Waterloo, Ontario region would reduce transport-related emissions equivalent to taking 16,191 cars off the road.
Root cellars work better in some climates than others. They preserve food best where the winters are cold and relatively dry, as is the case in the Midwest, Interior West, and Northeast. They are not as advisable where water tables are high, like in the Pacific Northwest west of the Cascades, and in parts of theSoutheast. In both places, winter gardening and alternative storage facilities may be better options for year-round produce.
Constructing a root cellar may sound complicated, but it can be as easy as burying a garbage can in the back yard. Considering saving your harvest all year round? Read on for our root cellar tips for success.
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