Just Can It

In recent years, the organic and local food movements have gone from fad to way of life for many Oklahomans, creating a market for natural foods stores in several cities throughout the state. This trend toward local, sustainable and organic foods goes hand-in-hand with an increased interest in canning.

A hobby often associated with grandmothers and Martha Stewart-types, canning might not be just for granny any longer.

April Harrington is the founder of Earth Elements, an organization that began solely as a farm 15 years ago but has since held educational programs and later expanded to include a kitchen in Oklahoma City in 2011.

Harrington explains that this kitchen is rented to entrepreneurs that use its equipment for their own businesses. A section of the entrepreneurs’ kitchen includes a station just for canning.

“I most definitely think that there has been an increase in canning,” Harrington says of the trend. “It was a lost art when I first started. But more and more people today seem to be interested in having the ability to keep food in reserve.”

The Earth Elements kitchen is used mostly by businesses (with the current count at 15, including companies that sell various items, from baked goods to pastas), Harrington says, but community gardens sometimes rent the space as a group in order to use the canning equipment.

“I would honestly like to see more of that,” she says.

Personally, Harrington is also a canner, sealing up soups and jams, some of her favorite items.

“My experience comes from three very special women in my life, and I was lucky enough to have years of training from them,” Harrington says.

So how does one actually learn this skill?

Harrington says that it takes boldness.

“You have to be brave enough to experiment,” she says. “Most people learn on their own, in their own kitchens.”

One business that takes advantage of the opportunities made available in the Earth Elements kitchen is Towhead Salsa, owned by husband and wife Kirk and Christy Kuhlman. The Kuhlmans have used the kitchen for their salsa ever since it first opened.

“There is no other place like it in the metro area,” Kirk Kuhlman says of the space. “We did not want to build our own facility until we knew the company would do well.”

Kuhlman agrees that more people are turning to canning these days.

“More and more people are aware of the unnatural ingredients in their food,” he says. “They are caring more about what this is doing to their bodies.”

Kuhlman learned how to garden, and later how to can, from his grandparents, but says that anyone can learn.

“It’s not that difficult to learn, but some things are more time-consuming than others. As long as you have an experienced canner or written instructions to follow, it’s pretty easy,” Kuhlman says.