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Storing Food Without a Fridge

December 5, 2008

Many farms in this part of Kentucky didn’t get electricity until the mid-1940s. A few farmers still remember the strategies their families used to store food without freezers or refrigerators.

Times have changed. Kentucky now has some of the cheapest electricity in the country, and we use more of it than most other Americans. Almost all of it comes from coal-fired power plants. As a result, Kentucky releases 4% of the country’s greenhouse gasses, but accounts for just 1.3% of the population. Lexington, the nearest urban center to Frankfort, has the largest per capita carbon footprint of the nation’s 100 biggest cities.

Kentucky State University hosts an annual conference in November for limited resource and minority farmers. During a lunch break a few of the conference participants ventured out into the cold to guide us in the construction of a traditional sweet potato storage pit. We placed cured sweet potatoes in a well-drained pit on a thick bed of straw. Layers of sweet potatoes were separated by layers of straw, creating a giant lasagna underground. The final layer of straw was covered by a thick layer of soil and a tarp to keep the potatoes from freezing (too cold) or sprouting (too wet). As we worked, some of the farmers reminisced about other strategies their families used to store food without refrigeration.


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