We humans are a fickle lot. In the winter when fresh, vine-ripe produce is hard to come by at a reasonable price, we dream about a juicy, red tomato, a sweet ear of corn, a delicious, steaming plate of garden stir-fry.

Then comes spring and planting and the dreams of beautiful plants filled with all manner of what we crave. We’re thrilled with the first cucumber, squash, tomato. All we imagined!

Then — everything is ripe and ready to be picked! At the same time!

You give it to people … until they quit answering the door. It’s not their fault you planted too much.

So, what to do with the bounty?

When I grew up the garden was the lifeline. Large “truck-patches” were planted in several spots and it wasn’t for selling at the farmer’s market, which I’m pretty sure didn’t exist back then. We ate vegetables every meal. The un-air-conditioned, blistering hot kitchen, fly-tape hanging over the dining room table, was the hub of activity for too many bodies at once.

It didn’t matter if was cutting corn off, blanching tomatoes, washing jars, brining down a batch of pickles, cooking off a run of jelly, or stringing beans, there was a job for every female available. This would be what would sustain us during the long cold winter.

Long into the night someone was “working off” a batch of something. Before daylight, all hands were in the patch, picking and toting, ready for another day of sweat-equity.

Now, you can’t give produce away! If you call someone and tell them you’ve got some beautiful beans for them, all they have to do is come and pick them, they’re too busy. But they’ll sure take them if you pick them!

The art of preserving food for later has taken a hard hit. Families that could do with the knowledge and hands-on have no idea where to begin. Many of them don’t even want to know. But there will come a time …

I don’t can anymore, but I do freeze things. This morning I put up 3 quarts of tomatoes. I put up whatever I get each day, even if it’s only 1 quart. When I have an abundance of peppers, I chop and freeze them for soups and stews this winter.

Squash gets shredded and frozen for soups and baking. If I had green beans, I’d probably do “leather britches.” I really love the taste of them.

Do you know what those are? I ask my friends who have gardens with overgrown produce, who eat melons, who have vegetable scraps, to please save them for me. My chickens dine on those wonderful scraps and keep making the most wonderful eggs. We share those with friends.

If you’ve shared with everyone you can think of, there are soup kitchens and food banks who’d be thrilled to get some.

Some ideas: drying, pickling, or fermenting. Cook a few meals for invalid/shut-in friends; package in small amounts, ready for the freezer. Barter with someone for goods or services. Take fresh-picked goods to your local fire department; they cook for the whole crew and would appreciate it. If you have overgrown veggies, take them to someone who has chickens or pigs; it’s great for them, and you might come back with a dozen eggs. Another good use for over-ripe veggies is to compost it in the rows; this feeds the soil microbes for next growing season.

Some things store for long periods but conditions need to be right. Whether it’s apples or potatoes, it’s best to know before you harvest if you can store these. When I was a child, Mamaw had a dark, cool root cellar. It was under the house, dug into the earth. There were pockets and flat places where potatoes – sweet and Irish, winter squash, and onions were kept. A very large crock sat by the door, filled with green beans and corn, pickling. Cabbages and turnips were kept in deep rows under hay in the garden.

I heard that the profit margin for those growing what we eat was around 4%, and profit for technology was over 40%.

When I’m hungry I don’t think a cell phone will taste very good.

Sherrie “The Dirt Girl” Ottinger is a dedicated ecologist, speaker, writer and lifetime Tennessean. All comments and questions should be emailed to velokigate@yahoo.com.