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Can the heartbreak of wasting summer fruits and vegetables

Picture of a woman with fruits, vegetables, and canned goods.

Avoiding food waste is one of the most important actions residents can take to prevent climate change. Through prevention, donation and recovery, Portlanders sent 22 percent less food to the landfill in 2016 than in 2009*.

There are so many ways to reduce food waste!

We talked to food preservation expert Marisa McLellan of to learn about the benefits of small-batch canning to reduce food waste.

You say you grew up in Portland. What kind of lessons did you learn about our mantra of “reduce-reuse-recycle”?

I grew up with Portland's environmental message bred into my bones. I remember helping sort our recycling from an early age and I joined my middle school's Green Club on the first day of 6th grade.

How did you learn canning?

I grew up helping my mom make jam with blueberries and blackberries picked on Sauvie Island and the windfall apples from our neighbor's trees. So, canning is something I always knew how to do. I didn't start to learn the deep science of food preservation until I started the blog, though. Once I started writing, people began asking me questions, and I quickly discovered how little I understood. I immediately started doing my research, so that I could answer questions from a place of knowledge, rather than folklore.

How did you come up with the idea for small-batch canning recipes?

When I first started canning, I followed the conventionally sized recipes. I didn't know that you could do it any other way. However, I quickly found that I was making far more than I needed and my limited storage space was overflowing. So, I did a little research into culinary ratios and started cutting down my batch sizes.

I discovered that small batches had much to offer. They were quick to make, they were more affordable, they didn't overwhelm my storage space, and helped me reduce the amount of food I wasted on a regular basis. I feel like everyone wins when home cooks preserve on a small scale.

Was there a moment that made you realize that small-batch canning helps reduce food waste?

I started thinking about canning as a waste prevention tool when friends would tell me that they subscribed to a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share and were finding themselves throwing as much as half their share away because they just couldn't eat it all up before it started to spoil. It dawned on me that small-batch canning was a way to buy some time for that produce. I started talking people through some basic preservation skills. Each time, I heard back that it made a difference in how they thought about their share and helped them send less food to the compost.

How do you use small-batch canning to reduce food waste in your life?

Whenever I find myself with more produce than I can eat each week, I pull everything out and start to triage. Anything that can keep on its own goes back in the crisper (things like potatoes, cabbage, and cauliflower). Then, I divide things up into four categories—jam, pickles, pesto, spreads—and roll my sleeves up to get started.

Rapidly softening fruit gets prepped (this includes removing soft spots, peeling, coring, pitting, and chopping) and combined with some sugar or honey to soften for a while. Cucumbers will get a quick vinegar pickle treatment, other vegetables like green beans will be submerged in a salt brine with garlic cloves and dill seed to ferment. Tender greens like arugula and spinach get combined with soft herbs and whirred into pesto (pack into small jars, top with olive oil, and freeze for up to a year).

“…I can transform a fridge full of produce in just a couple of hours…I get more value from my food budget, I eat better throughout the week, and I throw away less.” -- Marisa McClellan

Canning sounds intimidating. How do you make it less scary?

The very best way to let go of any fears surrounding canning is to take a class (whether in person or by video), or to find an experienced friend and get them to can with you. Some of the best starter recipes include blueberry jam (it almost always sets up), pickled green beans (they stay crisp better than cucumbers), and applesauce (because apples are high in acid and sugar, you don't have to add anything to applesauce to make it safe for the boiling water bath canner).

Gather the basic tools, including a wide-mouth funnel, jar lifter, and canning rack. (These items are available for borrowing at kitchen share libraries around Portland.)

Visit for even more food waste prevention tips.

*According to the latest data available from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.