Meet Sandy Brown! Master Food Preserver and Council Member

Sandy_MFPRecognitionEvent_March2015 (2)“My interest in food and cooking came from growing up in my grandmother’s home. Her first love was baking, but she also loved ‘home cooking’ every day. We rarely ate out and shopped weekly for our groceries at local markets. Until I was on my own, I didn’t really understand or appreciate the ‘home cooking’ aspect of what she did. I remember it being a time that I got to spend with my grandmother; her teaching me the little things about preparing meals, and the family time around meals.

The interest and love of creating things in the kitchen was such a part of me, that I pursued a degree in Home Economics Education from Washington State University. I then taught middle and high school students how to live on their own, which included cooking for themselves. I so enjoyed teaching that I moved on to get a Master’s degree in Adult Education so I could expand my work to include adults and families.

In 1980, I started my career with Washington State University Extension in the Okanogan Valley in North Central Washington. It is there, that I gave gardening a try. Tilling the garden space and planting everything under the sun (both figuratively and literally). Like many beginner gardeners, I had grown more than I knew what to do with! Tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, cucumbers, beans, peas, cantaloupe, watermelon, squash, pumpkins and more! What was I thinking, I am only one person!? The garden, it did well from all my love and care. I enjoyed gardening and continued – on a smaller scale – for a couple of years. I would later discover local produce from farmers that could grow better than I. I was both appreciative for their beautiful produce and for their willingness to share it with me. Ever since then I have looked forward to buying directly from local farms, or from farmers at farmers markets.

Another skill that my grandmother instilled in me is the art of preserving foods. As a kid, we only preserved jams, fruits, and fruit sauces. We stored them in a dirt-walled area under our house, where it was dark and cool. I remember fetching the peaches and pears and bringing them up for breakfast – It was a cool taste of summer! So, this passion for the taste of ‘fresh preserved’ translated into my work. I developed an extensive Food Preservation Training Program, and later trained “Master Food Preserver” volunteers to help with outreach and teach food preservation classes. This topic wasn’t so popular in the 90’s, but today its popularity has risen dramatically with the growing interest in wanting more control of what is in one’s food, and also to know where one’s food comes from. In order to have local produce year around, preserving food is essential. You could just eat fresh local produce seasonally, but preserving excess produce for those off-season months is even more rewarding.

I became a part of the Food System Council as a founding member is 2008. The first four years were exciting times and it was a sad day for me to term-out in 2011. After a two year break, I am happy to be back! It is exciting to see that in just my short absence the interest in food systems, their policies, and the drive of the community to support local fresh food choices has grown.

My first passion is my work and activities involving food, food safety, and food preservation, my second passion is travel. I love to go camping or hiking, and vacations in new places around the world. I just returned from  three weeks in SE Asia, including Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. However no matter where I travel, I am drawn to their open markets, wet markets, grocery stores, and food vendors! I am always looking for their local foods to taste and learn how they are used. I also love to look for our local food, like our Washington-grown apples. I actually found some during my most recent trip to an open market in the Little India neighborhood in Jarkarta!

My interest in food, cooking, and food preservation was instilled in me by my grandmother, but my continued work and the people in the communities I’ve work in over the past year have sustained and fueled my interest and passion.

My interests in food and helping others is not just a part of my job, it is a part of who I am. Through the 35 years of working in communities I have been able to develop some great partnerships with other agencies, organizations and individuals working towards the same goal: Increasing access to healthy foods, as well as buying and supporting local food systems.