10 10 07 Solar Food Drying JH

In this article I want to share about my experience of building a solar food dryer this summer and beginning to use it. It has been a rich experience and has opened up a whole new world of food preservation for me.

The inspiration to build the dryer came from a number of sources. The first was a visit to Northern Sun Farm Coop near Sarto where I saw Gerhard Dekker’s model of a solar dryer designed for our latitude. What intrigued me was that with such a device I could preserve the food from my garden using the same renewable energy needed to grow it, namely: the sun. Another visit to the Eco-Village at Prairie’s Edge confirmed what I had learned at Northern Sun. Inspirational visits indeed!

I got to see that, not only was this approach to food preservation energy neutral, but it was also more sustainable and resilient in the long run than other traditional methods like canning and freezing. Canning takes a lot of energy, many jars and new sealing lids every year, and a lot of room for storage. Freezing takes a continual supply of energy throughout the year to keep the food frozen which spoils quickly in the event of a power failure.

Then someone gave me the book, The Solar Dryer, by Eben Fodor which provided a solid rationale for solar food drying along with many helpful hints. And finally a friend loaned me a DVD David Dawson had made outlining the steps on how to build a dryer based on Gerhad Dekker’s model. And then I was set!

Most of the material required I scrounged from my hobby farm or the local thrift shop. While I had to buy some new material, the cost of the dryer remained well under a hundred dollars. Of course I am not counting the week of work involved as a cost factor.

I have now been using the dryer for a couple of months and find it to be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. Of course we still do some canning and freezing, but I now have recovered an alternative method of food preservation that many of our ancestors used regularly.

It is amazing how light the dried food is and how easy it is to store in jars in my pantry. And of course, when you want to use it, the only requirement is to add water one way or another. A side benefit from my wife Ruth’s point of view is that I am finally interested and involved in food preservation – after all these years – and enjoying it.

To this point we have dried grape, raspberry and mint leaves as well as hawthorn berries for tea. Also we have dried swiss chard, sorrel, beets, apples, onions, green peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, parsley and a good supply of apple/grape fruit leather.

If you are interested in seeing the dryer at work, call me at 326-2911 or just stop by at 69 Westdale Street in Steinbach on a sunny day.

Jack Heppner