Yes, you can can!

A challenging economy and growing interest in eating local is turning the art of preserving food at home into a popular trend. But no matter what you are canning, food safety is an essential part of the process. Here are some tips and resources for making sure your bounty stays safe to long into the winter:

  • Use research tested recipes.

Not all canning recipes are created equal, even if they come from a cookbook. How do you know if your recipe is safe? Use recipes from the following trusted resources:


National Center for Home Food Preservation

University of Wisconsin Food Safety & Health website

UW Extension Food Preservation Bulletins

Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, Ball Blue Book, and Ball’s website at

Remember – Grandma’s recipes can’t be guaranteed to kill the microbes of today.

  • Check your pressure canner gauge.

If you are canning low acid foods (vegetables or meats), you must use a pressure canner. If you are using a gauge canner, make sure you have your gauge tested annually – before you begin canning – to make sure the gauge is still properly calibrated. If it is not, you will need to replace the gauge before you begin canning. Your county extension office can test your gauge for you for free. In Oneida County, testing is done year-round on Thursdays.

  • Be sure to check your elevation.

Oneida County elevation is more than 1,000 feet above sea level. This means that water boils at a lower temperature, so all of your processing times and pressures need to be adapted to make sure you have a safe product.

  • If you can tomatoes, add lemon juice.

Your tomatoes might not be acid enough to be safely water bath canned. Tomatoes’ natural acidity changes depending on their ripeness, the heat of the summer, the amount of rain in a given year, their variety, and many more things. The only safe way to ensure that your tomatoes will can safely is to add bottled lemon juice. Always make sure you are following a new (1994 and after) recipe to make sure you tomatoes stay safe and tasty.

  • Make sure your vinegar is 5% acid.

Not all vinegars sold are created equal. Some stores are selling 4% vinegar – which has less of a bite and is often cheaper. BEWARE! 4% acidity is not enough to guarantee a safe relish, salsa or pickled product.

  • Use new lids.

One of the great things about canning is you can reuse the jars and rings year after year after year (as long as they aren’t cracked, chipped, or rusty). But always use new canning lids to ensure a proper seal each time.

  • When in doubt, call.

Your UW-Extension agents are here to help answer your questions. We also have videos and other resources to help you get started, do things better, and make sure you have a pantry full of safe and healthful food all winter long.

Point In Time – Counting the Homeless

On Wednesday, July 27, teams spread out across Oneida, Vilas, Forest and Langlade counties for the semi-annual Point In Time survey of homelessness in the Northwoods. Although homelessness in rural communities – especially communities with cold climates like ours – often doesn’t look like what we think of as “stereotypical” homelessness, that doesn’t mean there aren’t people living in places not meant for human habitation in Rhinelander, Eagle River, Antigo, Minocqua or other towns in our region.

So, twice a year, along with communities across the state and the nation, we count the number of people known to be living in temporary housing and then do our best to try to find individuals who are living on the streets, even for just one night.

This is the third time teams have gone out around midnight on the last Wednesday of the month of January and July in Rhinelander, Eagle River, Minocqua and Antigo. Over the last 18 months we have also been collecting anecdotes and tips from police, the public and even some formerly homeless themselves as to where to look and what we might expect to find. We also make a concerted effort to let the community know that we will be doing this through press releases.

The last press release caught at least one eye. The Friday before we were heading out on our most recent count, I recieved a phone call at my office. The caller announced himself by saying, “I read your news release in the paper. I was homeless in Rhinelander and I wanted to tell you my story.”

The caller proceeded to tell a story, and while details vary, the theme has become shockingly familiar since the opening of the homeless shelters in Crandon and Rhinelander. He was attempting to be a hard working, contributing citizen when a less-than honest employer wrote him three bad paychecks in a row. Without this money he was unable to pay his rent and was evicted. He had limited job skills, but was able to find some part-time employment, but didn’t make enough to afford a new place to stay. So he spent the nights sleeping under a bridge and hanging out in places reading a magazine and pretending he was waiting to be picked up by a friend. He also spent time at the Job Center looking for new job opportunities. He was dead set determined not to ask for help from a government assistance program, though he might have gone to a homeless shelter had there been one.

He did his best to avoid the police, but on one encounter they threatened him with arrest if they found him in his spot again. For him, that was the tipping point- he went to NEWCAP the next day and was enrolled in a program to help him secure housing. His struggles didn’t end there, but over the course of the next several years he worked with the system, and is now happily employed and resides in a simple home with access to the library books he loves, a television and even air conditioning.

As he said, “I was by myself. I don’t know what I would have done if I had a family to take care of.”

Homelessness in Northern Wisconsin has more frequently been the tale of somebody working a full-time job and getting by – until that job disappears. Or a house being foreclosed on after a family goes underwater on a mortgage. Or a family/relationship breaking up, leaving half with no place to go. Survival comes down to who you know, your survival skills and how lucky you are. Landlords talk about how if a renter fails to pay rent in the winter months, the landlord will eat the cost of the lost rent rather than evict a family out into the snow. Relatives and friends “double up” in a house or apartment to save costs. Those with vehicles will park in a driveway or down a country road – or in the summer, move into a campground. And the unluckiest turn to the streets.

That is why our groups went out to see if we could find anybody sleeping in a place that was wasn’t meant to be “home.” We learn new things each time we go out – including places I would or definitely would not stay if I were in need of shelter.

This time – our third time – was the first time our teams did encounter an individual who didn’t have anywhere else to go for the night – and would admit to it. The team was able to give him a Salvation Army hotel voucher so he didn’t need to sleep on the floor and talk about what he might do next. They also learned more from night managers at 24 hour shopping centers and other people who encounter people who don’t have a place to go at night.

A team also learned something about law enforcement – make sure you remind them of what you are doing the day of an event. Otherwise you might spend an hour or so in your car, surrounded by flashing lights.

Hopefully in the future we will have law enforcement as active partners in the process, and not just as occasional advisers and people to send license plate numbers to. And hopefully we will continue to learn more about how to help people who need a bed and a bit of help at a rough point in their life.

“F” is for more than Fat

In my last post, I talked about the recent report highlighting the exploding obesity epidemic in the United States. But it turns out “F” is for more than “Fat” – it’s also for “Food Insecurity.”

“Food Security” describes the situation when a family or individual has enough to eat and does not live in fear of hunger or, worse, starvation. Ironically, if you compare maps of the most highly food insecure regions of the United States, there are regions of the U.S. that overlap well with the most obese regions. 



How is it possible that the parts of the country where food appears to be the most scarce – meaning people suffer from hunger and a lack of food – are also the place where people are the most overweight, an indication of consuming too much food?

Once again, it highlights just what a complex issue obesity is.

One perspective is that is not about too much or too little food, more it’s about the  quality of food available to consume. In the United States, some of our most populated areas are “food deserts” with extremely limited access to a traditional market or grocery store where fresh or raw foods are available. Or fresh food and produce cost far more than the relativley unhealthy options. People in these areas are left to eat mainly processed foods or conveience/fast foods. People load up on “empty” calories – it is entirely possible to be overweight and malnourished at the same time.

Individual behavior regarding diet and exercise only plays a small part in the overall obesity picture. From a true public health standpoint, obesity needs to be viewed through the lens of the local environment (what foods are accessible and at what price?) and the policy that governs the availablility of the food. Is it illegal to plant a garden in an abandoned lot? Is there no public transportation to help people get to and from a fully-stocked grocery store? Do zoning regulations prohibit a small farm, a garden, raising chickens, a grocery store, or walking/biking pathways in certain areas?

What are the barriers to health in your community? Is it the lack of facilities for exercise during the cold, dark months of winter? Is it that soda is cheaper than flavored water in your office vending machine? Is it that your office mates keep bringing donuts to work instead of fruit trays? Is it that you fear for your life if you try biking down your heavily trafficked street?

There aren’t many easy answers, but as long as we’re not looking for a single  golden answer, we’re at least on the right path.



“F” as in Fat

This year I made a fairly tasteless joke while watching the Packers win the Super Bowl: What do you call a 300 lb Packer fan? Anorexic.

I then followed it up with the comment that really, Wisconsin Cheeseheads are all linebackers in training; a demonstration that our whole state is prepared to step up in times of dire pigskin need.

Sadly, it seems I might not have been that far off. But as it happens, it is our whole country that seems to be vying for Chad Clifton’s spot at Tackle: a new Behavioral Risk Surveillance System report now finds that 27.4% of Wisconsinites are officially “obese,” including 13.1% of children age 10 to 17. And we’re only 25th in the nation, nowhere near #1 Mississippi with 34.4% of adults and 21.9% of children obese.

In fact, Wisconsin is falling behind. Just 15 years ago, we were the 10th most obese state in the union, and now we’ve dropped to 25th. Unfortunately, it’s not because Wisconsinites have gotten any thinner; in fact, Wisconsin obesity rates have increased 67% in that decade and a half. But in that time, 15 other states caught up and surpassed us.

Statistics in the report, based on the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and compiled and reported by the Trust For America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), is almost too disturbing to talk about. I almost can’t dig past the first and biggest points:

  • In 1990, no state’s prevalence of obesity in adults was greater than 15%. Today, 20 years later, no state’s adult obesity prevalence is LESS than 15%. Colorado, the “thinnest” state of the union has an adult obesity prevalence of nearly 20% (one in five adults) – fatter than any state 20 years ago.
  • Many states are swiftly encroaching on 30% adult obesity – so swiftly that in the last four years we went from only one state with adult obesity prevalence at more than 30% to twelve at 30% or more. And 27 more (including Wisconsin at 27.4%) are right on the doorstep. That would mean, in the next couple of years, three quarters of American states will see obesity in nearly one in three of their adults.

Our children are the next victims of this plague.

  • Childhood obesity is quickly becoming a problem far beyond teasing on the playground. In Wisconsin, more than 1 in 10 children between ages 10 and 17 are considered obese.  That means the same percentage of Wisconsin teens are obese today as were in the entire United States adult population 20 years ago.

While changes in diet and lifestyle are definite contributors to this wildfire epidemic, there is still a lot of discussion about what other factors come in to play to cause individuals to gain weight to a BMI of greater than or equal to 30. Yet, the health issues associated with having a BMI of 30 or higher are hardly in doubt. Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke – all individuals who are obese or overweight are at higher risk for developing any of these chronic diseases. And we see that played out in the statistics.

  • Wisconsin diabetes rates have doubled in the last 15 years, one of eight states to see this happen. In 1995, they were 4.4 percent. Now 7.5 percent of individuals live with diabetes every day. Since Wisconsin has been fatter longer, we may well be a bell-weather of what is to come for other states.
  • Hypertension is also increasing, from 21.5% in 1995 to 26.4%.

If you would like to see the full report for yourself, visit the report on the Trust For America’s Health website.

I’m going to go take a brisk walk and eat some carrots.

Severe Weather Preparedness Week

With the Sunday tornado in Merrill making this all fresh in our minds, we’re entering into that exciting thunderstorm and severe weather season in Wisconsin. Do the members of your family know what to do in case of a severe storm?

This week, April 11-15, is Wisconsin Tornado and Severe Weather Awareness Week. Fortunately there were only minor injuries in Lincoln County after the April 10 tornado. Knowing what to do when severe weather comes goes a long way to preventing serious injury or death in a storm.


  • Conduct tornado drills each tornado season.

 Designate an area in your home as a shelter and practice having everyone in the family go there in response to a tornado threat. A basement, storm cellar or lowest level of your home is best. If there is no basement, use an inner hallway or a small inner room without a window, such as a bathroom or a closet.

  • If you live in a mobile home, plan to take shelter in another building with a strong foundation.

Some mobile home parks provide shelter for residents. If your park does not have a community shelter, consult with the management and request that one be provided.

  •  Know the difference between a “tornado watch” and a “tornado warning.”

a) A tornado watch is issued by the National Weather Service when weather conditions are such that tornadoes are likely to develop. When a watch is announced, you should listen to the radio or television for further developments; keep a battery-powered radio on hand in case electrical power is lost; and tie down loose objects outside or bring them inside.

 b) A tornado warning is issued when a tornado has been sighted or indicated by radar. At this point, the danger is very serious and everyone should go to a safe place, turn on a battery-operated radio or television and wait for the “all clear” by the authorities.

  •  Have emergency supplies on hand.
a) A portable NOAA weather radio, either battery or crank operated
b) Flashlights and extra batteries
c) First-aid kit and manual; essential medicines
d) Emergency food, water, cooking equipment, can opener
e) Cash and credit cards
f) Sturdy shoes

For a complete emergency kit checklist, visit Ready Wisconsin – Get a Kit.

  • Develop an emergency communication plan.

In case family members are separated during a disaster because of work or school, choose a long-distance relative or friend to serve as the “family contact.” After a disaster, it is often easier to call long-distance than to make a local call. Make sure everyone in the family knows the name, address and phone number of the contact person.

 To create your own personalized plan, visit Ready Wisconsin – Make a Plan for an interactive online planner.

Spring is here – enjoy it, but stay safe!!

Northwoods Emergency Food Pantry: Filling a Gap

Finances aren’t the only thing that can be difficult to manage in tough times. To quote an interviewee from the Oneida County Conversations documentary, “You have to make tough choices. Whether the bills get paid, or do you buy food? Do you go grocery shopping or go down and pay on the phone bill?”

There are a variety of organizations and services that provide for residents of Oneida County (and the surrounding area) in times of need. Many people are familiar with the Lakeland, Three Lakes and Rhinelander food pantries through their food drives, many have dropped coins and dollars in the red Salvation Army kettles during bell ringing season, some have volunteered to serve meals at the free community meals, and now many people have heard or donated to NATH to support the opening of the Frederick Place homeless shelter. These are just a few of the groups that work in and around the county.

Rarely is there a one-size-fits-all solution to individual problems. The Northwoods Emergency Food Pantry is an example of a service that can help fill such a gap. Because the pantry has no income requirements – meaning absolutely anybody can go an receive food if they need it – the Northwoods Emergency Food Pantry provides families who may have experienced a temporary crisis that makes it difficult for them to purchase adequate food.

Families can receive food from the Emergency Food Pantry up to four times per year – so it could be four times in a month, or once every quarter. The pantry staff give the example that if a family is facing an expensive car repair or medical bill, even if their normal income wouldn’t qualify them for FoodShare or other food pantries, the Emergency Food Pantry can give them food to tide them over during the tough time. Many families access the pantry seasonally when their income and savings from seasonal jobs has run out.

A person coming to the food pantry would receive enough basic food plus certificates for bread, eggs and milk at Trig’s to last their family approximately 4 days. Amount of food is dependent on the size of the family. The pantry normally provides food to about 65 families each month, but as with many of the basic services in the area, they have seen a steady increase of need over the last couple of years. In March 2011, they served 98 families.

Families are often referred to the pantry by other agencies or services. Both the Northwoods Emergency Food Pantry and the local Salvation Army representatives are housed in the First United Congregational Church of Christ in Rhinelander, so if a family is receiving housing assistance from Salvation Army, it is easy to help them be referred to the emergency food pantry for food, and vice versa. The pantry is open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, 9 AM – 12 PM, or by request during an emergency.

The Emergency Food Pantry receives approximately half of its yearly food supplies from the mail carriers food drive and the other from Scouting For Food food drive. The rest of the support is in monetary donations from churches and individuals. They also use volunteers from the community to stock and maintain the pantry.

If you are interested in volunteering or donating to the pantry, you can contact Jennifer Sacket at (715) 360-5871, or by calling the UCC church at (715) 365-1535. The Salvation Army office for Rhinelander can be reached at (715) 365-1539.

Managing Your Personal Finances in Tough Times

The “officials” said that our country began it’s official recovery from the Great Recession in December 2009. But for many of us in rural areas, the turn around is slow to appear. 

To help people find ways to make ends meet in difficult times, UW-Extension Family Living Programs has developed resources for managing personal finances that are available for free on a new website at

The website covers five topic areas with worksheets and other practical tools. These areas include:

1. Talking with Family and Managing Stress

2. Creating a Budget

3. The Balancing Act: Cutting Expenses and Increasing Income

4. Keeping up with Credit and Debt

5. Considering Foreclosure and Bankrupcy

The site also includes a couple of timely handouts on Cutting Back and Keeping Up and Dealing with a Drop in Income.

Census in the News

The Northwoods River News carried a story about the census numbers last week. Click the following link to read the full article online:

Census shows population in decline

Hot of the Presses – 2010 Census Data

Remember just a year ago how the headlines were full of stories about the 2010 US Census? Well, the Census data collected all last year is now being released – slowly, as it is organized – and we’ve received the first pieces of it.

By Federal law, the US Census Bureau is required to release basic population data by April 1st of the year following the decennial count. This is so that States can begin the redistricting process, realigning the voting district lines for the House of Representatives so that the total number of representatives reflects the population changes in each area of each state.

Wisconsin’s population figures were released this week, and if you select Wisconsin on the map, you will see that the north central counties (other than Vilas) decreased in population. Oneida County’s population decreased by 2%.

The following table shows the population change for individual towns in Oneida County (towns in italics are those that lost population in the last ten years):

City/Town 2010 Population 2000 Population Change % Change
Cassian 985 962 23 2%
Crescent 2033 2071 -38 -2%
Enterprise 315 274 41 15%
Hazelhurst 1273 1267 6 0%
Lake Tomahawk 1043 1160 -117 -10%
Little Rice 306 314 -8 -3%
Lynne 141 210 -69 -33%
Minocqua 4385 4859 -474 -10%
Monico 309 364 -55 -15%
Newbold 2719 2710 9 0%
Nokomis 1371 1363 8 1%
Pelican 2764 2902 -138 -5%
Piehl 86 93 -7 -8%
Pine Lake 2740 2720 20 1%
Rhinelander 7798 7735 63 1%
Schoepke 387 352 35 10%
Stella 650 633 17 3%
Sugar Camp 1694 1781 -87 -5%
Three Lakes 2131 2339 -208 -9%
Woodboro 813 685 128 19%
Woodruff 2055 1982 73 4%
Oneida County 35998 36776 -778 -2%

You can browse the data on population, race, housing units and occupancy for yourself at the new American FactFinder. But it is a bit tricky to use, so I have summarized the population, housing and occupancy numbers for Oneida and Vilas County in an Excel file available here.

You will notice that I’ve included the % Vacant Housing Units in the Excel worksheet. In Oneida and Vilas County, nearly 50% of all homes are “vacant.” In the full decennial Census data, there is another category “For seasonal, recreational or occaisonal use” – which is what the vast majority of vacant housing in Oneida and Vilas counties are.  That number has not been released for the 2010 data yet, so it is difficult to know yet whether the across-the-board increase in vacant housing units is an increase in seasonal housing, or in vacant homes sitting on the market.

The rest of the 2010 Census data is scheduled to be released in parts over the next two years, with the Demographic Profile due out in May 2011, and the Summary File 1 (the majority of the basic information on demographic, social, economic and housing data) due out between June and August 2011. Watch this space for updates as they come!

America’s Motel Generation

‘America’s Motel Generation’ is growing fast. Like the kids that came out of the Great Depression, this generation is being shaped by homelessness and hunger…

Watch the 60 Minutes segment Hard Times Generation: Homeless Kids for a taste of an often unseen reality.

According to the Census Bureau, while one of every five (20%) children under the age of 18 is in poverty in the United States, Wisconsin and Oneida County are not far behind, with 16% of children under 18 living in poverty. Vilas County beats out the national average slightly with 22% of those under 18 in poverty.

[Click here for US Census data tables]

Map – under 18 in poverty

Homelessness is a reality for children in the Northwoods. Frederick Place, which opened its doors on January 31, 2010, has already sheltered several families with young children.

A survey of 270 households at the Rhinelander Area Food Pantry last summer found that 49 were, or were at risk of being, homeless in the last year. These households included 60 children.

School districts are required to have a homelessness liaison on staff, and these teachers/guidance counselors/administrators provide support for children who spend their nights “couch surfing” or otherwise without a bed to go home to.

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