About Starving

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FEBRUARY, 2009

I’ve always thought of myself as a city mouse, but it wasn’t until I moved to the country that I realized I didn’t know jack about mice.  This past summer, my husband and I traded our Manhattan apartment for two wooded lakeside acres on Cape Cod with a little house overlooking the water and, yes, we had mice.  But we also had privacy, and nature, and land.

Land!  Growing up, land was not a good thing.  Land meant lawn, and lawn meant mowing.  But since Kevin and I were committed to a lawn-free existence, land meant food.  We can grow it, we can raise it, we can fish for it in our back yard!  We’ll garden, we’ll compost, we’ll can!  We’ll hunt, we’ll gather!  Primitive peoples have been doing it since time began – how hard can it be?  Self-sufficiency is within reach!

Well, books on self-sufficiency were within reach, at any rate.  The shelves groan with stories of urbanites gone rural, and it didn’t take more than a cursory reading to realize that self-sufficiency is really hard work.  You have to get up early, and spend your days doing dirty, difficult jobs.  You have to battle the elements and the insects.  And then, if all goes well, you get to eat turnips all winter.

And if that weren’t enough, it turns out self-sufficiency is complicated.  You have to know things like whether your soil is acidic or alkaline and what kinds of insects trout eat in April and which mushrooms have “death” in their name.  The spirit was willing but the skill set was weak.

It became pretty clear that self-sufficiency was a stretch.  And then I had an idea for a compromise.  Coincidentally, I had this idea on New Year’s Day.  I thought it was a pretty good idea, so I ran it by my husband.  “Honey,” I said, “do you think we can go a whole year and eat one thing every day that we grow or fish or hunt or gather?”

Kevin is always supportive of me and my work, likes the idea of living off the land, and is possessed of an irrepressible can-do attitude.  “Not a chance,” he said.

“Not a chance?” I asked indignantly.  “Why not?”

“What are we going to eat all winter?” he asked.

Our house in winter, with nothing edible growing

Our house in winter, with nothing edible growing

He had a point.  Our primary winter options are fishing and shellfishing, supplemented by whatever we put by from the garden.  In this case, that amounted to three bags of frozen collard greens and some red pepper jelly.

He went on: “I think we could spend this year preparing, and do it next year.”

This wasn’t music to the ears of someone who values instant gratification (which, come to think of it, isn’t a promising quality for this enterprise).  I took mental inventory of the kitchen.  We’d gone oystering the day before, and the harvest was in a big bowl in the fridge.  There were some frozen clams we’d taken out of Cotuit Bay.  There were the collards, there was the jelly, and I was pretty sure there was some desiccated frozen parsley I’d taken from the window box before we decommissioned it.  That would get me through the first week, at least.  Maybe the first two.  I pointed this out to Kevin.

“But we won’t have anything new until July,” he countered, reasonably.

“Not true,” I said.  “We’ll have trout from the pond.  And oysters and clams.  And isn’t there something you can hunt in the winter?”  Although I have a long-standing dislike of guns (also not promising for this enterprise), Kevin doesn’t, and had just gotten his Massachusetts hunting license.

“Wild turkeys,” he said.

“Well, there you go.”

And so I’m launching 2009 with the goal of eating one thing every day that we hunt or fish, grow or gather.  If I hadn’t had that bowl of oysters in the refrigerator, I’m not sure I would have attempted it.  But here goes.

Is there anything you can do with pine cones?

 

JANUARY, 2012

After three years of successfully eating one first-hand food every day, we decided to up the ante.  In 2012, we’re aiming for 20.12% — okay, call it 20 — of our calories from food we hunt or fish, gather or grow.  You can read more about the 2012 Challenge here.

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Comments

  1. Not with pine cones that I know of but with white pine needles, a tea. I suppose I am a little late with that now. I love your blog! Will keep reading.

  2. I only found your challenge and site. Having spent summers and some winters in Cape Cod, I know what you’re up against. Anthropologists would say you’re in a good place – edge dwelling – between sea and woodland, to be able to take advantage of both niches’ bounties. Maybe 500 years ago, but it’s a bit more build up since then!

    I hope it’s going well. We’re going to join you in your challnge and endeavour to eat something harvested by us everyday. I will put a section on my blog.

    Well done & I wish you every success!

  3. I understand where you’re coming from. Having watched one too many documentaries on the food industry and having grown up on a farm in upstate NY, I so want to get back to living off the land. Knowing where your food comes from, I think, gives you a greater respect and understanding of the big picture. Sadly, my husband and I are trapped in a housing association in Arizona that poo poos some of these ideas. We are planning to move back east, purchase a plot of land and farm the heck out of it.
    On a side note, Mother Earth News is a great magazine filled with DIY projects and living a green existence.

    Oh, my sister Amy sent me to your blog. You took a oven building class with her.

  4. Laurie — I hope all your farming dreams come true. And thank Amy for passing Starving on to you — we had a ball building the oven.

  5. Tamar,

    It was really nice to meet you at the Kingsford University Event. I have been poking around your site ever since I heard about those chickens you are raising. I love what you are doing, I mean really love it! I consider myself a “city girl” but have this romantic vision that Lenny and I will someday move to a small cottage in the country and do the same, try to bring it all together and actually live sustainably! Next time we are on the Cape (which is usually at least once a year) we will have to meet for coffee! Keep growing those beautiful mushrooms and keep us posted on the chicken situation!

  6. Looks like you started this challenge before you got the chickens. Laying hens sure do make such a challenge easier, do they not? I never set out specifically to do what you’re attempting here, but I’d be surprised if we went a whole day now without eating something we produced ourselves, though I don’t really keep track. Of course, we’re a solid two years into serious gardening mode, plus laying hens. We may look into adding the hunting thing this year.

    Nice blog you’ve got here.

    -Kate

  7. Kate — You’re right about the chickens. A steady supply of eggs makes the Challenge almost unsporting.

    I hope to some day to be in your shoes — procuring enough of our own food to eat it every day in the ordinary course of things. I’ll be following your progress at Living the Frugal Life.

    Nice to know you.

  8. commented on wintergreen…

    just wanted to drop by again and say i love the concept of this blog, and the playfully sarcastic, cynical tone :P i think it makes this necessary shift in food sourcing more accessible to a range of people who would otherwise not take seriously the necessity for such a transition in our lives and livelihoods. what you are doing is the future for all of us, more or less, and i thank you for living it openly, both in structure (the blog) and tone (the voice).

  9. We so enjoyed the Audubon Oyster venture with you and Kevin, and later learning more about you both in Edible Cape Cod.

    Looking forward to updates, cannot imagine what you will be up to next after oysters, ducklings, lobster traps and pole beans en haut?

    ‘Green side up’ !!

    Carol

  10. Hey There, LOVE your blog! Lets get together for a drink, dinner at our house on Maple Street.
    Peace
    John

  11. Tamar, thought of you and your sandy soil when I came across this video:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4putIxHsNCk&feature=player_embedded

    Mullein – grows in gravel piles. Maybe if you seeded your sand with this stuff and chopped and dropped some of it for a few years? According to the video, it does its necessary work, and once the soil is improved, it politely leaves.

  12. Tamar,

    Your blog and its message simply great, would be so phenomenal if you would share it with the foodie community at Picdish. http://picdish.com

    Best of luck,
    Maria.

  13. I understand where you’re coming from. Having watched one too many documentaries on the food industry and having grown up on a farm in upstate NY, I so want to get back to living off the land. Knowing where your food comes from, I think, gives you a greater respect and understanding of the big picture. Sadly, my husband and I are trapped in a housing association in Arizona that poo poos some of these ideas. We are planning to move back east, purchase a plot of land and farm the heck out of it.
    On a side note, Mother Earth News is a great magazine filled with DIY projects and living a green existence.

    +1

    • Good luck, Cris! I hope you leave the housing association behind and come back here to get dirty. (And I, too, love Mother Earth News.)

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