Operation Acorn

Are your children underemployed? Do you want to cut back on their screen time? Looking for a wholesome family activity?

You’ve come to the right place.

We’re initiating Operation Acorn, in which we recruit you and your children to help keep our pigs happy and well-fed. As they go into this, their final month (or maybe two) of life, we’re giving them as many acorns as they can eat. Not only does that constitute what I’d call a constructive use of a product that would ordinarily go either to waste or to squirrels (don’t worry, we’ll leave enough for them), it also happens to make pork taste good.

It’s not just a good use of waste and a high-quality feed, it makes the pigs very happy. They love acorns, and will climb over each other to get at them if we put them in the trough. But if we scatter them in straw in the pen, there’s an added benefit. The pigs get to root them out (their preferred mode of finding food) and the search keeps them occupied for quite a while – important, since three bored pigs could spell trouble.

Kevin and I have been collecting the acorns on our property for the past few weeks, and we’ve managed to get a few cups a day. Now, a few cups won’t go far with three pigs that are, together, eating a daily ration of almost fifteen pounds of feed, and we’ve been keeping our eyes open for a better acorn source than the red oaks that grow at our house.

As of yesterday morning, we hadn’t found it. But then Al and Christl came by. With a big box. Full of beautiful, big, white oak acorns.

Acorns from white oaks are large and smooth, and tend to fall off the tree without their caps (convenient, since even pigs don’t eat the caps). Find a loaded white oak, and you can collect pounds and pounds of them. Which is what Al and Christl had done. “We took mostly the green ones,” Al told us. “There are still thousands of the brown ones.”

And where, exactly, was the tree? Behind the Yarmouth post office. Christl drew us a map on the back of an envelope, and we went that afternoon. All told, we ended up with about forty pounds of acorns. Which is a lot, but we need more. Much more.

This is where you come in. Is there a giving tree in your yard? Or at the local park? Planning a hike this weekend? Bring a receptacle, gather some acorns, and then become a FOSTAD – Friend of Spot, Tiny, and Doc. Come on over (drop me a line at tamar AT starvingofftheland DOT com) and endear yourself to our pigs by giving them their afternoon snack, and we’ll put your picture in our FOSTAD gallery.

Could you ask for a more powerful incentive? No, I didn’t think so.

34 people are having a conversation about “Operation Acorn

  1. Love to, and I happen to know of an oak tree with enormous acorns- in fact we’ll be going there next weekend for their Apple Day.
    So, do you pay travel expenses? I don’t mind flying economy…

    Great idea though- hope you get lots of volunteers (on at least the same continent).

    • It’s a problem, Hazel. I just got a similar e-mail from a gentleman in Texas. On the one hand, I’m delighted to have world-wide readership. On the other …

  2. Funny just this morning I was thinking that the acorn drop this year hasn’t been as heavy as past years. Wondering what that will mean for our weather. Although I think it’s still a week or two early. Would be happy to help you out. I’ll let you know.

  3. If we weren’t 3000 miles away, I’d get my underemployed six year old on the task immediately! I wonder if there are some hungry pigs in our neck of the suburbs who need acorns… hmmm… how can I find out, I wonder…

  4. Our local Soil & Water Conservation District, part of the local NRCS office (USDA) would rent out a nut roller picker upper. Dont’ know if you have such an entitiy in your part of the world but it’s worth looking into. Google nut harvestor (nut roller picker upper like I did ) and then look for oak trees in nicely mowed churches, schools, neighbor’s yards and you’ll keep your pigs quite happy with a lot less effort. Of course you could just have Kevin build one as plan B.

  5. Tamar, I do acorn collections every year for the past 30 plus years. Started doing it as a necessity to give my 5 kids & I something to do, and now I’ve continued this with my 5 grandbabies. We usually save BAGS of them so we can dole them out to the squirrels when there is snow on the ground. I would be MORE than happy to bring you any we collect this year. You just have to let me know where you are located on the Cape. I live in So. Dennis.

  6. Tamar, I’ve been following your first-hand food adventures for a while. It’s been particularly interesting getting an alternative, conscientious perspective on raising animals for food — and this is coming from a vegan of 20 years.

    I know you’ve shown a bit of scepticism about wild food here in the past, but I thought I’d let you know that there are plenty of forager types out there who would weep at the thought of you feeding all of those white oak acorns to your pigs.

    There are about 69,000 calories in 40 pounds of (shelled) acorns, give or take. That’s more than your monthly total for all of September from all food sources.

    Pigs aren’t the only ones who love acorns. People love them too. For breads, for baking, for Korean muk. And since most of yours are from white oaks, they don’t require an insane amount of leaching to remove tannins and get them to the point where they’re ready to eat.

    Set some aside for yourself and give it a shot — you could end up blowing your year-end goal clean out of the water.

  7. Trish — We’ve started to get acorns in earnest here, but I think even small changes in geography can make a difference. I trust you’ll get yours! And if you can help, all the better!

    Cindy — That’s the spirit!

    Henry — I had no idea there was such a thing. I even joked with Kevin about wanting something like it. Our friend Bob is a builder, and he has a big magnet on a roller that he rolls over the ground he worked on to pick up stray metal — I wanted one for acorns. And now it turns out there is one! If the whole exploit-the-children plan doesn’t work, I’m going to get my hands on one.

    Laurie — THanks and thanks and thanks! I sent you an e-mail with details.

    Clayton — You sure know how to get a girl where she lives.

    Actually, I was just today thinking along those same lines, and your e-mail put me over the top. I will reserve some of the acorns, leach them, and cook with them. There. I said it. Now I just have to do it.

    Thanks for taking the time to leave such a convincing comment!

    • You’re very welcome. Here’s where I admit that I’ve never actually done it myself, just enjoyed the fruits of other people’s labours!

      I have a good excuse: I like in coastal British Columbia, and the only native oak tree (Garry) here is not a big acorn producer (in my experience anyway). Though I’m sure if I looked around I could find some good introduced oaks to burgle.

  8. Oh how cruel geography is. I live on an acre+ literally packed with massive oaks (one totaled my Saab in June!). Maybe I will send a box of acorns to affirm my affection for the pigs. Those USPS flat-rate boxes aren’t a bad deal. This time of year it is raining acorns in central Ohio.

  9. My children would LOVE that project! Would you like to take on three 3-year-old visitors for a while? They can also make their beds, load the dryer, help empty the dishwasher, and set the table. Do your chickens need exercise? My kids would be great at chasing them.

  10. Just got our copy of Edible Santa Barbara and they have a story on Eating Acorns (and there is even a term for acorn eating: balanophagy) it’s available on their website along with detailed instructions on processing acorns using a cold water or hot water technique. http://www.EdibleSantaBarbara.com

  11. V-G — i see I’m not the only one. I love your project — thanks for the link.

    Cat — If they’re good at raking leaves, we most definitely have a deal!

    Dianne — Thanks for the link. Now that I’m committed to eating some of the acorns myself, I need both A) to figure out how to do it and B) to know what it’s called.

    • I wouldn’t say they’re “good” at raking, exactly, but they’re very enthusiastic. Good luck with eating the acorns! That idea intrigues me. I hope you’ll post something about it once you’ve tried them.

    • Kingsley — I’m going to put it down to being undercaffeinated, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling woefully inadequate because I don’t get it.

      • You’re trying to over-analyse it.
        There’s no native acorn producing trees (AFAIK) in Australia, it’s 99% eucalypt (which we call “gum trees”). So no acorns, only gum nuts – which aren’t nuts anyway, more a seed housing.

        And you mentioned reducing kids’ screen time.

        See – it wasn’t nearly worth an explanation 😉

  12. So I’m reading a quirky article in the Chicago Tribune the other day and I think to myself “this writer doesn’t sound like a Trib writer but sounds so familiar,” so I look for the byline…well, if it isn’t Tamar Haspel. Nice! Goodness you get around.

  13. Matthew McShane says:

    Hi, I remembered reading once that pottbellied pigs will get sick if they eat too many accorns. I googled pigs eating accorns and saw this.

    “In addition, should you have Oak Trees in your yard, be aware your pig cannot continuously eat acorns. If a pig ingests too many acorns, over a period of time, the pig can exhibit a toxic reaction. This can even lead to death in extreme cases. ”

    I do not know if it is true or if it applies to your pigs but it may be worth checking into.

    • Matthew — Thanks for looking out for my pigs! I, too, did a little Googling before we started on our acorn program, and found a couple of warnings like the one you came across. But feeding pigs acorns is a time-honored tradition, and the people who seem to know the most about pigs don’t seem to worry. There’s a kind of Spanish ham (I’ll post about it in the next couple of days — it’s already up on my WaPo series) that requires that pigs eat nothing but acorns for their finishing diet. So I’m hoping we’re doing the right thing.

      I do appreciate the heads-up, though.

  14. What’s the deadline foe accepting acorns? Mine will be falling between now and Thanksgiving. In a good year I can get 3 garbage cans full.

  15. Nice website. One bit of advice for hobby farming pigs. Build an extremely heavy duty ramp and platform to feed them on. This gets the pigs in the habit of going up the ramp and onto a platform. Then if you every want to take one to an auction or meat processor, just back your pickup up to the platform. Take down a piece of fence and the pig walks right into your truck bed.

    • Thanks, Bob. We’re just now figuring out how we’re going to manage slaughter. It’s not easy, since the pen is pretty much in the woods, but we’ve got a couple of possibilities.

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