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.
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?
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.