Starving off the Land: Figuring out first-hand food
I always thought of myself as a city mouse, but it wasn’t until I left Manhattan for a very rural part of Cape Cod that I realized I didn’t know jack about mice.
Three years ago my husband Kevin and I traded in our Upper West Side condo for two wooded lakeside acres and a house that puts the ‘shack’ in ramshackle. When we moved in, we discovered that we had insects taking up residence in our floor joists. We had woodpeckers bent on turning our siding into Swiss cheese. And, naturally, we had mice.
But we also had land. Land!
I’ve been a food writer for nigh-on two decades but, until we moved to the country, just about everything that I cooked, ate, and wrote about had passed through someone else’s hands. But having land meant we could put an end to all that. Land means 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?
The answer, of course, is really bloody hard. You have to get up early, and spend your days doing dirty, difficult jobs. You have to battle the elements and the insects. You have to know things like whether your soil is acidic or alkaline and what kinds of bugs trout eat in April and which mushrooms have “death” in their name. The spirit was willing but the skill set was weak.
What I needed was a goal. A reasonable, achievable goal to give my efforts some structure. Just such a goal occurred to me, coincidentally, on New Year’s Day of 2009. I thought it was a pretty good idea, so I ran it by my husband. “Honey,” I said, “do you think we can go the 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?