I spent my formative years living on a small farm in Nichols, Wisconsin, with my parents, three brothers and two sisters. We didn’t farm for a living, but we put that farm to use. We rented out the pasture, boarded horses and ponies, and we raised poultry and vegetables. We would pick up the occasional calf, lamb or pig from a farmer and raise it like a pet.
When fall came, though, the crops were canned or sold, and the poultry and livestock (except the ponies) were butchered and put in the freezer to feed us through the winter. In the summer, we would clean seemingly endless numbers of bluegills and freeze them in ice cream pails. We would follow the produce trucks on their way to the cannery, picking up the carrots, corn and cabbage they spilled. In the winter, we would hunt rabbits, grouse and deer to supplement the meat supply. We were not subsistence living, but we were close. We were what have become known today as “locavores”.
Locavore is a term used to describe someone who buys, harvests or collects their food from a local source. Eating locally makes perfect sense; you purchase your food where it is grown, which lowers shipping costs and makes food more affordable. It also supports a local producer, keeping money in the local economy. As a biologist, though, it brings another dimension to my job; what better way to get local food than to collect it by hunting and gathering?
Being a locavore is actually pretty common in Northwoods culture. When I moved north, I learned from the locals about collecting various berries, hazelnuts, leeks and ginger. Hunting and fishing are also a huge part of our local culture; people rate their satisfaction with their seasons based on the fullness of their chest freezer.
Interestingly, hunters really focus on deer as their primary meat source gained from hunting. A Northwoods hunter can legally harvest two deer with a bow, and usually two or more deer with a firearm. The woods are teeming with edible wildlife, however, that are easily overlooked. Starting Sept. 15, open seasons in the north will include mourning dove, cottontail rabbit, squirrel, ruffed grouse, Canada goose and archery deer. There will be thousands of archery deer hunters in the woods that morning, but I suspect far fewer hunters will be out hunting squirrels and rabbits. Whatever the harvest, hunting provides local, healthy foods while boosting the state’s economy and natural resource management.
I don’t know of anyone who lives strictly off of harvested meat, but I know several who come pretty close. My older brother figures three deer is the minimum amount of venison needed to feed his family of four annually. That is supplemented by four wild turkeys, the occasional black bear, about a dozen ruffed grouse and an unspecified volume of walleye fillets. In the process, he purchases a Conservation Patron license, which supports resource management in the state. He buys trail cameras, hunting and fishing supplies and boat gas, which all carry a federal tax that comes back to Wisconsin to fund DNR staff and their work. He buys fish and wildlife habitat stamps, which directly fund habitat work. The antlerless deer license fees go to pay farmers and producers who have lost crops or livestock due to wildlife damage. Brad isn’t thinking about all that, though-he is having fun and filling his freezer.
Being a locavore has a lot of benefits for you, your neighbors and fish and wildlife habitat. If you have never hunted, but wish to learn, contact me or the local conservation warden, and we will get you in touch with a mentor or a “learn to hunt” program. A related note: the Rhinelander Youth Outdoor Heritage Day event is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 22. Contact me, Warden Jung, or stop in at Mel’s trading Post for information and an application.
Jeremy Holtz is a wildlife biologist with the Wisconsin DNR in Rhinelander, and writes a weekly column in the Star Journal. To contact him, call (715) 365-8999.