BY THE MASKED BIOLOGIST
Special to the Star Journal
I spent my formative years living on a small farm in rural Outagamie County, Wisconsin, with my parents and five siblings. 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 fruits and vegetables. Any unclaimed chicks from the co-op came home with us, so we raised ducks, geese, chickens and turkeys, too.
We would pick up the occasional calf, lamb or pig from a farmer and raise it like a pet. In the summer, we would clean seemingly endless numbers of bluegills and freeze them in ice cream pails. We would follow produce trucks heading to the canneries, picking up the carrots, corn and cabbage they spilled. When fall came, the fruits were made into sauces and jellies, 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 fall and 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 has become known today as locavores.
“Eating locally makes perfect sense; you purchase your food where it is grown, which lowers shipping costs and makes food more affordable.”
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, mushrooms 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 freezers.
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 state natural resources 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. My brother isn’t usually 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. Wild game is rich in nutrients, low in fat and cholesterol. There are no hormones, chemicals or antibiotics administered to wild animals. Collecting fruits, edible plants and harvesting fish and game is not only a healthy sustainable organic way to get your necessary vitamins, minerals and proteins but also lets you get back to your hunter gatherer roots by playing a role in bringing food to your family’s table.
The Masked Biologist earned a Bachelor of Science degree from a university with a highly regarded wildlife biology program. His work in natural resource agencies across the country provided opportunities to gain experience with a variety of common and rare fish, plant and wildlife species. Follow The Masked Biologist on Facebook. Email questions to MaskedBiologist@charter.net.