December 2011: My long-distance sweetheart, Daniel, visited me for a week. We’re both survival skills teachers, ready to rise to challenges. When Daniel suggested we do a pop quiz of eating only hand-harvested food for two days, I said, “Yeah!”
I knew we wouldn’t starve. We had a chicken for stew, some kale from the garden, the day’s offering of eggs from the surviving hens, and creativity. We didn’t have any salt, but we sure didn’t go hungry.
This tied in with a challenge that I had given myself for years of eating at least one food item from my land every day, even if it was just a taste. One dandelion leaf, a handful of raspberries, one chicken egg. The constant awareness opened my eyes to the edible world around me, and inspired me to steadily plant more food.
Defining a Hand-Harvested Food Challenge
Daniel and I had so much fun that we decided to try our challenge for a week the next time he visited. He returned with elk steaks, and I upped my garden game to provide more produce. This courtship of meals continued as our food challenge expanded over the next few years: Could we do two weeks? What about a month? What about a week out of every month of the year?
We didn’t run out of calories, but the main trouble was social. We suddenly had the most specialized diet of anyone we knew. Our friends pulled through with amazing food like cacao nibs and macadamia nuts from Hawai’i. The mom of one of our interns sent us giant avocados from her Miami garden. Friends on the coast brought us clams and kelp. There’s something profoundly nourishing about harvesting and sharing food, as you probably have experienced.
We decided to go for a whole year of only hand-harvested food in 2017.
Our gardens were set, the goats were dialed in, and we brought home gallons of seawater to evaporate into salt for making sauerkraut and cheese. I braved the Pacific Ocean in a rented kayak to gather kelp, because our years of preparation had taught me that the nutrients in sea vegetables balanced out deficiencies in our garden soil. If there is anything I’ve learned from the challenge, it’s that the health of the soil is directly tied to the health of my body. Amazing!
A Sustainable Wedding with Hand-Harvested Wedding Feast
Just to make the year more exciting, Daniel and I decided to get married and throw a hand-harvested feast for the occasion. With joyful chef friends cooking, we got to share a feast of grilled chicken, enormous salads, and tomato rabbit stew with over 50 guests. Marrying Daniel was the highlight of the day, but I also eagerly anticipated eating maple huckleberry cheesecake.
Three years after our challenge, we continue with a modified version. Our gardens keep growing to feed our expanding family. Honestly, we’re having too much fun to stop.
The grocery store occasionally gets our business for things we can’t grow (my morning mug of cocoa is a helpful ritual), but overall, we have shifted our diet in ways I would never have predicted 20 years ago. I remind myself that for most of human history, people have been eating from the land around them and surviving.
Find whatever access to earth you can — a container on your windowsill, a neglected apple tree in a vacant lot, a wild nettle patch or hazelnut grove — and nourish that connection to your food. It’s possible, delicious, and timely. Here’s to your resilient feasts!
Photo by Saskia Peck
Alexia Allen is a farmer, teacher and homestead orchestrator at Hawthorn Farm in Western Washington State. She taught at Wilderness Awareness School for 12 years before moving into farming full-time and enjoys a Renaissance woman life with something new every day of every season. Read all of Alexia’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.