Being A "Locavore" In The Northwoods

Aug 24, 2020

Are you somewhat of a locavore? Many Northwoods residents are. In this episode of Wildlife Matters the Masked Biologist points out the benefits of hunting and gathering locally.

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 roadside, 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 have become known today as locavores.

Locavore is a term used to describe someone interested in buying, harvesting, or collecting 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? Plus, here in 2020, given the challenges brought about by the global pandemic, being a locavore makes that much more sense. With the notable lack of affordable meat at the grocery store right now, it would be nice to have access to the variety of protein I had as a child. I admit, the fish and game I bring home is not free by any stretch of the imagination. I have to buy licenses and gear, bait and bullets, and although I am a no-frills sportsman I assure you my hunting and fishing gear holds more accumulated value than anything else I own. That being said, I have chosen to spend discretionary funds like birthday checks and merit pay on those items, and I enjoy them even in years I don’t hunt at all. But when I bring home a turkey, grouse, or deer, we enjoy a feast that is unique compared to our more routine meals.

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 freezer.

Interestingly, hunters really focus on deer as their primary meat source gained from hunting. A Northwoods hunter can legally harvest a deer or two with a bow or firearm. The woods are teeming with edible wildlife, however, that are easily overlooked. Starting September 12th, 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 of Wisconsin that weekend, 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.

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.