The Hand-Harvested Food Challenge
by Alexia Allen of Woodinville, WA
In 2003, I moved to a house on 3 acres in suburban Woodinville, Washington, just northeast of Seattle. Chickens and a raspberry patch were about what I could manage along with a full-time job, but I made a game of eating something from my land every day of the year. I did this even before my home turned into Hawthorn Farm, when it was just a suburban house with some scraggly raspberry bushes and a weedy lawn. A dandelion leaf, a raspberry, a chive flower or green needles from a Douglas-fir tree — all these qualified as my daily taste of land and season. When I struck up a friendship and then a romance with a man in Montana, it was only a matter of time before his dedication to farm-fresh food spilled into my life.
Our romance was a courtship of meals. We feasted on his elk and my chickens, his squash and my raspberries, his home-made sauerkraut and my blueberry cobbler. During a visit to Hawthorn Farm in the winter of 2011, Daniel mentioned a fourteen-year-old student of his who had spent a whole month eating only foods gathered from the wild.
“Could we go for two days on the hand-harvested food we have here?’ he asked.
“Let’s give it a try!” I responded with my usual enthusiasm.
We assembled the ingredients on the table. A frozen chicken. Shriveled hazelnuts. Kale from the garden. A few squash. Dried nettles and fresh cedar fronds for tea. All in all it wasn’t terribly inspiring, but it was calorically viable. Hunger is well known to be a superlative sauce. We ate what we had and relished the flavor of integrity. Everything on that table had passed through our hands. We knew all the costs and calories associated with it. No hidden injustice, no questionable pesticides — only our skill and ability and knowledge of place. We felt joy at living in such an edible world.
We missed salt, we survived. We liked our two days. We generated no trash from the kitchen.
“Let’s do this again!” enthused Daniel. So we did, fitting what we dubbed the Hand-Harvested Food Challenge into his visits to my farm during the years he lived on the east side of the Cascade mountains and I was in western Washington. We tried it for a week here, a week there, throughout all seasons of the year. I thrived with the food-growing inspiration. How much kohlrabi could I grow? What about more greens? What were the caloric staples that could get us through the winter? Where are the apple trees in the neighborhood? A week here or there became two. We started thinking about a full year, a year that would see us eating with all the integrity we could muster through four seasons. Ever-sensible Daniel shaped the curriculum. “If we do one month at the start of 2015, and then one week a month for the rest of the year, we’ll be ready to do three consecutive months in 2016, and then 2017 will be our big year!” I have learned to pay attention to Daniel’s plans. They have an eerie way of coming true, including his move to Hawthorn Farm in October of 2014. It taps into my deep desire for food justice and connection, and a way to take those matters into my own hands. Literally my hands — though we have expanded our guidelines in subsequent years, we started with a strict parameter of only eating what he and I had gathered from the garden or the wild. Now we have expanded it to include food given or traded with friends — who show up with lovely contributions like home-made mushroom logs or buckets of ripe figs!