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Tamar Haspel Headshot

First-hand Food: Aiming for Self-sufficient? Do the Math.

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If you're not growing, raising, hunting, foraging, or fishing your own food, you're behind the curve. Chickens and gardens, pigs and turkeys, rods and guns, are all showing up at the homes of what used to be milquetoast supermarket shoppers.

My husband Kevin and I are knee-deep into it. We've got a chicken coop that's nicer than our guest room, a hoophouse to extend our growing season, and poultry everywhere. Although our hunting has not been as fruitful as we'd like, our fishing is pretty solid (it helps that we live on Cape Cod). We even have a small oyster farm.

We don't aspire to actual self-sufficiency -- we're too attached to both interconnectedness and coffee -- but we are trying to get some non-trivial portion of our food first-hand. As we closed down 2011, I wondered how we did, so I did the math. I figured out the caloric needs of two large, active adults (about 5000 calories per day, given that we both ended the year a couple pounds heavier than we started), and added up the rough caloric contribution of everything we harvested.

I started off optimistic as I added up the fish, eggs, and the turkeys and ducks we raised, but it was downhill from there. Even a pretty good tomato crop adds up painfully slowly. And those thirty pounds of leafy greens? Dispiritingly low-calorie.

Here's the complete tally:

  • Poultry 48,500
  • Eggs 22,500
  • Fish 87,000
  • Shellfish 12,000
  • Winter squash 10,000
  • Tomatoes 3200
  • Greens 3000
  • Other vegetables 8300
  • Fungi 1500
  • Miscellenia 1000

All told, that's 197,000 calories, almost exactly 11% of our yearly caloric needs. Eleven lousy percent! (If you're interested in the gory details, I posted a complete breakdown on my blog, Starving off the Land.)

Granted, there's more to it than that. There is, for us, a profound satisfaction in harvesting our own food, and a fresh bluefish or a perfect Brandywine is worth more than just its calories. But still, for all the time and effort we put in, I thought we'd do better than eleven lousy percent.

If you're in the self-sufficiency, or homesteading, or even farting-around-in-the-garden business, do you have any idea what your number is? If it's high, I want some suggestions. If it's low, we can commiserate.

Up until this year, we've aimed to eat at least one food each day that we get first-hand. This year, our goal is changing. In 2012, we're trying to get 20.12% of our calories from food we harvest. Call it 20%; this is an imprecise enterprise.

So, Kevin and I are aiming to get 20% of our food first-hand in 2012, almost twice what we did in 2011. We could use some moral support here. Anyone want to join us?

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