Food vacation time results in long term benefits
In the Local Digest last month we talked about some definitions of what local can mean with regards to food. But really, the best version of “local” is what you can grow, harvest, process, and put-up by yourself.
In an attempt to find ways to make my food more local through my involvement, I have turned to combining fun and a break from the “norm” with providing myself with food: Enter the local food vacation. I call it food vacation rather than a “sustainable” vacation or an “eco-friendly” vacation because, while those vacations do leave less of an environmental imprint, they often involve dining out, tours, retreats, and spas. Many cater to the ever-increasing number of folks who want local and/or organic fare, but I want to get my hands dirty and stock up on food I would have to buy otherwise.
Now, there are two ways that I take my local food vacations: One type is combining a vacation – whether a day, a week, or longer – with harvesting food for myself and putting it by for later. The other is when I learn a skill I can then use in my daily life, or on future food vacations, to provide food for myself and my family with as little environmental, financial, and social impact as possible. With either type, if you are using paid time off for these vacation, your benefits double as you are getting paid to provide yourself with food for months to come.
For this month's column, I will focus on the first type of food vacation and describe 3 different ways to combine harvesting food with a vacation.
My Biannual Fishing Vacation
In the spring and fall my boyfriend and I head to Florida’s west coast to stay for 7 to 10 days of fishing. The purpose of this trip is to have a great time, but also to stock up on the fish we will eat – and share with friends – for the next 6 months or so.
We plan the trip carefully so it occurs out-of-season, with little going on in the town, and during good tides and moon phases.
We check in with the fishing regulations and the local realtor we rent our vacation house from to learn anything extraordinary – good or bad – with the fish species we are interested in catching.
The house is on the water, has a second-floor balcony facing west, a dock, and two, working crab traps.
Here is a typical day on one of these vacations: Wake up and check the tides, morning activities of the “local residents” (i.e. the critters); make coffee, toast and jam, fishing sammies; stock the cooler; check the crab traps; get bait; fish until near sunset; someone gets a line in the water off the dock and fishes through the evening; clean fish, crabs; vacuum seal fish, crabs or put in bags (we re-use fish bags after having soaked them in a vinegar solution and washing several times), label and freeze; make dinner; take showers; pass out, feeling accomplished.
Seafood we have caught and put by on our vacations include sea trout, red fish, croakers, catfish, lady fish (for pressure canning for fish on crackers), blue fish, shark, mackerel, mullet, and the occasional monster pin fish (a tasty critter when smoked on the BBQ). We do this vacation to have more of a relationship with our seafood, but also to understand the whole-system impact of what just the two of us consume.
This vacation has taught us to appreciate better quality of our food while consuming less. It has also taught us the amazing degree and necessary balance of nature’s inputs to create a pound of fish, as well as our own, human inputs to be able to catch it. It has helped us appreciate that nature can heal, but there are a finite number of resources when there is over-consumption and environmental mis-management, whether from a commercial or recreational standpoint.
My Personal Monthly Harvest Day
Another get away I treat myself to is the my Monthly Harvest Day where once or twice a month from September-May I schedule a day off of to volunteer with the Cognito Farm in Starke to help harvest their meat chickens.
I learned my basic chicken processing skills while on another, longer apprenticeship-vacation in Maine. Since then, I have fine-tuned my skills through the almost three years I have been volunteering at this farm. We meet for coffee in the morning – there are usually about 7 to eight of us. The farmer puts lunch in the oven on a timer – always some fabulous meal with farm meat and vegetables from their garden or one of the farmers’ markets they vend at, and then we get to work.
While we work through the day we talk about farm news, share bits of agricultural wisdom, and discuss what’s going on in our lives. Those of us who are younger benefit from listening to women older than us tell of their life experiences. We break for our delicious lunch and return to work to finish up the day.
At the end of the day, for my efforts, I “go shopping in their freezers” – I am paid in beef, pork, and chicken – the equivalent of a living wage.
But there are benefits beyond the high-quality meat supply for these visits:
> I continue to better a skill very valuable to me since I am a meat eater.
> I am very close with my food and the people who grow it.
> I have a sense of community and shared life with a group of folks who have given me so much through my association with them.
> I learn more about farmers’ perspectives first-hand, which helps inform my non-profit work.
The Popular 'Stay-cation'
It seems like more and more of my friends and acquaintances choose 'Stay-cations' to take time off from work (often paid) to simply stay at home, catch up on work around the house, hang out in their pajamas all day, see all the friends and family they are normally too busy to see. Often this stay-cation includes one, short day-trip.
But the stay-cation can also be about local food, especially if well-timed. Take the opportunity to plan a stay-cation – of whatever duration – to set up a garden, build a chicken coop, create infrastructure for a small flock of meat chickens, visit and volunteer at a local farm, learn how you can become more involved in your food, attend a workshop, or plan how you will use vacation time to put food in your freezer, on your shelves, or growing in your backyard; and to put new skills in your toolbox.
When planning your next vacation -- or stay-cation -- consider how you can put new skills in your toolbox to sustainably feed yourself and your family.
Want to know more about what’s local and what local means in our community? The Local Digest is a monthly piece on all things local in North Central Florida, from food to economics to environment to community. Local, you see, isn’t just a way of buying or a way of eating: it’s a whole system of the social, economic, and environmental values that mark the character of where we live, and how we seek to improve the health of those values. This is a column about sustaining our region and what we love most about it.