It’s Easy Being Green
You can live a healthier life and
promote your love of the outdoors with five
By Bruce In gram
These days, three of the most common buzz words/catch phrases among the “green” movement are organic, sustainability, and carbon footprint. Given Ikes’ affinity for hunting, fishing, and conserving outdoor America, I would say that we have been “green” since long before it was fashionable.
Here are five things we should do more of to display our “green” bona fides plus live more healthfully and promote our love of the outdoors.
Sportsmen are the original organic meat eaters. After all, wild animals are naturally “free range,” and they are not fed antibiotics, growth hormones, or other drugs. Wild game has other health benefits: Few farmed meats are as high in protein, low in calories, and free of saturated fats as meats like venison.
There is no better way for veteran hunters to introduce people to our pastime than to tout the health benefits of wild game meat. The act of bringing meat home to the family is a timeless joy for anyone of any age and a marvelous way for novice sportsmen to share the outdoor experience with parents and family members. According to Responsive Management (a research firm specializing in natural resource and outdoor recreation issues), 85 percent of the general public approves of hunting for meat and more than 80 percent approve of hunting to manage wildlife populations.
When my wife, Elaine, was diagnosed with breast cancer, she hired a nutritionist to advise her which foods to consume more of and which to avoid. One of the things the nutritionist told her to eat regularly was wild game, especially venison. Venison now makes up about 90 percent of the meat we eat. (I supplement the venison with meat from wild turkeys, squirrels, and the occasional rabbit or grouse.) Not only does hunting feed my family and allow me to spend more time outdoors, I am also helping the game departments in Virginia and West Virginia manage a deer herd that is past carrying capacity in many areas.
I am a strong proponent of catch and release when it comes to species such as native brook trout that have suffered population declines and smallmouth and largemouth bass in rivers and lakes that receive heavy fishing pressure. But despite the widespread — and welcome — catch and release ethic that exists today, there is nothing wrong with bringing fish home for dinner in any number of situations.
For example, Elaine and I recently went fishing for trout in a warm stream where the fish had no chance to reproduce or even survive the summer. We gladly took home a “mess” of trout and they were delicious broiled. We also recently went fly fishing for bluegills in a local farm pond, where the owner encouraged us to catch and keep as many bluegills as we could because doing so would improve the overall health of the game fish within the pond.
At another pond that hosted too many smallish largemouths, we released every bass over a foot long and kept a half dozen or so under 10 inches. Baked with lemon and other seasonings, they were delectable, healthy, and an inexpensive meal. Other game fish that can often benefit from having their numbers reduced include catfish, crappie, and many species of sunfish. As is true with hunting, fishing for food is a great way to create enthusiasm for angling among novice adults and kids. And fresh fish are among the healthiest of foods. When it comes to reducing our carbon footprints, what better way to do so than to eat game and fish from near our homes?
Elaine and I have long had an organic garden and orchard, and it is becoming an increasingly important part of our desire to practice (here’s that buzz word again) a sustainable life style. This has led to a progressively bigger garden.
During the spring we dine on strawberries, asparagus, spinach, and onions from our garden, and during the summer we harvest tomatoes, potatoes, squash, and more onions. We also have a North Star cherry tree, and it has produced an average of six gallons of cherries annually for some 10 years now. For a fortnight in May, when the cherries are ripe, I gather berries every evening, which Elaine freezes and also uses to make preserves. As I write this, we have three gallons of frozen cherries in the freezer and about 10 pint jars of preserves in the pantry. Over the course of the coming year, the cherry preserves and frozen berries will be the source of numerous desserts. (I confess that some of the cherries ended up in pies and cobblers not long after I picked them.) These cultivated fruits, along with those we gather, ensure that we rarely have to buy fruit from the store.
In the summer and fall, I grab a quart or half-gallon bucket and take to the road, woods, and fields near our southwest Virginia home. In those places are a wealth of wild fruits that can be the main ingredients for pies, cobblers, jellies, jams, breads, and cookies. There is a wonderful, natural rhythm to the ripening of these foods. First the wild strawberries arrive in May, followed by raspberries in mid-June and wineberries in early July. Then come dewberries and blackberries, and by early fall, summer grapes, black walnuts, and mockernut and shagbark hickory nuts. In early October it’s pawpaw time, and some time in late October or early November, the previously mouth-puckering persimmon is prime to pick.
Wild strawberries top cereal with aplomb, blackberries make superior cobblers, wild grapes transform into a tangy jelly, and any kind of homemade bread tastes better with black walnuts or hickory nuts as part of the ingredients. Wild fruits are high in Vitamins A, C, and E as well as potassium, calcium, and flavonoids. And you can engage in this wholesome pastime of gathering food in just about any nearby woodlot or field. How’s that for leaving a small carbon footprint?
When Elaine and I were considering ways to lead a more sustainable lifestyle, one of the ideas we had — and implemented — was to rear chickens. Elaine’s nutritionist had told her to avoid poultry from factory farms where animals receive growth hormones, which are high in estrogen — something that is not good for breast cancer survivors.
From our research, we learned that eggs from organically raised chickens are rich in healthy omega-3 fatty acids and are high in vitamins A, D, and E plus beta carotene. So this past spring, we built a chicken run and coop and began raising 10 two-day-old chicks. We successfully reared eight of them to adulthood, kept all the hens for egg production, retained the dominant rooster for his protective instincts and other (shall I say “male”) abilities, and ate the other roosters.
As a bonus, our flock is supplying our organic garden with natural fertilizer (ahem, manure), and the flock prowls our yard for such beasties as ticks, ants, stinkbugs, and assorted insects that would inflict harm upon our garden and fruit trees. Who knows, at some point we may rear ducks, rabbits, or even a goat.
Perhaps the phrase that best sums up my lifestyle is “hunter gatherer,” which is what humans from 10,000 years ago and earlier have been labeled. I also like to call myself an organic hunter and angler.
We Ikes were “green” when green wasn’t cool, and it won’t take much additional effort for us to be even greener and promote our love of hunting and fishing as well as our conservation ethic. Now that’s a truly sustainable lifestyle that leaves a light carbon footprint.
Bruce Ingram, a life member of the Izaak Walton League, writes a weekly blog about the outdoors: http://www.bruceingramoutdoors.com/.
Photo credits: White-tailed deer and bluegill courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Cherries and berries courtesy of Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Chicken coop photo taken on Bruce Ingram's property.