The Local Food Report: counting calories

I'm guessing a lot of you know my friend Tamar. Hunts ducks? Smokes bluefish? Big laugh? 

I've mentioned her here before—she's the one who taught us to make Cape Cod sea salt on our woodstove—and also the woman behind the very informative and often hilarious blog Starving off the Land. I like her because while she is in some obvious ways very much like me (into local food, gardening, and all things living-off-the-land), she is also very different. Most notably, she is good at math.

While I have often wondered how many pounds of potatoes, say, or black raspberries we've grown, and have even twice attempted a freezer inventory to keep track of what we put up each year, I have never managed to keep at it long enough to learn much. So I was very impressed when at the end of 2011, Tamar tallied up an estimate of what percentage of her and her husband Kevin's caloric needs they met with first-hand food last year.

I should backtrack to say that when Tamar uses the phrase "first-hand food," she is referring to anything she and Kevin grow, fish, gather, hunt, or otherwise procure from the water or land. It started as a challenge; she and Kevin moved here from Manhattan, and delighted by the abundance of natural resources around them, they decided as of January 1, 2009 that they would try to grow, hunt, fish, or gather at least one food every day. The blog grew out of this challenge, and this year Tamar's come up with a new goal: to meet 20 percent of their caloric needs with first-hand foods in 2012. 

Sounds easy, right? Ha. Despite the fact that they are way ahead of many of us when it comes to procuring their own food, Tamar and Kevin (according to Tamar's calculations) got only 11 percent of their food first-hand in 2011. Here's the breakdown:

Poultry: 48,500
They raised 6 turkeys, 6 ducks, and got one wild turkey via roadkill. 

Eggs: 22,500
About 25 dozen.

Fish: 87,000
This includes 10 striped bass, 25 bluefish, 4 trout, 4 sea bass, and 1 "magnificent" tuna.

Shellfish: 12,000
They caught 20 pounds of lobster, 10 Jonah crabs, and gathered/raised a gallon of steamers, 15 cups of chopped clams, and 500 oysters.

Squash: 10,000

Tomatoes: 3,200

Greens: 3,000
There were collards, kale, mizuna, radicchio, romaine, beet greens, Chinese greens, mache, catalogna, and herbs.

Assorted veggies: 8,300
This includes 1 quart of strawberries, 5 pounds rhubarb, 10 pounds beets, 6 pounds onions, 15 pounds cucumbers, about 6 cups of chopped hot peppers, 15 bell peppers, 10 eggplants, and 6 delicata squash.

Fungi: 1,500
5 pounds of shiitakes and 5 pounds of wild mushrooms.

Miscellaneous: 1,000
A handful of raspberries, a few tablespoons of honey, 10 figs, a few pine nuts, a handful of wild onions, two asparagus spears, several carrots, and a bunch of cattail shoots (not tasty, says Tamar).

The grand total comes to 197,000 calories. Since Tamar estimates that she and Kevin together eat about 5,000 calories a day, this means that to reach 20 percent this year they need to nearly double this. She figures that each month they need about 150,000 calories between the two of them, so they need to average about 30,000 first-hand calories every month to meet their 20 percent goal. 

So far, they're not quite there. January yielded 16,800 calories, mostly from eggs. February was better—18,500, but also mostly from eggs. Then again, that was January and February—hardly prime harvest months. They're looking for people to play along, so I tallied up our January and February harvest for fun. It consists of a single item—potatoes—about half of which Alex left in the ground and finally dug up last month. I estimated we got about 30 pounds, which according to the USDA is roughly 9,500 calories. So we're at 4,750 calories for January, and 4,750 for February. Using Tamar's same caloric needs estimate, that puts us at just over 3 percent.

If self-sufficiency is the goal, we have a long way to go. 


Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Elspeth, everything we do sounds better when *you* say it! Thanks so much for a lovely write-up, and for appreciating my math skills. But I feel compelled to point out that, if you're trying to get your own food, it's your hunting/foraging/gardening/fishing skills that really matter, I'm distinctly behind the curve on those. That's what keeps it interesting, I guess.

Elspeth said...

Well, I suppose that DOES matter a little...but I still think you're ahead of the rest of us in those departments. You are an inspiration to a lot of people, whether you realize it or not!

Bethany said...

I wonder if one can be too deep into this for all the counting, estimating, and guesstimating to make sense. Procuring our food is so deeply woven into the fabric of our lives, and has been all our lives. The big stuff we produce might be easy - 2 deer, 30-50 meat chickens, 2 dozen meat ducks, a dozen eggs a day, a gallon or more of milk a day and all the resulting cheese, a pig, fishing or clamming once or 5 times a week depending on the season, or from the gardens 200 pounds of onions, for example. But counting up the maple syrup, honey, daily teas, all the lard, grease, gravies and stocks in daily use... I think I'll skip this one.

Elspeth said...


I think in your case, yes! Reading about your adventures (for those of you who don't know, Bethany is at capenative.wordpress.com) makes me a bit jealous at times. I love to write and make radio and work at a restaurant, but I also love to be home and in my garden and it all takes time. You do an impressive amount. My goal this year, since I'll be home more with Sally and at the restaurant less, is to take very good care of the garden and fruit plants we already have so that we get the most possible out of them. Then maybe next year, we can move forward to...I dunno. Chickens? Ducks? At any rate, know that your efforts are inspiring.


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