On Aug. 3 it will officially have been one year since a Pender Island couple committed to only eating what they can grow, harvest, raise or catch themselves.
It’s a challenge Chris Hall, 38, and Stef Lowey, 24, spontaneously threw themselves into after the pandemic left them out of work and with an abundance of time. With grocery stores running out of some goods, the pandemic also made them especially aware of how reliant they were on corporations to feed them.
|The Pender Island couple said their challenge has forced them to eat healthier than ever. Here, they prepared cod topped with crab and homemade pesto with a side of salad and potatoes. (Courtesy of Chris Hall and Stef Lowey)
The first three weeks were the hardest, Hall said. Cutting out coffee, alcohol, sugar and wheat all at once was a shock to their systems.
It wasn’t long though before the two were taking joy in finding creative alternatives to their normal cravings and spending their days in tune with the natural environment around them.
Dandelion root, they found, was an acceptable replacement for coffee.
“It has an amazing flavour to it,” Lowey said. “Almost like a chocolatey coffee.”
Collecting their own hazelnuts, the couple was able to create a nut butter to fulfill Lowey’s craving for Nutella, and at one point they even fermented enough grapes to produce two small bottles of wine – neither of which lasted very long, Lowey laughed.
“You don’t think about those things at the grocery store – just how much effort and work goes into it,” she said.
Starting the challenge, Lowey and Hall had amateur skills in gardening, fishing, crabbing and prawning, but much of what they did meant learning on the fly.
|Two protein sources for Chris Hall and Stef Lowey over the last year have been seafood and eggs. (Courtesy of Chris Hall and Stef Lowey)
They learned to raise chickens, turkeys, ducks and pigs and then, with difficulty, how to butcher them too.
“It doesn’t get easier and it doesn’t feel better, but it gives you a really great appreciation for where meat comes from and just the bounty of nature,” Lowey said.
They raised bees, foraged for mushrooms and berries, and discovered native plants they could eat, like hostas and stinging nettle. Salt came from sea water, iodine from seaweed, and sweetener from stevia plants.
|Harvesting their own sea salt, Chris Hall and Stef Lowey quickly realized they would have to find their source of iodine – which is added to store-bought salt – elsewhere. Seaweed proved an abundant alternative. (Courtesy of Chris Hall and Stef Lowey)
Still, the couple said the year hasn’t been without its challenges. Their boat broke down in the middle of the ocean, sunflower seeds intended for making oil rotted, several crops failed and their greenhouse was destroyed in a storm.
Yet, Lowey and Hall said there hasn’t been a single time when they came close to buying something. The small community, they joked, is far too invested in their challenge to ever allow for them to slip up.
“I don’t think the pub would serve us a beer even if we asked for it,” Hall said chuckling.
Lowey said their biggest takeaway has been seeing firsthand how much waste comes from food packaging. At the three-month mark they were shocked to see they had only produced two small bags of garbage, the same amount they previously would have made in one week.
Having spent the majority of their days in the beginning and about half their days now working to feed themselves, Lowey and Hall said they have an entirely new appreciation for food. There are no more thrown out leftovers, Lowey said.
“Now we eat every single piece.”
The couple plans to pop open a bottle of champagne at 12:01 a.m. on Aug. 3 and have a week of celebration and indulgence with the community, but overall, Hall said, they’re going to continue producing as much of their own food as possible.
“We feel really incredible,” Lowey said.
The couple’s adventures can be followed on their YouTube channel, Lovin’ Off The Land.
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