While the title Chicken Poop for the Soul — in search of food sovereignty is a bit of a retread of the popular Chicken Soup series, the content definitely is not.
Author Kristeva Dowling penned what she sees as the “next step” to the 100-mile diet over an 18-month period at her home in Hagensborg in the Bella Coola Valley. Her goal was an attempt at “food sovereignty.”
“To grow all my own food. Can it. Preserve it. Learn to make cheese etcetera right down to butchering, hunting and fishing,” Dowling explained.
A mind-boggling feat for most but made all the more extraordinary considering the fact that Dowling had once been a vegan, didn’t have an agricultural background or experience with hunting and was occupied at the time with a full-time job in Saskatchewan which she “loved” but left to follow this new dream and chronicle that experience in a book.
Initially Dowling dreamed of all the free time she would have to pursue personal pleasures like reading books and riding her horse.
But the reality of providing for herself quickly sank in.
In the months that followed, Dowling read only “How-to” books and rode her horse a handful of times.
She also had had the idea of preserving produce, milking her goats, growing wheat, and harvesting yeast for bread by catching spores in a bowl of water and flour, which she accomplished.
But the former tasks were impossible without sugar, vinegar — and there was little time to make it —- and the Bella Coola climate isn’t conducive to growing wheat. So Dowling took to referring to those and a few other items such as olive oil, butter, wheat, coffee and chocolate as “support items” and purchased them from the grocery store.
At one point, Dowling attempted to make birch and maple syrup off her land but the length of time it took for the return — one quarter of a cup — got her thinking that syrup on grocery store shelves is “too cheap.”
She also dug up the front lawn of her four-acre home.
“I went out and bought seedlings right away …. and tucked them between the flower beds,” she said.
Dowling started with chickens and branched into turkeys, ducks and goats.
A more pressing challenge was butchering the animals she had raised; she says she got over that after her first hunting experience.
“I looked at the goats and I thought they’re just small deer, I can do this.”
And she did.
Hunting was a challenge, especially the first year; Dowling described herself as “terrified.”
“We came across a place where grizzly bears had marked all the trees. It was one of those moments when at first you think, ‘That’s beautiful and isn’t that neat’ and then the trajectory goes, ‘They (bears) are really out here and they’ve been right here.’ So I had this panic attack. I never said anything but I was sweating bullets and you’re mind goes what was I thinking wanting to learn how to hunt.”
That year she came back empty handed but the next was a different story when she killed a moose.
“On the last day at the 11th hour of the hunting season I got the moose. I got to butcher it. Field dressed it. It was amazing; it was exciting,” she said, adding she did feel remorse when she looked the creature in the eye.
“I apologized and thanked him. The second we got him turned over and were unzipping him out of his skin it was just, ‘I’ve got meat for my freezer.’”
Despite the challenges and the steep learning curve Dowling believes she ate better in that 18-month period than she would have had she purchased similar items from the grocery store.
She also believes many of the items she grew or butchered she would never have been able to afford commercially.
What also came out of the experience was an intense appreciation for Canada’s pioneers.
Dowling’s project and book is now complete. But what remains is a passion for helping farmers. She’s since moved from Hagensborg and at the time of the interview was farm sitting in Grande Prairie, Alta.
“What I learned about myself is I need a relationship with the land. I like my fingers in the dirt and I have to be growing things,” she said.
“I really didn’t expect to like hunting but I loved every minute of it. It’s one of those moments when you feel as close to being a natural human being on this Earth.”
Chicken Poop for the Soul — in search of food sovereignty is available at Chapters/ Indigo, Amazon and Coles; 3,000 copies have been published.
To read more about Dowling’s experiences visit howlingduckranch.com/blog.