On Foraging, Free Folk, and Cranberries

A couple of weeks back, Sara and I went foraging for cranberries. Cranberries grow wild all over Cape Breton—particularly in boggy/wet/moist places on and around cliffs beside the ocean. So picking cranberries can be a rather picturesque activity, especially if the weather’s warm like it was when we went picking. I ended up picking a full bag of berries—probably at least a couple of pounds worth (Edit: almost 4 pounds!). And there’s plenty more out there.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about foraging, about gardening and living simply and sustainably, about how to best go about having a big life while making little money. When I quit my (shitty) job back in July, a lot of people asked me, in a kinda panicked way, “But, what will you do?” as if working a job is all one can do. Then one day I bumped into a former colleague and before I could even explain to her what I’d be doing post-shitty job, she simply said, “you’re a writer.” And I was all, omg! I am! Writing may not make me a tonne of money, but it does make me happy, and being happy is a hell of a lot more important than working a misery-inducing but well-paying job.

It’s not something a lot of people think. Even though everyone wants to be happy (I mean, no one would say, hey, I’d rather be unhappy), most people work far too much, give too much to their jobs, and neglect the parts of their life that are meaningful and non-job, that actually make them happy (i.e., family, community, exercise). Lots of people know they’re too busy, and yet, no one does anything to slow down, simplify, and be happy. Sadly, most people would rather have money than time, and believe that a steady pay cheque and full time job are the keys to happiness. But, guess what? They’re not and our communities, and health, are suffering.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s super scary to quit a job, especially when there’s bills to pay and mouths to feed. But what if there was a way to pay those bills without selling your soul to a lousy job? What if we fed those mouths with the food we grow ourselves, in our own backyards, or with food we find, growing wild and ripe for the picking, just in our neighbourhoods?

I’ve been gardening since 2007, but this year was the first time I transitioned from hobby, part-time gardener to full-time urban homesteader. I’ve been reading a lot of books about (garden) season extension, permaculture, foraging, and transforming from a household of consumption to production. I now grow almost all my own vegetables, and, next spring, I hope to get some chickens and produce my own protein (eggs!). For food I can’t grow or source locally, I try, as often as I can, to source ethically. I barely go to the grocery store these days, except to buy dairy. We’ve even been thinking about growing grains to make beer and bread, but we’ll see how we do with the chickens first.

This is how I want to live my life: as simply, sustainably, resiliently, and cheaply as possible. I’ve paid off my debts and dug up the grass in my backyard to make room for a garden. I’ve stopped buying things and am getting rid of stuff. Living this way isn’t hard, but it takes time and energy. And the time and energy I spend to live simply, is, by far, the best, most rewarding time.

I really believe that anyone can live this way. Whether you live in the country or the city, there are ways to be more productive and less consumptive. When our society wants us to buy more, perhaps it’s better to buy less and make more.

‘Cause I’m a writer, I’m going to write about this. I want to show people it’s easy to live this way. We now live in a post-employment economy—while living simply is, right now, a choice, it may, very soon, become a necessity. Instead of panicking and thinking, what will I do? if you lose or quit your job, you can, instead, think, confidently, this is what I will do. I will live simply.

In George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, the Free Folk (or, Wildlings) are the people who live north of the Wall. They differentiate themselves from “kneelers”—people beholden to a king they do not choose. The Free Folk kneel to no king, women fight alongside men in battle and are treated as equals, and they believe the earth and everything on it should be shared equally among all people. It’s what I like to refer to myself these days—as a free folk, someone who kneels to no one. Just, I’ll probably live with a few more amenities than Martin’s Free Folk, and hopefully there’s no ice zombie Others coming at us (unless you liken the Others to climate change, but, that’s a whole other post).

What’s all this have to do with cranberries? Well, those cranberries I picked? They're free, folks! And cranberries are loaded with vitamin C, which is pretty important to eat in the winter. Winter is coming, as the Starks like to remind us. Time to stock up on cranberries. I’m sure the road ahead, to a simpler, happier life, will be, well, unpredictable. I’ll need all the healthy snacks I can find.