For all of 2017, Alexia Allen and Daniel Kirchhof ate only foods that were gathered by hand.
It sounds like an awe-inspiring feat to most people. But to the Woodinville couple, it’s not that crazy.
“It’s actually what humans have done for most of human history,” Allen said. “It used to be the only way to eat.”
Allen and Kirchhof grow most of their food on their own land, now dubbed Hawthorn Farm. That means grains like buckwheat and barley and vegetables like squash, potatoes, and onions. They keep chickens, ducks, rabbits, dairy goats, and they even had a cow for a short stint.
“Right now, I’m looking out at kale, Brussels sprouts, leeks, cauliflower,” Allen said. Their greenhouse hosts a variety of salad greens year-round.
“It’s super delicious. There’s nothing quite like the vine-ripened tomato right out of the front yard,” Kirchhof said.
Allen and Kirchhof didn’t decide to take the plunge into local eating out of nowhere. The challenge started about six years ago, with baby steps, Kirchhof said.
The idea originally came from a student of Kirchhof’s at Twin Eagles Wilderness School in Idaho who committed to eating wild foods for a month. After that, the notion stuck.
During the first year, Allen and Kirchhof set aside two days to eat only hand-harvested foods. The next year, it was a week. Then two weeks. Then a month.
“It was so much fun that we just wanted to keep going,” Kirchhof said. “It’s transformed the way that we live our daily lives.”
Over the course of six years or so, they expanded their garden and added to their family of farm animals.
“We basically kind of transformed the yard from a suburban yard into a food zone,” Kirchhof said.
There were some things the couple couldn’t grow in their yards though. Salt, for example, they had to get from the ocean.
“We would go out and just dip up buckets of the cleanest seawater we could find, then bring it home and evaporate off the water and end up with precious jars of sea salt,” Allen explained.
Sweeteners were tough too. Allen tapped some neighborhood maple trees for syrup and beekeeping neighbors donated honey.
And there were things they had to give up altogether, like caffeine, peanut butter, and beer. Wheat bread, too, was mostly replaced with handmade cornbread or buckwheat pancakes.
In 2018, Allen and Kirchhof are keeping their hand-gathered-only food commitment, just with slightly looser rules.
“We basically decided we don’t have a lot of interest in going back to a grocery store,” Allen said. “We’ve almost gotten spoiled in the best possible way.”
This year, however, they won’t have to turn down dinner offers or reject gifts of food that wasn’t harvested by hand.
“I’m glad to not have the same strict boundaries around it,” Allen said.
For those who want to try a similar challenge but are afraid they don’t have the time or the space, Kirchhof suggested starting small.
“Anything worth doing is worth doing well small-scale,” he said. “It’s not everybody’s goal to do what we did.”
For example, plant a tomato plant or commit to growing your own lettuce for a few months out of the year.
“Yes it takes time and it takes attention, but that’s also building a relationship with the land and with the community,” Allen said. She also suggested getting kids involved if you have them. “Sharing the processes of staying alive is a great thing for humans to do.”
To find out more about Hawthorn Farm, visit hawthornfarm.org.