The Honor System & Head-to-Tail Eating with Steve Berk, by Tara Pettit, Photo by Ryan Benyi
“Being connected to your food” certainly takes time, planning, and a focused dedication to the entire process of procuring your food, as a day in Steve Berk’s life clearly reveals. It also takes a deep understanding of how the process works in tandem with biological cycles and seasons.
A trip to a national chain supermarket where you can purchase tomatoes at 2am in the dead of winter, while convenient, is not quite in sync with any society’s natural biological cycles that are pre-determined by the ongoing cycles of seasons and climates. Because Steve prioritizes both hunting and growing his own food, as well as buying from local farmers, he also emphasizes eating what is readily available on farms during that season.
Consequently, Steve’s grocery route looks much different than the average American’s. It’s more like a traveling adventure from one family’s farm to another for just a handful of staple items like a carton of fresh-produced milk, jumbo-sized eggs with a blue hue to them, and paper-wrapped cuts of beef—all stored in refrigerators that are housed in unmanned, outdoor shed-like buildings that operate under the “honesty policy.”
The first stop in Steve’s grocery adventure was for milk at Swallow Hill Jersey Dairy, a local Clinton County dairy farm owned and operated by the Fliehman family. Like most of the community’s local businesses, the necessities were all present to have an up and running “24-hour convenience store:” a small shed, running refrigerators to keep the milk chilled, a tin can to collect money, and a log sheet to record inventory.
“What I love about all the farms I go to is that they’re all under the honor system,” Steve says. “It can be difficult to both farm and market your product, so this is a way to effectively do that. Also, people are really concerned about how their food is produced now. Actually going to the farms allows you to really see your food.”
Steve regularly gets to see, interact with, and develop close relationships with all the producers of his food, as well as the food itself. Whether it’s through this his own personal hunts or his local farm stops for groceries where the chickens are roaming the yard and the Jersey cows are out grass-feeding in the fields, he knows exactly where his food is coming from and, even more importantly, is empowered to be actively engaged in the process.
The next grocery stop was for some freshly-laid eggs and beef at another local family farm. Similar to the dairy farm, it maintained a “come and go as you please” honor system that was honestly upheld by members of the community happy to be supporting their neighbors and local economy.
Steve assures that deep and fulfilling benefits await when you actually slow down and take the time to really make the way you eat an important process in your daily life.
“It’s so rewarding to make the effort with your food,” Steve says. “When you’re cooking with local food or something you’ve grown or hunted for yourself, it’s just awesome. When you buy locally, you’re not just taking care of yourself, but you’re supporting everything around you.”
The last stop before heading home was to the “convenience store of all convenience stores” in the farmers market world. Right in the middle of the city of Wilmington sits a tiny shack of a store stocked with local farmers’ produce for those who sign up for a membership. Members are able to get access to whenever they want with the swipe of a card to shop for their produce, leaving the appropriate amount of cash behind. The little market stands as a beacon of hope in the fight to shop local and support slow food, even if our schedules may not be so slow and require a late night stop at the “convenience store.”
It was a peaceful and relaxed drive back to Cherrybend Pheasant Farm after a day of grocery shopping: windows down, Lulu, Steve’s hunting dog, hanging out in the back, and fresh-off-the-farm foods in tow, ready to be made into meals that can be rewardingly be stamped with the local seal.
Preparing the catch is one of Steve’s favorite parts of his entire farm-to-plate food process.
Whether it’s dressing the meat from his hunt or chopping the veggies he got from the neighboring farm, Steve loves the immediate food preparation process and like with most of his routines surrounding food, engages in another practice atypical of most Americans when it comes to his meat: head-to-tail eating.
“It’s regaining popularity as sustainability is becoming more of a priority,” Steve says. “The rest of the world uses the entire animal. I always eat what I ethically harvest. I think it shows respect for the animal you’ve harvested.”
Head-to-tail eating out of respect for the animal is just another one of the many personal interactions with his food Steve closely involves himself in—interactions that weave in and out of a larger web of people and animals and relationships, all brought together by the collective effort to engage with food in a sustainable way.
Although there are many interactions in the entire food process, they are all rooted in a respect and appreciation for the land that sustains it all.
Read more about Steve and his philosophy on hunting and living off the land in our fall issue