By Joe Mullin, New England States Coordinator, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation
At a time when hunting is experiencing an overall national decline in participation, many organizations are now focusing on recruiting and retaining new participants. A lot of the focus is placed on recruiting youth, and rightly so; however, adults should not be overlooked in these efforts. In recent years. there has been an increase in both the locavore and farm-to-table movements. More than ever before, Americans want to have more of a connection with the origins of their food. These movements provide the sportsmen’s community with an important, new opportunity to recruit adults to hunting and angling who may have been resistant or lacked an interest in the past.
In the simplest of descriptions, the locavore movement places a geographical limitation on the distance between the sites from which the food was harvested and the place in which it was purchased. The most common radius is within 100 miles, but such limitations vary depending on numerous factors, such as regional location and personal preference. The core trait that locavores share is the restrictions they place on themselves to consume only locally grown or raised foods. Whether the reason is for taste, environmental reasons (reducing their carbon footprints), health, humanitarian purposes, or to stimulate the local economy, it does not matter – buying local is the only requirement.
The farm-to-table movement is the focus on purchasing locally-grown or raised (usually organic) food. Citing similar participation preferences as locavores, those who take part in the farm-to-table movement appear to take the decision a step farther and purchase their food directly from the source – the farmer/producer – or raise it themselves.
Local foods are commonly available at farmers’ markets, food cooperatives, and often times in your neighborhood grocery stores. Supermarkets are recognizing the growing demands of their customers, and with the increasing size of the locavore movement, many grocery stores have sought to accommodate the consumer preferences. In the United States, there are over 4,000 farmers’ markets. Reflected in a 2006 U.S. Department of Agriculture survey, sales at these markets spiked roughly $112 million in sales over a four-year period, hitting $1 billion in 2005.
As more individuals begin focusing on the origins of their food, there is a strong case to be made for these groups being targeted for hunting recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) efforts. With a conscious consideration as to where their food comes from, it’s logical that locavores and farm-to-table participants would include the source of their proteins when making dietary choices. The Wildlife Society Bulletin released a study, through which it reached out to subscribers of a New York-based locavore movement magazine, Edible Finger Lakes, to gauge their potential to become hunters. Astonishingly, over 3/4 of survey participants stated that they would be interested in hunting.
While the potential to greater incorporate these individuals into the R3 movement exists, the survey also revealed that a very low number of the subscribers actually hunted. This divide highlights that there is an entire sect of the population that has the wherewithal to consider the origins of their food, but has yet to tap into the purest form of harvesting/consuming animal proteins: hunting. Though this survey doesn’t speak for the entire locavore movement, it offers some insight into a quickly growing consumer trend.
The conservation community, consisting largely of hunters, anglers, recreational shooters, and related industries, is the driving force for state-level fish and wildlife management funding. These sportsmen and women supported the use of funds from an excise tax on firearms and ammunition – along with the dedicated revenue from hunting and fishing licenses – to be used exclusively by state fish and wildlife agencies to professionally manage fish and wildlife populations and provide access and enjoyment for sportsmen and the larger public. This funding mechanism is known as the American System of Conservation Funding; a unique “user-pays, public-benefits” program. The key benefits of this funding include: abundant fish and wildlife populations, access to public lands and clean waters, improved fish and wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, wetland protection and its associated water filtration and flood retention functions, improved soil and water conservation, shooting ranges, and boating access facilities that are available for the enjoyment of all Americans – hunters and non-hunters alike. All considered, those who are conscious about the origin of their food may be glad to know that hunting is one of the chief forms of funding for fish and wildlife management, and if further educated on this issue may use this fact as justification for trying it for themselves.
Since the 1980s, national hunting participation has been on a decline, presenting a significant threat to fish and wildlife management funding. Therefore, it is essential that the hunting community recruits non-hunters, educates them on the benefits offered through hunting participation, and works to sustain their participation in these pursuits. Recruiting locavores and other food-cognizant individuals within the hunting community has the potential to combat these downward-trending participation numbers, as well as inject the hunting population with a new group of contributors who have a heightened awareness and appreciation for the origins of their food.
There doesn’t seem to be a more prime example of a food-conscious individual stepping into the world of hunting than Tovar Cerulli. Tovar was a vegan who purchased locally-sourced foods and performed his due diligence in researching where his food originated. There came a point when Tovar had to supplement his diet with other sources of protein, which resulted in his reembracing fishing. Naturally, an interest in hunting soon followed. Having made this transition, Tovar is an outspoken advocate and inspiration for those who are interested in stepping into the world of hunting.
As a sportsman who participates in both angling and hunting, I take a significant amount of pride in having the opportunity to eat the food that I personally harvested. I wouldn’t say that I’m a locavore or a farm-to-table participant per se, but I am appreciative of the ability to consume food that was raised/grown within my region. It’s up to the hunting community to embrace these groups and to educate them on the benefits of harvesting their own protein.