Possum Living is to Feral Cuisine what Jet is to The Rolling Stones.
A cheap imitation. A commercial knockoff. Dolly Freed’s sustainable living manifesto makes my sustainable food tract read like an exercise in pretension. Possum Living is sustainable food, sustainable housing, sustainable life, all without a job.
This shit is extreme. And it makes me excited as hell.
So this gal Dolly Freed, she was about eighteen when she wrote this, in 1978. She and her dad had been living without a steady income for about four years, I believe. They grew vegetables. They fished. They raised rabbits and chickens. They used a wood-burning stove. They made moonshine. And they did it on a half-acre lot in suburban Pennsylvania.
Possum Living is not a how-to manual. Hell, I bet that’s part of Dolly’s purpose: you can’t explain everything that she and her father do to survive—you just do it, and figure it out along the way. I bet the Freeds didn’t have a map or guide when they went on this adventure. They just went.
There are some parts of the book that give me pause, so let’s get that out of the way. First off, Ms. Freed recognizes that going full-on possum requires that you own your house and land, and have it all paid off. Paying rent or mortgage requires steady income.
Second, there’s a chapter about using intimidation to head off legal and bureaucratic threats to your lifestyle. Ms. Freed suggests anonymous phone calls, cutting phone lines, and poisoning dogs (if they’re mean-tempered). There’s also a note in this 2009 edition that she now regrets writing this chapter.
Third, possums are gross.
Then there are the parts of the book that make me rethink what is possible in my life. I can use so much of this material to explore new possibilities in sustainable food and living. The big three that caught my eye are rabbits, fishing, and moonshine.
RAISING RABBITS FOR FOOD
The Freeds kept four breeding rabbits, three females and a male, in cages in their basement. Once the rabbits were bred and the young weaned, they kept the young rabbits in a big herd on the basement floor until they were big enough to be worth eating. They fed the rabbits on clippings, weeds, and vegetable waste.
This setup gave them about 300 pounds of meat per year.
Does that strike you like it does me?? Three HUNDRED pounds of quality meat, raised on fresh greens, without antibiotics or chemicals, in a fourteen-by-seventeen-foot space?
Forget blogging, I think I might start myself a rabbit farm.
Meat is one of the elements in my diet I’m still not completely comfortable with. The meat I can afford is standard factory-farm chicken and pork, and (rarely) beef. I love meat, and I don’t have a moral problem with eating animals, but I do have a problem with animals raised under inhumane conditions.
The idea that I can raise meat myself, cheaply and in a small space, to my own ethical standards, tickles the hell out of me.
FISHING THE KAW
I’ve toyed with the idea of regularly fishing for food before. But Possum Living gave me a real push; the Freeds got most of their protein from fish they caught themselves.
There aren’t any stocked lakes anywhere near me. But there is the Kansas River (aka The Kaw), that intersects with another river, the Missouri. These are not streams; steamships once navigated down these rivers. The waters are full of catfish, carp, buffalo, and even sturgeon.
I’m gonna do it. I already asked my wife if she would eat a fish from the Kansas River, and after a frown and a sigh, she shrugged and said, ‘I guess.’
That’s all I need!
WINE AND MOONSHINE
Yup, I know moonshining is dangerous. But Ms. Freed makes it seem so easy…
Okay, maybe moonshine won’t happen for a while. But I’m all about trying out her recipe for wine.
Grape juice and yeast. That’s all wine is. That’s all it was before it got all snooty. It can’t be worse than Natty Light, right?
I just need a big glass jug, and I think I know where I can find that.
I’m excited about this year. I want to raise rabbits. I want to catch fish. I want to grow vegetables. I want to make wine. I want to figure out what real DIY food tastes like.
If you’re interested on what havoc living like a possum will wreak on my life, you should stay tuned. It won’t be boring.