Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Smelt Run Lessons

Recently I watched an artistic view on our food source called "Our Daily Bread". A look at our mass-producing food industry and I have to tell you, even I was shocked at some of the things shown.

One night I was discussing the documentary and my children overheard what I was saying. They were curious and wanted to watch it as well. I was hesitant at first, because I want my kids to eat their food. But after talking with them, I thought it would be good for them to know where their food comes from and how it goes from an animal to the styrofoam plastic wrapped pieces of meat in the supermarket.

Easter Weekend, we planned on taking the kids smelt fishing. Something we haven't done as a family as we always miss the times they run. But we were in luck this year, they were just starting to run down the small stream on our lake. We explained to them how it would all go down, what they had to do and they were quite excited.

Ironically, that was the night we watched the documentary on our food source... it was their choice to watch and they had many questions afterwards. So it was fitting that we went smelt fishing to catch our breakfast for the next morning. A continuation of what they learned in the documentary and why I choose to buy locally from farms and grow my own food.

When we arrived at the smelt run location, there were already about 10 other people there. Some of them we knew and some were new friends we made that night. It was quite the social event and we enjoyed it very much. Unfortunately, we didn't have all the proper equipment to catch the little fish and everyone was willing to pass on their nets to the kids to catch a few. They had to be patient and learn the technique of catching them as they swam upstream. One of the men even waded through the culvert to scare the spawning fish over to us. The kids had a blast. We caught about a dozen of the fish and since I was the designated cleaner, I was quite happy with that number.

This started conversations of hunting and fishing, about catching your own food and knowing where it comes from. My kids were listening in and absorbing the conversation. When it was time to go home, about 11pm, one of the guys dumped his pail into ours so we would have more fish... I thought it was nice, but really all I could think of was, I had to clean more fish!

On the way back, both kids started to ask if they could keep a few as pets, that they were not sure if they wanted to kill them. Although most of them were already dead, the realization that their heads had to be cut off and cleaned started to hit home for them. This is where the lesson of the law of nature started. Talking about taking an animal's life is one thing, but when it comes time to actually do it, is another. We talked about having respect for the animal, that if you are to take a life, you are thankful for it, give thanks for the animal to give up its life so you can sustain yours. And that you only take what you need or what the population can handle. This goes for plants as well as they are living creatures too .

We got home, got our knives, scissors, bowls and cleaned the sink to make way for the process. As they picked up the first fish to clean, they examined it. My daughter remarked how silvery it was and my son looked at the eyes, gills and fins. Then they started questioning if they could eat them, that these once alive creatures that they caught was soon to look like the fish they see in the supermarket, but something changed. They now had a connection with these animals. That they are living creatures that had to give up their life. The air changed from excitement of bringing home the catch to respect and connection to just where our food comes from. A real appreciation of the food. They each took turns cleaning a few fish and although they were wondering just if they could eat it. I turned to them and asked how this is different from eating the fish we buy from the supermarket, or that Grandpa brings to us all filleted and in a package? The connection becomes deeper and they realize that the difference is that they themselves caught it and cleaned it. That they have connected to the source.

Ah, a great experience for the kids. My daughter soon became turned off eating them, and I just said to her, "why don't you just think about how you are feeling and tomorrow try just one and go from there."  I am sure she dreamt about the whole ordeal.

The next morning, we got the smelt out and lightly battered them and fried them. My daughter even helped in the cooking. At first she was only going to try one. She wasn't sure if she would like it. And what about the bones? What are you suppose to do with them? Well eat them of course.

Time to eat them, my daughter tried one and she loved them. As we ate them, we again discussed what goes in to feeding us and where our food comes from. They still were not sure of the bones and my daughter ate the fish like corn on the cob, with just the bones left with the tail.

Both my children have more respect, understanding and conservation of our food sources, whether they come from a farm, a grocery store or we harvest ourselves. They are now connected and understand the law of nature and want to live by it. Thank you smelt, for solidifying the connection.

Tonight, we will go back to harvest another dozen. This time, I am letting my son and daughter clean them.


  1. LOVE that you had your kids involved in the fishing to cleaning and cooking the food that was their meal. Showing and doing is more effective than just telling kids.

    1. Yes, I so agree Margaret. It was a powerful experience :)