Learning how to plan, provision, store, transport and prepare nourishing foods at home, when living off the grid, or when on the trail in remote locations is a foundational life skill as well as a job requirement for being a professional guide or outdoor instructor. The way you will learn this while with us is by doing it, day after day. No one is responsible for making sure you get enough of the foods you like to eat, prepared the way you like them, except you.
We provide no meals during our programs unless specifically stated in the course description. We do provide the staple foods listed below that students can cook for themselves. These are dry goods that we buy in bulk, and while it can be done it is not likely that you will be satisfied with a diet consisting solely of them.
Plan to purchase or bring any food items not on the staple foods list. As we’re off the grid and don’t have refrigeration, consider bringing a cooler as well for personal perishable items. The better coolers available today can keep ice for a week even in the heat of summer. On long programs, planning to resupply food once a week has worked well for people. In lieu of ice, you can use the water from our well to keep food cool – it comes out very cold, even on the hottest summer day. There is a grocery store and farm stand in Ashland, 9 miles away. There is also a farmer’s market in Presque Isle every Saturday, as well as several large grocery stores.
We believe that learning how to cook, feed and take care of yourself in the bush is one of the most important skill sets to learn.
There is ongoing instruction covering a variety of outdoor cooking techniques, including cooking over a fire, with a reflector oven, dutch oven, solar oven, fireless cookers, bean holes, fermentation (sauerkraut, kombucha), baking with sourdough, etc., but ultimately it is up to each individual student to make sure their food needs are met. At the beginning of each course we prepare and clean up after meals as a group so that everyone learns our systems for cooking, food storage and dish washing.
Cooking takes place over an open fire, in a solar oven, or on wood-fired rocket stoves. Bringing your own pot with a bail handle (see gear list) and cast iron dutch oven or skillet for personal use is required. We encourage people to bring their own propane or backpacking-style stove if they want to cook at their shelter or have an easy backup on rainy days. No open fires are allowed except in designated locations.
Food is stored next to the outdoor kitchen in bins and critter-proof containers; we encourage people to bring their own cooler to keep perishables. We occasionally have porcupines, raccoons and skunks in camp, and we almost always have squirrels, so we make sure that everything is cleaned up and put away before dark. A hard-sided food storage bin is required of each person staying at the field school in order to discourage critters from becoming habituated to human food.
Wild Food And Foraging
While there is a very strong likelihood that we will be sampling a variety of wild foods, we will not be attempting to live off of them.
Individual Vs. Group Cooking
During the 20+ years of semester courses, some groups of students have opted to cook as a group to share the workload, while others have cooked individually. Both approaches work, and we leave it up to the students to figure out what works best for them. We encourage students to cook at the same time in order to be efficient fuel and resources, whether they are preparing individual meals or group meals.
Staple Foods List
Staple Foods Provided (Subject to change without notice)
- Rolled Oats
- Split Peas
- Flour (white, unbleached)
- Vegetable Oil
- Black Tea
- Baking Powder
- Baking Soda
- Black Pepper
The majority of foods on this list are the traditional, nonperishable foods of the north woods that people have used for hundreds of years on traplines, to winter over in cabins and to journey through the forest. Supplemented with a few vegetables, some animal fat and the occasional fish or meat, this diet provides ample nutrition for a wilderness lifestyle. That being said, we encourage students to eat whatever diet they choose.
Meats, Perishable Items, Foods Not Listed. Participants are on their own for providing meat (and other perishable items). One of the grocery stores in Presque Isle (Steaks N’ Stuff Market) sells meat packages and will vacuum seal and freeze it, allowing it to keep for a week or two if kept on ice in a cooler. Many students and instructors have taken advantage of this in the past.
Food On Trips. Effective spring, 2015, we have a new policy for food and meals on trips away from the field school. Students create trip menus, complete with ingredients and amounts, in order to learn the process of provisioning for trips. Menus are checked, then food is packed into dry boxes. In the field we build a group kitchen and all cook over a central fire. On our first trip, students plan and provision individually. On subsequent trips, students have the option to break into cook groups with others or to continue to plan and provision on their own.
Preparing For Outdoor Or Off-Grid Life Regarding Food
1. Plan ahead. Foods such as whole grains and beans are not convenience foods; they require lengthy periods of soaking and cooking. You’ll need to be organized and plan ahead in order to eat. We have great tools for accomplishing this, including solar ovens, insulated boxes, bean holes, etc., so while there isn’t a lot of work involved, there is a significant amount of lead time.
2. Learn at home. If you’ve never cooked before, learn how to prepare such items as beans and grains at home before you arrive at the field school. Doing so will allow you to experiment where the variables are controllable, and will serve you well when you begin cooking over an open fire. If you’re in need of a cookbook and wilderness food systems primer, check out Tim’s book The Woods Cook – Outdoor Cooking With A Professional Guide. As of 2023 we have created an online video course called Foundations Of Outdoor Cooking. It is available on our online community at BushcraftSchool.com. We encourage everyone to take the course and learn the basics of cooking using the gear you will have with you in the field before you arrive. We are actively working on more online learning programs with the intent to help our students become more food self-sufficient.
3. Be self reliant. No one is going to be cooking for you or making sure that you eat. If you wait to the last minute to prepare a meal like many do at home, you’ll probably go hungry. You need to be responsible for your own well being and plan ahead.
In 2011 we had a well drilled, and it’s outfitted with a hand pump. The water comes out cold, even in the heat of the summer. We’re also right on the Aroostook river, and will drink the water after boiling.
When we’re in the field (meaning on trips away from the field school), we’re low-tech by choice and boil river water to purify it for drinking. Water boiled over a fire can have a smoky taste. Consider bringing a water filter if this is a problem for you. Because we boil water for drinking when in the field, you should plan to bring enough water bottle capacity for a full day’s worth of drinking water. This allows you to fill up in the morning and not need to fill up again until we boil up in the evening. In the past people have brought one small water bottle, which is empty after a half hour of hard paddling. Then either they became dehydrated or we had to stop and boil more drinking water. Don’t let this happen to you. Bring enough wide mouth water bottles for a full day’s supply of drinking water. With narrow-mouth bottles, you spill more water than you fill them with, so be sure you get wide mouthed bottles.