DOUBLE RUN, Ga.
Davie Ferraro is sitting in a deer stand near the top of a pine tree as the morning breaks over south Georgia. The air is warm and a light rain is falling, and as it hits the forest floor 40 feet below it sounds like applause.
Ferraro has spent hours preparing for this morning. He has walked the earth looking for signs of deer: a print in the red dirt, a rub on a pine tree, broken branches. He has identified nearby muscadine vines and persimmon trees and ponds and the tall grass beds where deer might sleep. He has made himself strong for this hunt by tailoring his workouts to focus on muscle groups he'll use. He has cloaked himself — mask to snake boots — in camouflage and scent eliminator.
He has even dreamt of controlling his breathing as he draws his bow.
And now he waits for the kill.
We're keen by now to green eating. We've seen Food, Inc. and read The Omnivore's Dilemma. We've lugged the shopping totes to the GreenWise Market and filled them with grass-fed beef and organic apples. We're finally skeptical of those slabs of meat sleeping on foam beds and wrapped in plastic blankets, so far removed from the slaughterhouse that we don't even think: Cow.
We're beginning to understand the health and environmental impacts of what we eat.
So what's the next step?
For Ferraro, 28, and a small but growing number of people nationwide, it's hunting and gathering and trying to live totally off the land.
Ferraro's freezer back home in Brooksville is stocked with venison and wild hog from successful hunts, enough protein to feed his wife and daughter and some friends for a long time. His diet includes raw vegetables, nuts, berries, single-ingredient foods, venison backstrap, venison meatloaf, venison sausage, wild boar chops and fish he caught himself. And he says he is reaping physical benefits: increased stamina and energy, strong bones and muscles, low body fat.
He wants to live to be 150 years old.
"I don't know anybody as hard core about it as I am," Ferraro says. "It's more than just a hobby. It's a lifestyle. You buy your meat from the store. Mine comes from the wild.
"I'm kind of like a caveman."
The concept is primitive in an age of convenience, cars and grocery stores. But there are dangers in a food system driven by dollars. Vegetables are treated with pesticides and sometimes contain dangerous bacteria. Poultry and beef are pumped with growth hormones and antibiotics, and the animals are often raised in crowded coops or feed lots. Many corporations that supply processed foods can't guarantee the food won't make you sick.
Ferraro wanted more control over what he was putting into his body.
He grew up in Tampa and while he has always been fit, it wasn't rare for him to wolf down cheeseburgers and fries from McDonald's. In college at the University of Florida, he began to eat more lean meat, grilled chicken breast and salmon. Then about two years ago, he decided to take his diet to the extreme. He had grown up hunting with his father, David Ferraro, a land surveyor. In fact, his father says, Davie was in his mother's womb when she took a hunting safety course.
"Hunting was something I loved to do, so I thought, 'Why not reap all of the benefits of it?' " Ferraro said. "I want to eat clean, and I want to reap all the benefits from hunting, and in turn I want to hopefully live a long and prosperous life."
In Publix, he doesn't shop the center of the store often. One recent day, he shoots down an aisle, past cereal and oatmeal and Pop-Tarts, on his way to broccoli.
"I just walk past all this. I don't even look at it."
He might eat a steak once a year at a restaurant, but even when he's out, it's salmon or chicken and vegetables. It has been four or five years, he says, since he has eaten at McDonald's.
How widespread is this lifestyle? Hard to tell.
In Virginia, an insurance broker teaches a course called "Deer Hunting for Locavores," for largely urban adults. In San Francisco, two men in their 20s have formed the Bull Moose Hunting Society for young, urban residents who want to connect with their food. If such a group exists in Florida, it hasn't come to the attention of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. But if that lifestyle spread, they wouldn't be surprised.
"I think that will become a trend," says John Weatherholt, 53, an education specialist with the commission. "If we look at generations in the past, when our forefathers were settling the land, they grew things and harvested their food. People lived for a long time and lived healthy lives. Today our food is packed with hormones and chemicals in an effort to get them to the market faster, and I think it's causing health problems. I think you'll see a return to a greener, more organic lifestyle."
Hunting licensing has been declining for years in Florida, said Tony Young, a media relations specialist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, even though the state's population has boomed.
"America has really gotten more urbanized," Young says. "There's a lot more things out there to compete for kids' and adults' time. With computers and video games, you're not seeing as many people go do outdoor activities."
But he has noticed a cultural shift away from the grand consumerism of the 1980s and '90s toward a more earth-friendly attitude.
"Its a move back to nature," he said. "You're going to get more people who are getting into healthy eating and living. It's kind of a sign of the times."
Young says there are still many people opposed to hunting on the grounds that it's cruel or barbaric, even if they eat meat from the store.
But even hard-core environmentalists seem to be softening to the environmental advantages of hunting for food vs. buying meat in a market. One forum discussion called "Can Hunting Be Green?" on treehugger.com drew 271 comments.
One example: I think hunting is a lot more honest than blithely buying meat at a supermarket where it comes all sanitized and processed. I also think that there is a lot less wastage potentially.
Another: Hunters and Treehuggers both tend to like having large tracts of unspoiled wilderness. If we were smart, we'd realize we're more often on the same team than not. … A hunter is simply a red-state environmentalist.
Ferraro, who works as a personal trainer at a gym in Valrico, gets strange responses from clients when he preaches the benefits of eating wild game.
"It's funny because some of my clients are like, 'You hunt your own meat?' " he says. "One of my clients, I told her I wanted her to stay away from ground beef and eat more lean chicken breast, and she was like, 'You just want me to become a warrior and kill my own food. And I said, 'Yeah, that's exactly right.' "
He can't help but preach his wild-game gospel.
"What if Michael Jordan ate only wild game?" he says. "Can you imagine? What kind of advantage would he have?"
He has had success in helping people lose weight and become healthy, even if they don't eat Bambi. David Barnes, 36, of Valrico, who works in the agriculture packaging industry, adopted Ferraro's diet and fitness program (sans wild game) in 2008. He was 6 feet tall and weighed 260 pounds when he started. In five months, he lost 57 pounds and 8 inches off his waist.
"I see the epidemic that's going on in this country, and it's crazy," Barnes said. "I look around and I think man, this is bad. I didn't really see it until I lost the weight, but now I see it everywhere."
Barnes says he's on the verge of starting his own garden. He has also been researching the "paleolithic diet," which is, basically, trying to eat what the cavemen ate.
Back in the deer stand in Georgia, Ferraro hears rustling in the leaves. Footsteps. He slowly readies his bow.
Ben Montgomery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8650.