Heidi Chaya

I view food not just as sustenance, but as a pragmatic way to reconnect humans with nature. I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that life requires death in some capacity, and nowhere is this more evident than in the food chain — even the modern food system. And all of it comes from nature.

As a young child, I’d spend hours outside — looking for fossils and seashells, identifying birds by their songs, and foraging for plants I’d read about. I grew up on the shore and in the woods — camping, kayaking, hiking, and fishing — but I yearned to hunt. I didn’t grow up doing it, knew no active hunters, and often met opposition. But it was a dream I couldn’t let go.

Hunting was the link between my deepest interests, so I took an unusual path to make it happen. I majored in English literature in college, and the works of the Transcendentalists and Romantics resonated with me. Eventually, I’d discover that becoming an autodidactic scholar of gastronomy would be my conduit to the sublime world of mystery, wilderness, and imagination they described — and into which I longed to escape.

I developed my writing skills with essays, journalism, interning, and freelancing for clients in food/beverage and hospitality while working various food service jobs. To stay involved in education and the outdoors, I was also an academic tutor and a summer field guide at a national park, doing ecology- and history-oriented activities with pre-K to grade 12 school groups.

When I relocated to Vermont, I bought my first firearm for learning to hunt spring turkeys. I practiced regularly at the range and participated in an unforgettable, immersive weekend-long Fish and Wildlife Department hunter education clinic. But I wouldn’t find success until age 34, when I moved to Virginia.

While working as a farmhand at a regenerative farm, I had the awesome opportunity to hunt every chance I got and learn by trial and error. My first harvest was a groundhog. Later that year, I took my first deer in a pasture with a secondhand black powder rifle and I’ve been hooked ever since, hunting public and private land with the help of neighbors, coworkers, and friends.

In Virginia, my passion for wild food truly blossomed. I’m always trying new venison recipes, growing heirloom tomatoes, pining for morels, and tending the yard’s pawpaw trees. Between turkey and deer seasons, I enjoy fly fishing at local ponds and lakes and chasing stripers and bluefish in my home state of New Jersey.

Professionally, I freelance for clients in food media and dabble in outdoor writing. I also love sharing dishes I make with wild, homegrown, and sustainably-sourced ingredients with the online community. I hope to encourage more people to return to nature through what and how they eat, and being with Harvesting Nature helps me on this journey.

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