The following appears in the December issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:
BY CHRIS COCOLES
It’s become one of the most commonplace scenes when an earthquake strikes: TV footage of grocery store shelves tipping over and sending bottles of food and drink smashing onto the floor and creating one hell of a cleanup on Aisle 4.
Just imagine if it was your personal, locally sourced food – what you worked an entire season to cultivate, jar and store to get your family through winter – literally crashing into pieces.
Eve Kilcher had to endure the disappointment of a massive Alaskan earthquake wiping out dozens of jars of food she labored to produce in her off-the-grid garden. It was one of the captivating moments of the Season 6 premiere for the Kilcher family of Discovery Channel’s Alaska: The Last Frontier, which was challenged by last January’s 7.1 quake that rattled through the family’s Southcentral Alaska homes.
“The earthquake brought a lot of awareness to us,” Eve says of her husband, Eivin Kilcher, and their kids, Findlay and Sparrow Rose. “‘Oh my god, all my glass jars are just a mess in my root cellar.’“
What irked the affable Eve was how she’d stacked the items too close to each other, leaving them vulnerable to the many potential pratfalls homesteaders face in the wild country of Alaska.
“Not the best plan; let’s make it to where there’s not a possibility that we don’t lose all of our food storage,” she says with a wry laugh during a recent phone interview. “Spreading things out and not keeping them in one place is always a good idea whenever possible.”
But it’s the rustic, turn-back-the-clock lifestyle that Eve and Eivin, his father Otto and stepmom Charlotte Kilcher, uncle Atz, cousin Atz Lee (Alaska Sporting Journal, January 2014) and others, have chosen for themselves. (The family’s most famous member, singer Jewel, visits this season; see sidebar on page 28.) The cameras might paint a certain picture that viewers have about the Kilchers, but it’s clear that Eve would be raising her kids this way with or without an audience getting a sneak peek into her journey.
Chris Cocoles First and foremost, I grew up in Northern California and experienced my share of rough earthquakes. How did the Kilchers handle the Alaska quake on Jan. 24?
Eve Kilcher Well, I think it was a wakeup call for everyone in this area, just because we haven’t had an earthquake that big in a very long time. So it’s just that constant reminder of the elements and the powers that be that we have no control over. And all we can do is just be as prepared as possible. But in all honesty, I’m so glad to not be in a city. It sounds a lot scarier to be there in an earthquake, and a little more dangerous [laughs]. We have open spaces and we can get out of our house fast enough.
CC I see your point. I’d always envisioned myself being in the middle of downtown San Francisco or some other big city when the “Big One” hit.
EK That sounds horrifying. But I think in a way we’re more mentally prepared for the unpredictably of the elements because of what we live in from day to day. Growing up on the water and getting caught in storms, because storms pick up here so quickly – the weather is changeable by the second. We are aware of that at all points in time, so we have a slight advantage there. It’s that kind of awareness leading to always being ready for anything because there is so much out of our control. All you can do is be as prepared as possible.
CC It was so heartbreaking to see all of your meticulous cultivation of food literally shattered in the cellar.
EK I sometime should figure out the amount of hours and labor that goes into one jar [laughs], because if you paid me a decent wage, how much would one jar of food be worth? It’s probably some ungodly amount of money [laughs]. I don’t think about value of food as much as we should. And I guess that’s why organic, free-range food is that much more expensive. Someday, I’ve got to figure out that number; it must be jaw-dropping.
CC One thing about Alaskans is the resilience that the residents have. How much have you been tested mentally and physically living up there?
EK Yeah, I think I have, but I’d have to say it’s a different resiliency and different hardship than (people in other) places. I think about people who live in inner-city slums. I don’t know my resiliency in that scenario. I think I might not be very resilient and not sure how I would cope with that intensity. I have resiliency out in the wilderness; I have skills, I have knowledge having grown up here. [Eve lived on a homestead not far from her current property in the area around Homer on the Kenai Peninsula.] I have the skills and abilities to make me more resilient in this environment.
But I think about other environments and I can’t say if I’d have the mental resiliency and wherewithal living in places where’s there no nature and in some places where people are dying all the time. I don’t know; I feel like I’m so lucky, and in a way this is the easier way that we’re doing. Because I feel like nature is the ultimate healing force. But what makes everything OK at the end of the day is having a lot of family support around. And that’s also something that a lot of people don’t have.
We are trying to live in a family-based culture, and in actuality it’s a lot easier. I don’t know how parents raise kids without grandparents. I have an arsenal of grandparents because of remarriages, and luckily all the remarriages are with wonderful and amazing people. It’s funny: People think we have it so hard and we’re in need of such resiliency, but I actually think it’s harder if I moved to a big city, had to work a 9-to-5 job and never saw my kids. And my hat’s off to people in that situation. I don’t think I have it that hard. I’ve told Eivin that I feel like a queen in a castle in the most beautiful kingdom in all the world. There are hardships and we do work hard, but I think it’s all relative.
CC In the season premiere, you talked about your kids and how it’s changed you. What specifically did change when first Findlay and then Sparrow Rose came into yours and Eivin’s lives?
EK I think it’s made me try to simplify my life. Nurturing children and trying to nurture all the plants and animals I have has proven to be exceedingly challenging and stressful and difficult. And trying to take on what we used to take on has definitely become more difficult. Whenever Eivin has to be gone (hunting or fishing), it’s so hard on me, and so I think I’ve tried to simplify.
But it’s also driven home for me how important it is to continue to do what we’re doing for our children. The only way that I truly know my children are living healthy and eating healthy is (by growing food on) the land that I cultivate and I know is healthy. Even though sometimes I think it would be so much easier to move into town and not grow anything, I wouldn’t be aware of my food and where it came from. Even when it says organic – that’s great and it’s better – you still don’t know where it came from and it still can be full of pesticides from the farm next door. It’s driven home the importance of continuing this lifestyle even though it’s very hard. I grow an insane amount of vegetables – way more than we need – but I’ve toned it down a lot compared to what we used to do. I used to make a living selling produce and now I don’t. Now it’s more about, In what ways can I give more energy to my children and get them involved too when they get older?
CC I’m sure when you’re growing then picking the fresh vegetables from your garden, it’s a lot of sore muscles afterwards, but does it make you feel good that you’re going to be raising your kids this way of life?
EK Even if my kids don’t decide to live this way and make different choices, I just feel good knowing that they will have the skills to come back to this if they ever choose to do so. And it’s a set of skills that’s being lost.
CC How much did you hunt and fish growing up on your homestead?
EK I did not ever hunt growing up. The first time I ever went hunting was with Eivin when we went deer hunting in (a previous Alaska: The Last Frontier season), and that was really the first time, although once I went rabbit hunting right here on the homestead and I was equally as bad then. I’d have to say that once I started having kids, my desire to go hunting has lessened greatly. I feel like I’m in a nurturing mode and not so much a killing mode, although I know I had to slaughter all of my chickens for meat and I was crying. But it’s one of those things where I can do it; I can process all these chickens and get them in the freezer because I need to do it. But there’s also the idea of, do I need to go hunting? No. I’m more (comfortable) looking for the mushrooms and the berries, and I’m not as serious about shooting the deer because I have a husband who’s going to bring home the bacon for me and I don’t need to worry about it.
CC There are so many shows about the “Alaskan lifestyle” out there. Do you hope yours has provided a positive if realistic view on how Alaskans live?
EK That is definitely my hope, because there are a lot of these shows that are – um – less than classy. They show a different angle of Alaska. All of it is real and true to some extent. But this is our angle and feel like it’s what gets me through the filming, which can be challenging at times. And it’s not something that I imagined or really wanted in my life. I’ve accepted it for what it is, and what drives me to do it is that we will inspire people to do what they can to live a better lifestyle for them and their children, but also for our environment. And also I hope it has them thinking about things a little bit more and thinking outside the box, doing what they can to think about where their food comes from. If you’re from the city, you’re not just going to live off the land, (but you can) question where your food comes from. Can you buy it locally? Can you go visit a farm on the outskirts of your city and see what they’re doing? Can you support a local farmer and help them out? It’s the people who say “We dug up our yard and planted a garden” that really inspire me and make me keep doing this, because I have to feel this is positive or it doesn’t feel worth it to me.
CC On the subject of food, you and Eivin just released a cookbook, Homestead Kitchen. We talked about how important it is for you and your family to eat organically. Is that what inspired you to write the cookbook, and how much does it mean to you to share the bounty of what’s in your backyard?
EK It is important to me to eat organically, but just as important to eat locally. Knowing where your food comes from and how it was raised or grown is one of the important messages we are trying to portray. It isn’t about a stamp that says organic; it is about quality and sustainability that goes beyond organic. This book was inspired by wanting to share our ethos on food and bring people’s attention to the origins of the food we put in in our bodies. It makes a huge difference in overall health of the individual and the earth. We cannot grow, forage or hunt everything we enjoy eating, but we try to do as much as we can ourselves or from our community.
CC Is there a personal-favorite Alaska-inspired dish in the book, something that you, Eivin and the kids have enjoyed and has sentimental meaning for you?
EK Many of the recipes in here are sentimental and well-loved by our family because they all have memories and stories tied to them. Bone-broth soup is a staple for us and is what our kids are raised on. It has so many of the vitamins and minerals you need that are very bioavailable. It also represents using all of the animal right down to the bone. Almost every time we sit down and eat this soup, Findlay pipes up with questions about this deer we are eating: “Where did it come from?” “How did it die?” “Did Mommy or Daddy shoot it?” “Was it a boy or a girl?” This inevitably inspires Eivin or I to tell the story of how it came to our table and how thankful we are to have it to eat. Of course, we tell Findlay the more soup he eats, the stronger he will become and the sooner he will be able to go hunting with us. Thus, his bowl is drained in minutes!
CC Have you and Eivin ever thought about the idea of doing something else with your lives? Not necessarily completely change it up and relocate to Chicago or another major city, but rather just a more gradual change in lifestyle?
EK [Laughs] At this point in time, this is the life we want. We’re really happy here, happy raising our family here. I don’t think we’d ever move to a city, as neither one of us would be happy. If, for some reason, we had some goal that required us to be in a city for a short term for something like if I wanted to go back to school, maybe we’d consider it. I’d probably try for it not to happen (in a place like) L.A.; that wouldn’t make me very happy. But Eivin and I have traveled a lot to other countries – he mostly in Asia and me a lot in Central and South America – and we talk a lot about when the kids are older and kind of more teenaged, we’d like to take them to a Third World country and work in orphanages to help other people who are less fortunate. We just would want to give them some perspective just to get them out of their zone. But I think I mostly look forward to just growing old here together, living in this beautiful place while we’re young.
Who knows what life will bring? ASJ
Editor’s note: You can purchase Eve and Eivin Kilcher’s cookbook at various outlets, including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Target and Walmart. Like her at facebook.com/kilcher.eve. New episodes of Alaska: The Last Frontier are shown on Sundays on the Discovery Channel (check your local listings). Go to discovery.com/tv-shows/alaska-
JEWEL SHINES AGAIN
While the Kilchers’ old-school way of life has made them a TV draw on Discovery Channel’s Alaska: The Last Frontier, patriarchs Atz and Otto and their children and in-laws aren’t the family’s most recognizable faces.
That would be the singer Jewel Kilcher, who hit it so big she’s universally known just by her first name. And why not? She’s a four-time Grammy Award nominee, sold 30 million albums – her debut album, Pieces of You, went platinum 12 times over – and countless TV appearances.
But while she left her family’s Alaska off-the-grid lifestyle to chase and achieve stardom, Jewel has always remained connected to the show. She and dad Atz teamed up to croon the theme song,
Now 42, Jewel is coming home this season on the show that chronicles her family’s experiences in The Last Frontier. Discovery briefly teased Jewel’s homecoming – she made her first appearance on Nov. 27 – with the Kilcher clan.
“After a decade away making music and starting a family of her own,” a season preview says, “the prodigal daughter returns.”
“I grew up working cattle with my dad,” she says in a trailer touting the new season. “I’m just really glad to be back.”
The reunion was also met with enthusiasm from her family members.
“It’s always awesome to have Jewel back in town, and it doesn’t happen very often. I don’t even remember the last time she was back here,” says Eve Kilcher, married to Jewel’s first cousin, Eivin. “We go and visit her when she’s at her place in Colorado.”
Jewel’s son Kase – with her ex-husband, professional rodeo cowboy Ty Murray – is a few years older than Eve’s and Eivin’s son Findlay, but besides the obvious family ties, parenthood has brought the group closer.
“I adore Jewel. We get along in so many ways, as mothers, as health nuts, as foodies,” Eve says. “I feel like she’s been a great help in a lot of ways, and I know we were really excited, and it was so good to get the kids together. She’s just a really amazing person.”
“She’s very down to earth. She can glam it up if she needs to, because that’s part of the industry, but that’s not her M.O. She’s just a naturally beautiful woman. But the way she was raised was very down to earth. Those are her roots, always.” CC