MARQUETTE - Marquette residents Peter Bosma and Andrew Niemann have been called a lot of things: crazy liberal nutjobs, gun-toting conservative wackos, luddites, hippies.
But there's one thing you'll probably never hear them called: wasteful.
The two friends are living a lifestyle that even they have a hard time defining. They call it simple, natural, eco-friendly, words that call to mind a certain kind of person.
Andrew Niemann, collects high-bush cranberries in a hand-made basket just a few blocks away from his Marquette home. He tries to eat as much foraged food as he can. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)
Sure, you'll probably see Bosma, 27, or Niemann, 24, in a wool sweater bought from a secondhand store. They do weave baskets, make fruit leather, ride their bikes incessantly. Bosma estimated he spent about $200 on food last year. Nieman said he used just two tanks of gas for local travel.
However, the two men aren't holed up in a cabin in the woods, living completely off the grid. They both have cellphones. They're both adjunct faculty members at Northern Michigan University. They still go out with friends to a bar to have a beer and a basket of fries.
Try to squeeze them into a single stereotype and you'll discover just how difficult that is.
"I feel caught in the middle sometimes," Bosma said.
Perhaps what makes their lifestyle so difficult to define is part of what makes it so easy for them to live. For Bosma and Niemann, the choices they make about food, transportation, even the clothes they wear are wrapped up in a lifestyle that took years to cultivate.
"It's a different way to go about life," Bosma said. "It adds so much more adventure than the average, day-to-day life has."
Niemann said he knew he wanted to make a change long before he actually did.
"My conscience told me that was right (to change)," he said. "It took two years for my brain to catch up with that."
Niemann still has a car, a Jeep Wrangler, but he rarely uses it. Instead, when he leaves his house he grabs his bicycle.
"It's fun. It's a challenge," Niemann said. "It is not a curse to have to ride my bike in six inches of fresh powder. It's a blast."
Bosma sold his car last March. He uses a bike he built, an amalgamation of used parts he scavenged from discarded bicycles, to get around town. Both men have milk crates attached to their bikes.
The two buy a lot of their clothes from secondhand stores, when they buy clothes at all. Bosma has learned how to sew and he's also a bit creative when it comes to his clothing. He has a pair of used-tire sandals for the summer that he made himself.
But what sets this duo apart from most other eco-concious people are their food choices.
They don't have a garden of their own, though both would like to give it a try some day. Instead, they forage for wild fruit, wild berries. They hunt for their meat and they also eat abandoned road kill. Niemann said he's eaten deer, rabbit, duck, even coyote. He also eats squirrel, which he said tastes a lot like dark meat from a turkey.
He said they're not the only ones who eat this way.
"You'd be surprised how many times I've come back (to where the animal was) and it's gone," Niemann said. "Many people view that as a respectable resource."
Bosma said the two typically eat a seasonal diet. During the spring and hunting season, up to 70 percent of their food is foraged from the wild; up to 25 percent of their food is foraged during the rest of the year.
"Marquette is bountiful in the fall between apples, pears, plums, blackberries, raspberries, thimbleberries, blueberries, it's ridiculous," Niemann said.
Both men say they'd rather have a connection to the food they eat, something that goes beyond picking out a box in a grocery store and throwing it in their cart.
"I feel better about having a more intimate relationship with what keeps me alive," Bosma said. "It's something that hasn't drifted away that long ago. My grandma grew up canning things out of her garden, growing her own food, raising her own animals."
They also supplement the rest of their diet with a little urban foraging.
The two hit up dumpsters around town, bringing home food that is thrown away, but still good. Bosma called it a "grocery surplus." They don't pick through to-go containers with half-eaten cheeseburgers still inside. Rather, they opt for food that is still in its original packaging, food that looks as though it was tossed out to make room for more stuff on the shelves.
Both men reiterated the fact that all these choices are things that a growing number of people are beginning to make.
"There's many examples of people that do (this stuff)," Bosma said. "They're just not screaming it from the rooftops."
For Bosma and Niemann, the idea of living any other way is hard to grasp. Asking them to change their ways would be like asking someone to breathe through their fingertips. They just can't do it.
"If I couldn't do this, I don't know what I would do with my life," Bosma said. "In the end, we're all just living, whether you're buying food from the grocery store or you find it in the woods."
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.