I grew up in a big city, but never felt like I belonged there. I dreamed of living in the country, spending more time outdoors than in, being surrounded by nature. But that was far from the reality of my life. When I was younger I was a strict vegan and animal rights activist, living in a tiny studio, and working as a corporate copy editor in a downtown high-rise.
Being vegan meant thinking a lot about the ethics of what we eat, and I found myself confronted with experiences that challenged me to reconsider the possibility of using animal products in ways that were not just humane, but that were beneficial to animals and the environment. I realized that to find out, I’d have to go see for myself.
So I left the city behind and started working and living on small farms, learning to raise animals respectfully for food. Nothing makes you appreciate your food more than raising and caring for the animals that provide it. I’m a firm believer in using every bit of an animal that you reasonably can, and one day of slaughtering buck goats for meat, it occurred to me to try to salvage their skulls. I had no idea what I was doing, and not the slightest idea that this would be the start of the long and crazy journey to starting Dermestidarium.
After hearing about dermestid beetles, I enlisted a team of them to start helping me. I’ve always loved insects, and I’m that annoying person who will hold up a hike to take 20 photos of a neat looking bug on the side of the trail. I found a process for skull cleaning that I’m happy with, and after doing it as a hobby for several years word got around and I got busy enough to make this a proper business.
Today I live on a small farm where we try to be as self-sufficient as we can. We have a big annual garden, raise birds for meat and eggs, and I’ve become a self-taught hunter and angler only pretty recently as an adult. My time in the wilderness hunting, fishing or foraging is incredibly important to me, and even though I’ve spent many years visiting wild spaces hiking and camping, there is something truly special about being a participant in nature, not just an observer. I hope to inspire others to experience that joy by volunteering as a Hunters Education Instructor and sharing my story when I can. I get that a skull on the wall isn’t simply a trophy or decoration – there’s a story behind each one, big and small. A memory brought to life, a reason to tell your story. It’s an honor that I get to be part of that.
To learn more about my journey from veganism and animal rights to hunting and raising animals for food, you can watch my TEDx talk here: