Farm cat Mokum ”visited“ me while I planted more potatoes this weekend.
On a week when it feels as if the world is possibly about to fall apart (or, more hopefully, about to be reborn into a new understanding of justice — who can tell from our vantage point today, mid-stride in an historical moment?), I have been taking comfort in the ongoing miraculous non-human life that surrounds us every day on the farm. I can find myself overwhelmed by anxiety (mixed with hope) on these tumultuous days, and it helps me feel grounded to pay attention to the ongoing work and growth and beauty just outside my door.
Specifically, I’ve been paying close attention to the animals on our farm. We haven’t kept any livestock for years now, but our world still teems with animal life, and I never seem to tire of watching and interacting with the creatures that share our home. We have two adored farm cats, whom we brought home from the McMinnville Farmers’ Market back in 2007. A customer walked into our booth with a kitten in her arms and then told me his brother was in the car — we adopted both on the spot! They were both white with orange ears and tails, and we named them Mokum and Nelson after two of our favorite carrot varieties (in homage of their orange tails).
Cats are always special pets, but these two surprise me all the time with how they have integrated themselves into our family and our life here. Mokum especially joins us as we work or play outside, often situating himself nearby for a nap or sometimes jumping right into our space as we, for example, try to plant potatoes. In the photo above, Mokum had been walking in front of me as I laid out potato seeds and then finally planted himself in my bin of cut potato seeds and stayed there, letting me carry him along with the bin. He also joins us on walks around the field and comes running if one of the kids injures themselves and cries. He comes up and licks their faces to make sure they feel better. He also greets all our visitors and is a favorite among our friends.
But, from a farming standpoint, Mokum’s most amazing skill is his ability to hunt and kill gophers. We’ve always had a lot of gophers in our fields. In the early years, we would lose massive chunks of plantings to their damage and even reached out to other farmers asking for advice. Many suggested particular dog breeds, which wasn’t the answer I was expecting! But, without me really noticing, over the years our gopher pressure has lessened — not to the point of disappearing, but certainly reduced from the early years. In the same time, we’ve witnessed Mokum carrying many a gopher up to the yard from the field. Friends, do you know how big gophers are? They are large rodents. And Mokum is not an exceptionally large cat. But, he is an impressive one and clearly a good, patient hunter if he is able to catch these elusive under-ground rodents.
Mokum’s brother Nelson shares many of these attributes but he is more shy and has some health problems that make him a quieter, but still sweet, presence on the farm.
But this last week I’ve especially marveled at how the wildlife that shares our farm has also come to feel like friends and neighbors. I put out a bird bath by our house earlier this spring, which so far has mostly served as a very large, awkward cat water bowl; but last week a western scrub jay also started visiting to drink. The same jay has been hanging out in our yard in general, looking at us from the branch of a maple tree while we eat dinner at the picnic table below. It cocks its head in the funniest ways as it watches us, making it look as though it is trying hard to comprehend us and our activities. We’ve named it “Scrubbie” for short and once we named it, we became even more aware of its constant presence in our yard and near our house. This bird has apparently decided this is home for the summer. Even now, I am sitting outside typing, and Scrubbie is visiting one of our bird feeders in the walnut tree.
While Scrubbie seems to the most active “watcher” of us I’ve seen in a while, over the years, we’ve had other occasions to identify individual birds and form mutual watching relationships with them — kestrels that perch on the same wire day after day, a turkey vulture with a particular notch in its wing that returns year-after-year, a family of sparrows that builds a nest in a box on our house, a heron that visits our fields to hunt … There are also the innumerable birds whom we don’t see as individuals because there are so many that visit: the hummingbirds that daily visit my garden (which I specifically planted beneath our windows to provide food for hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies), the bald eagles that soar over head, the cedar waxwings eating berries in my parents’ service berry tree, the dancing swallows swooping over the fields.
There are more animals that share this space as well, some of which we only see through the signs and tracks they leave behind. Deer walk along the edge of our fields every night it seems, based on the tracks and trails we see. Thankfully, they must have plenty of forage on the island to not become too interested in our fields. We know there are raccoons living in trees here — sometimes we see one checking the cat food bowl in the evening and occasionally we see babies scampering in trees during the day. We’ve seen beavers in our fields many times, and last winter the kids and I watched a nutria slump its way across our field to nibble in our greenhouses multiple days in a row. I was a little worried at first about what a rodent of that size could do to our winter crops, but it stopped the habit after a few days — perhaps it realized it was too exposed that far from the brush. And, of course, at dusk, we love to watch the bats come out, visible mostly by their dark silhouettes against the purple sky. Soon after, we inevitably hear the not-so-distant cries of the island coyotes — a haunting nighttime sound. And, then, finally the owls, hoo-ing in the dark.
Casey and I have always loved the alive “wildness” of our farm. This year things are looking “tidier” than in recent years thanks to staying home more, but our farm is never perfectly weeded. Nor do we strive to exclude other animals from our farm — even while we are glad to have less gopher-pressure on our crops, we still appreciate the role gophers and other burrowing animals play in soil health and the larger ecosystem! For me, thinking about the way we share our home with all these other creatures and plants is so humbling and inspiring
Friends, I want so badly for positive change in our human world. I want to live in a world that really truly cherishes all human life (#BlackLivesMatter!!!!!!), and even sees and acknowledges the inherent value of non-human life too! Can’t people see the miracles all around them? How we can take any living person or thing for granted, when all are a miracle. The beauty of the world — all of it, the human and non-human — overwhelms me.
I’m so grateful for all the people who show up for the hard work of justice day-in and day-out. I’m humbled by them too, especially in a strange pandemic era when it feels so hard for me to reach out and really be present to this important work. I want to be there for all of this, witnessing the human story just as I witness the non-human story every day on our farm. I want to sing justice on with my choir sisters.
And yet. Here I am, on the farm instead. It is a strange time. I don’t always know whether I’m making the right choices — to stay put and be safe; or to reach out and help others. I want to connect … how? But, I’m here on the farm, still paying attention. As Mary Oliver famously wrote, “I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention.”
So, I’m paying attention as well as I can this summer to what I can. And learning what I can. I am reminded again and again that our presence here on this farm is a small moment in time compared to the larger ongoing cycles of life. Our presence here is small compared to the vast number of generations of Kalapuya who lived here and their ancestors before them. Our presence is small compared to the eons the Willamette River has spent meandering across the valley, shaping habitats for the ancestors of the animals living here now.
These animals humble me today and everyday with their presence. Even funny little head-cocked Scrubbie.
Enjoy this week’s vegetables!
Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla
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Welcome new CSA members! A cohort of new CSA members is starting the program this week. With the increased interest in CSA programs right now, we have experienced increased demand but waited to add more members until we could plant for them! We’re definitely in the growing season now, about to start riding the big wave that is summer (we can see it forming! Almost here!). We’re excited to have more folks with us to experience the goodness of it all.
As a reminder of how the system works this year: at the end of this newsletter you’ll find our weekly availability list and order form. Please fill out this form by the end of Tuesday. On Wednesday we’ll harvest for everyone based on the orders, and then on Thursday we’ll meet you at our storefront between 3 and 6 pm to pack your orders and deliver them to you! We are still asking people to stay outside the storefront; we’ll bring packed orders out to you.
Let us know if you have any questions along the way!
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Meet this week’s vegetables:
The star of this week is, of course, still the sugar snap peas. So yummy and easy to eat! These are peas that have an edible pod, so all you need to do is snap off the string (if you want) and pop them in your mouth! Pair them with hummus or other dips to make a filling snack or appetizer. Or chop onto a big salad with lots of other toppings to turn into a meal!
We also have a new Asian cooking green to offer you: Yukina savoy. In flavor and texture, Yukina is somewhat like a cross between bok choy and spinach (although not related to spinach at all). It has a darker green color and softer texture. It cooks up quickly and makes a great stir fry green, but it is also tender enough to chop and add to a salad.
We also have parsley this week and the first of the zucchini! New flavors! And, much more summer to come …