Monday, June 14, 2010

(Semi) Wild

As a farmer growing flowers and vegetables for a living, I've never gotten very excited about deer, unless is was in a 'hopping up and down in a fury because some #$@%^$ deer had eaten all the sweet pea blooms off the trellis the day before market' kind of way.

My life has been full of odd coincidences, and one of my favourite ones is this: before we moved to the Oregon coast, we lived next door to a wildlife rescue and rehab center, WildCare. And our biggest neighbour here at 46 North Farm? A wildlife rescue and rehab center, the Wildlife Center of the North Coast.

Spooky, eh? What does it mean??

Well, mostly it means making our peace with the deer. One deer in particular.

Meet the (Semi) Wildlife

One day last winter I was in search of cedar boughs for an arrangement at the Blue Scorcher Bakery. I knew that we had a nice big cedar tree growing down along the quiet back pasture of the property, so I grabbed my loppers and saw and set off. As I got closer, I noticed that sitting not six feet from the tree was a large doe calmly contemplating the landscape. Nearby was a younger deer chomping on the grass- not quite a fawn, but not full grown yet. I felt a bit bad about flushing them out, but figured that they would come back as soon as I left, so I walked over to the tree and started lopping and sawing.

The deer just sat there calmly watching me, completely unfazed. The younger deer had frozen in that eyes wide, legs splayed pose that clearly says "my very small brain has completely seized up". It gradually went back to eating, cautiously watching me when it saw the older deer was unconcerned. When I walked off, dragging the branches behind me, the doe was still sitting right where I found it.

"My god the deer around here are brave," I commented to Packy when I got back to the house. He looked at me with resignation.
"Wildlife Center," he said.

Meet the Wildlife Center

A few days later I mentioned the incident to our friends Mark and Kristin who, in addition to being expert buckwheat seed sowers, also volunteer at WCNC.
"That must be Fawn Fawn!" Kristin said brightly. Packy was startled.
"The deer around here have names?! Is this a Disney movie??"

It turns out that Fawn Fawn had been brought to the WCNC as a young fawn after having been hit by a car.
"Her leg was broken, and she was in pretty bad shape," Mark told us.
They operated on her, fixed her leg, nursed her back to health and then released her. However, during the rehab phase she became very socialized to people, and has chosen to stay in the area. Safety and food are a big draw for deer.

We've gotten used to Fawn Fawn being around now. She's easy to recognize with her slightly wonky leg that makes a clicking noise when she runs, and she has a notch in one ear. Plus, the weird friendliness is a dead giveaway.

We later learned from Sharnelle Fee, founder of the WCNC , that Fawn Fawn is close to 11 years old- a remarkably old age for a deer. Also, she appears to be rather promiscuous.
"Most of the white-tail deer around here are her offspring," Sharnelle informed us with a wry smile. "She gives birth every year, and she often has twins."

Oh well, we sighed. We knew we couldn't farm here without fences.

Meet the Proud Godfather

Many people have noticed that there is a large vintage school bus parked down near the barn on our farm. The full story will have to wait for another post, but the short version is that our friend Israel (Guitar and Ukelele playing Buckwheat Seed Mule) is a (very talented) musician. The band he is in had spent a large part of last year touring around the US in a ten-seater van, and they had purchased the bus at the end of their tour with the idea of turning it into a more comfortable home away from home for while they are on the road.

What with one thing and another, the bus somehow ended up on our farm, being stripped and gutted and painted and reworked into what is going to be a pretty amazing ride. Sure, Willie Nelson's tour bus runs on bio-diesel, but does it also have salvaged old-growth hard wood floors and hand made bunks? I think not.

Most of the bus transformation work is being done by Luke (Greenhouse Saving Woodworker and Stand up Base Player Extraordinaire) and Kati (Row Digging Banjo Player who Wields a Mean Power Drill) with assistance from Ryan (Artistic Painting Drummer who Doesn't Know that he is going to be Roped into Helping Paint the Barn yet) and the afore mentioned multi-skilled Israel.

In thanks for our farm supplying the workspace for their Rebuilding the Bus project, the band has been tremendously helpful with our Rebuilding the Farm project, cheerfully pitching in to help us get our farm back up and running. It's been great having them around.

The band hadn't been working on the farm for very long before they noticed a rather friendly deer hanging around. Luke was especially charmed, and felt compelled to make closer contact.

"I'm going to go and hug that deer," he told Kati one day.

And so he did.

Luke seemed a little disappointed to learn that his close encounter had more to do with Fawn Fawn's social history and less to do with his extraordinarily powerful wildlife communication skills. Still, he and Fawn Fawn have gone on to form an especially close bond, and he gets a very goofy smile on his face when he sees her.

Meet the Kids

Luke's sister Renia (Professional WWOOFER and Accordian Playing Animal Whisperer) met Fawn Fawn for the first time when she came out for the greenhouse frame building-row digging day.

"That is one very pregnant deer," she observed.
"Oh. My. God." said Packy. "That little tramp!"

A few days later our paths crossed with Luke and Kati down by the barn.

"Fawn Fawn had fawns!" Luke told us, beaming. "Twins!"
"We almost stepped on them when we went over to see Fawn Fawn yesterday. They were curled up in the tall grass, hiding. They are so sweet!" Kati said.

We all agreed that little fawns all covered in white spots are shockingly cute. There was a collective wish that this story not follow the Bambi plot line.

I have to say, it has been great fun watching these two as they romp around the farm, bounding through the tall grass like oversized bunny rabbits. The family is usually accompanied by another doe- probably Fawn Fawn's fawn from last year. We have dubbed her 'The Au Pair'.

There are occasional turf wars and minor skirmishes with other groups of deer in the area, especially the Gang of Five (see above) that shows up with some regularity. Fawn Fawn usually makes short work of them if they get too close to her tribe. She may be a bit dim, but she knows where her boundaries are.

I can't say that Fawn Fawn is the best parent. She seems pretty casual about the whole thing, and I'm trying to not get attached to the outcome of this four-legged soap opera. In the last month there have been a number of hair raising 'Oh God They're Crossing the Highway' moments as Fawn Fawn casually strolls the family over the road to the forest across the way.

We are finding ways to protect the plants that really need protecting, resignedly watching the occasional pruning of the ones we can't protect, and waiting until we get a fence built before we plant anything that we can't afford to loose. Packy added a layer of deer netting to the greenhouse doorways after watching the Fawn Fawn gang casually stroll right on through one day, fortunately before there were any plants inside.

We know we share this piece of land with a lot of wildlife, some semi-wildlife, and even some musicians (who aren't too wild), and finding balance between everything here is part of the challenge, and part of the fun.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Slow and Steady

Well, the weather has been a challenge this spring: wet, wet, and more wet. It has hampered our 'Rebuilding the Farm' project a bit, but we at least are still making progress, so that's something.

The greenhouse got sidetracked by a dreaded case of 'Baker's Elbow'. Packy has been hampered by an elbow stress injury brought on by long days of his enthusiastic bread making technique. A visit to the fabulous Donna Bdzil at Pacific Northwest Occupational Therapy has him wearing an assortment of braces and doing fun exercises involving ice and heat and strange hand gestures, all of which are amusing as hell to watch, and also seem to be helping. (Years ago Donna helped me recover from a broken wrist, and a more recent bent finger-problem. She is a wonderful local resource for those of us in physical, injury prone jobs.)

The Elbow Issue has provided an endless supply of "we miss your buns" jokes over at the Blue Scorcher as Packy has taken a wee baking break for the last couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, I had agreed to host a North Coast Slow Food potluck at our farm, and with the way that the weather was going, it looked like we really needed the greenhouse to be finished. There was no way a completely outdoor gathering was going to be possible, and we weren't sure how many people could fit into the house. I could see the 'deer in the headlights' look in Packy's eyes when I asked him about the chances of the greenhouse being a useable social space in time...

Fortunately our friend Luke stepped in to help. His impressive woodworking skills combined with his unflappable cheerfulness even in phenomenally muddy circumstances helped make up for Packy's injured slow-pokey-ness, and together they got the structure to a good enough point where it could host a group of hungry local food enthusiasts. All that skill and a mean stand-up base player as well. Luke is pretty awe-inspiring.

So, back to that Slow Food Thing. Do you know about Slow Food? It's a great organization, in spite of it's reputation as a magnet for snooty foodie types. They do great work in promoting good, fair, clean and local food all over the world, and there has long been talk of the need for a chapter (or convivium, to use their lingo) here on the Oregon coast. This gathering was the third of a series of exploratory potlucks to gauge the enthusiasm for starting a group here. The first two were down in Cannon Beach, so our farm was asked to host this one as a way of spreading the socializing out over the whole area we hoped to draw from. (South Washington Coast to Tillamook.)

Since everyone would be coming to a Farm in Process I thought it would be fun to incorporate a Farm Project into the day's events, so we decided to have a Buckwheat Seed Stomp to get our cover crop seed sown over the beautiful bit of land that Dan the Brushtamer had tilled up a few weeks ago. We don't have a roller and can't afford to buy one, and you really do need to have the seed pressed into the ground to encourage good germination and hopefully to prevent the birds from eating it all. Many people sowing and walking the seed into the ground can do the job too.

It was a bit of a last minute idea, so there was a scramble to buy 100lbs of buckwheat seed in time. Fortunately the wonderful Naomi of Naomi's Organic Farm Supply in Portland had seeds in stock.

Our friend Israel agreed to be our seed mule for the journey back from Portland, since we didn't have time to go into the Big City ourselves. (Although we've really got to get in and check Naomi's place out, it sounds great.)

Did I mention that it had been raining off and on all week? Saturday was beautiful and sunny, but Sunday morning was gloomy and grey, and it poured down rain. It let up by the afternoon, but the whole place was still a bit soggy, except the soil we needed to sow the seeds on- it drains great. I love that soil.

Hank of Wavecrest Inn fame in Cannon Beach gave a stylish demonstration of seed sowing (you can take the boy off the farm...) and everyone grabbed buckets of seed and took to the project with great enthusiasm.

It was fascinating to see all the different sowing techniques- some were very fast and free-form, others were very slow and methodical, but they all got the job done.

Then it was back to the greenhouse for one of the Best Potlucks Ever. The crab cakes from Ginger's R-evolution Gardens were a big hit, and there was a lot of buzz about the Rosemary Chocolate Cake Thing from Neal and Carolyn, formerly of Lola's Fine Foods in Seaside. (We all miss Lola's tremendously since they had to close, and are desperately trying to find a way to get these folks back into a commercial kitchen on the coast.)

It was a great gathering, and we were honored to have so many local growers show up, like Hank from Lunasea Gardens in Nehalem, Jeff and Nicole from Kingfisher Farm in Nehalem, The Fabulous Ginger from R-evolution Gardens and Fred Johnson of Homegrown Farm in Naselle. (We farmers are a curious lot, and it is always fun to go check out someone else's soil.) The idea that people won't travel very far for this kind of thing was shot down with the arrival of the group from Food Roots down in Tillamook, and it was fun to see a mix of ages (not quite 2 to 81 years) all tucking into a great feast. The goat enthusiasts met with the cheese making enthusiasts, there was recipe swapping, and old friends catching up with one another. I met lots of fascinating people, got to connect with people I don't get to see much anymore, ate some of the best food I've ever tasted, and the conclusion, when we made our pitch for 'Should we be an official Slow Food group or not?' was a resounding YES.

So stay tuned for more about the soon to be official North Coast Slow Food Convivium. I believe the next gathering will be down south again- there are rumors of a pig roast on the beach next... I can't wait!