Thursday, September 21, 2017

Cascading Effects: A Seattle Urban Farmer and the 2011 Season


Christina Hahs

Christina Hahs is a sprite with a direct stare. Even at the age of 27 she is not one of the youngest farmers in the City of Seattle. In the egalitarian context of urban agriculture it would be wrong to describe her with any other superlative or enumerator but she is, on her own, guiding a group known as the Harvest Collective. These are 7-8 farmers in South and West Seattle who are creating a networked food source.

Christina oversees vegetable gardens in five homeowners’ yards in West Seattle including her own – growing tomatoes, eggplant, kale, peppers, lettuce cucumbers, squash and more – and selling them when she can. In this, her first summer with the collective she has sold food at Marra Farms Stand in South Park, at a spontaneously organized Skyway Farmers Market and to the Delridge Produce Coop Buyers Club.

This has proven to be a much more manageable model than the first year of Harvest Collective in which members were more widely dispersed throughout Seattle and found their production didn’t provide enough produce to share among the collective members. Christina calls the current configuration “Harvest Collective 2.0.” It has not been an easy year, however. Urban farmers have not been free from the challenges that other western Washington farmers confronted with the weather. (See my article about the Shoulder Season from the beginning of the summer on GoodFood World.) Christina cited Cliff Mass, a local revered meteorologist who confirmed it on his blog post The Cold Truth.  High cloud cover and low average temperatures made it the coldest summer in 60 years.

The growing season started very late due to the overcast cold wet weather. Temperatures didn’t reach above 80° for most of the summer and powdery mildew caused her to have to pull up some kale. Powdery mildew looks like a white dust on plants that we often see even on dandelions.

The Nemeses of 2011: Slugs and Powdery Mildew
I asked Christina what her biggest challenge was though and she said, “Pests!” By that she meant slugs, potato bugs, earwigs and other “primary decomposers” whose position in the plant ecosystem is to start breakdown of plants. Their populations were high this year due to cooler weather and the ground staying wet. Usually slugs leave when the ground dries up; as it typically does in Northwest summers. But this year they stuck around. Despite covering the ground with cardboard and feeding a lot of slugs to chickens, the primary decomposers persisted. Baby plants are very tasty to slugs and because the weather allowed them to stay in the pantry, as it were, they ate a lot of produce as plant starts









                     






Powdery mildew occurs when water stays on plants over cool nights. Crops that survived the mildew, in any case, were up to a month late and farmers had little to bring to markets. The ultimate appearance of the sun then caused some lettuce to bolt, a very short harvest window and desperate attempts to sell quickly. Berries came and went with some people never having a chance to eat any! Others canned and preserved more than ever to take care of the sudden bounty of fruit.

Considering that the trends in weather in western Washington indicate that cool summers may be in a sustained pattern for a few years I asked Christina what she planned to do next year. “Right,” she said. “We can’t count on the weather.” This year, she had planted greens that would end their rotation in June and then anticipated a subsequent harvest of the warm crops for July and beyond but those were a month late. She kept in the ground and marketed the greens that finally matured as long as she could but they eventually bolted. For a while, she had little to market.

Now, she and the other farmers in the collective are preparing for a different year next year. Their strategy is to plan for the greens and cooler weather crops to last longer and plant less of the warm crops like tomatoes. Thinking of Climate Change, I asked if that was what she would consider an “adaptive approach.” She said, “Absolutely!”

The cascading effect from this past winter’s weather has lasted, so far, into this fall and to next year’s plan for Harvest Collective as they try to develop a planting cycle that allows them to have marketable produce throughout next summer.
Harvest Collective 2.0: Year 2.0 – We all wish you the best!


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Cascading Effects: A Seattle Urban Farmer and the 2011 Season
Joanne Hedou, November 1st, 2011
Christina Hahs
Christina Hahs is a sprite with a direct stare. Even at the age of 27 she is not one of the youngest farmers in the City of Seattle. In the egalitarian context of urban agriculture it would be wrong to describe her with any other superlative or enumerator but she is, on her own, guiding a group known as the Harvest Collective. These are 7-8 farmers in South and West Seattle who are creating a networked food source.
Christina oversees vegetable gardens in five homeowners’ yards in West Seattle including her own – growing tomatoes, eggplant, kale, peppers, lettuce cucumbers, squash and more – and selling them when she can. In this, her first summer with the collective she has sold food at Marra Farms Stand in South Park, at a spontaneously organized Skyway Farmers Market and to the Delridge Produce Coop Buyers Club.
This has proven to be a much more manageable model than the first year of Harvest Collective in which members were more widely dispersed throughout Seattle and found their production didn’t provide enough produce to share among the collective members. Christina calls the current configuration “Harvest Collective 2.0.”
It has not been an easy year, however. Urban farmers have not been free from the challenges that other western Washington farmers confronted with the weather. (See my article about the Shoulder Season from the beginning of the summer on GoodFood World.) Christina cited Cliff Mass, a local revered meteorologist who confirmed it on his blog post The Cold Truth.  High cloud cover and low average temperatures made it the coldest summer in 60 years.
Listen to Christine Hahs talk about the weather:  Christina Hahs: You Can’t Count on the Weather
The growing season started very late due to the overcast cold wet weather. Temperatures didn’t reach above 80° for most of the summer and powdery mildew caused her to have to pull up some kale. Powdery mildew looks like a white dust on plants that we often see even on dandelions.






 The Nemeses of 2011: Slugs and Powdery Mildew
It occurs when water stays on plants over cool nights. Crops that survived the mildew, in any case, were up to a month late and farmers had little to bring to markets. The ultimate appearance of the sun then caused some lettuce to bolt, a very short harvest window and desperate attempts to sell quickly. Berries came and went with some people never having a chance to eat any! Others canned and preserved more than ever to take care of the sudden bounty of fruit.
I asked Christina what her biggest challenge was though and she said, “Pests!” By that she meant slugs, potato bugs, earwigs and other “primary decomposers” whose position in the plant ecosystem is to start breakdown of plants. Their populations were high this year due to cooler weather and the ground staying wet.
Christina describes one of her nemeses:  Powdery Mildew
Usually slugs leave when the ground dries up; as it typically does in Northwest summers. But this year they stuck around. Despite covering the ground with cardboard and feeding a lot of slugs to chickens, the primary decomposers persisted. Baby plants are very tasty to slugs and because the weather allowed them to stay in the pantry, as it were, they ate a lot of produce as plant starts.
Considering that the trends in weather in western Washington indicate that cool summers may be in a sustained pattern for a few years I asked Christina what she planned to do next year. “Right,” she said. “We can’t count on the weather.” This year, she had planted greens that would end their rotation in June and then anticipated a subsequent harvest of the warm crops for July and beyond but those were a month late. She kept in the ground and marketed the greens that finally matured as long as she could but they eventually bolted. For a while, she had little to market.
Now, she and the other farmers in the collective are preparing for a different year next year. Their strategy is to plan for the greens and cooler weather crops to last longer and plant less of the warm crops like tomatoes. Thinking of Climate Change, I asked if that was what she would consider an “adaptive approach.” She said, “Absolutely!”
The cascading effect from this past winter’s weather has lasted, so far, into this fall and to next year’s plan for Harvest Collective as they try to develop a planting cycle that allows them to have marketable produce throughout next summer.
Harvest Collective 2.0: Year 2.0 – We all wish you the best!



Monday, September 4, 2017

Mythology



In Maine it seems people document and replay the same scenes in a constant loop of establishing the truth of the place that they believe, that they want you to believe and that they don't want to change. I've never lived anywhere where people try so hard to maintain a mystique about their home. It's weirdly reassuring.

It is comfortable and beautiful for many people. I can't deny that--I share it. Every once in a while, however, something peeps out of the broadly shared ideal image that makes it clear the longer term residents of Maine do know they live in the modern world and they look scared.


Here are some of my pictures taken since last November.





Coyote Tracks in February Snow.


The moon on a winter night, Belfast Ecovillage.



Elver Nets on the Passagassawaukeag River.



House on Maine Street in Warren.



Guest House for Birds, Rockland.

Blueberry Field near Camden.



Schooner Race off the Breakwater, Rockland.


The Breakwater; magnificent on gray days.




A Field in Union.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

January 28, 2017


This letter is a request to protect our future to all politicians, government representatives and employees, businesses and nonprofit organizations and individuals.

I want to live to the year 2050. If I live to the year 2050, I will be 98. My son will be 62—three years younger than I am now. If I live to 2050 I will be one of a projected world population of anywhere from 8.5 billion to 9.7 billion humans living on this planet. Other than me, who will those people be and where will they be living? If we don’t work to prevent it, many of them will be migrants without homes who have left behind places devastated by war and environmental change; some will be trying to settle or will have already settled in the newly warmed north. These great numbers of people--both migrants and those who have sustained themselves in place in Maine and throughout the world--will be putting an even larger burden on the ecosystems and social systems of the world. I can’t imagine any way that their lives will be the same as ours are now if we allow the current President to continue destroying our government. I can imagine ways their lives could be better.

I ask all of you to please vote and work against destruction of access to healthcare throughout the United States and the world.Please protect our immigration system. Please work to return viability to the EPA, USDA, The National Parks Service, NOAA, NASA and all other agencies that have kept the US and the State of Maine among the best places in the world to live.

Please continue to work for the future we can’t yet see and make it the best possible future.

I want to be able to hope that my son and his possible children will live in a world of fairness and beauty in 2050; a world that is better than it is now; not one where 9.7 billion people struggle to survive in a ruined place where people are devalued.

Please share my hope. Work with and for us all and don’t ever stop.

Sincerely,

Joanne Hedou
Belfast, Maine


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Deer Kill 12-21-15

It's not unusual to see something like this in the Methow Valley. It’s unusual for me and for many other people I know however so I’m documenting it.

Today is the last day before the winter solstice, a turning point, and I am at a turning point as well.  In May, I finally just lost my patience with finding the right time to move to the rural place where I could write and contemplate in quiet. I made a spur of the moment decision to rent a house on a hill in Winthrop, WA and moved in in July. It’s December and I’m at the midpoint of my year. 

This morning I went outside to check a live trap in my garage. I’ve already caught a packrat/woodrat in there and something else is now living there, tearing into a trash bag, frantically stumbling over loose wood in the rafters when I go to my car at night, and leaving a trail that looks like cat prints and scat. It could be a feral cat but checking on the tracks and scat there’s a slight possibility it’s a fox. Cats don’t usually poop in the middle of their own trail.

As I walked to the garage about ten ravens flew up from the vicinity of an apple tree in a small field next to the driveway. I thought they might have just rested there for the night. I turned back to look at the trap in the garage and it was tripped with nothing in it—again. This is a smarter critter than the woodrat, or perhaps it’s just bigger and can’t get into this trap. When I returned to the driveway I saw a circle of blood in the snow under the tree ravens fled. Two more ravens, sentinels, I imagine, flew away when I got closer. I went into the house and got my phone/camera.

The magpies flew back and forth over my head waiting for me to go. 
When I got back outside a group of magpies flew off—not so far away as the ravens. They stuck around chattering to each other from a distance.

I tried to find the start of a blood trail from the the edge of the snow bank, but I couldn’t see one so I followed a deer track from the road. I post-holed to the top of my boots at my knees where the deer track ended and saw what appeared to be the site of a bloody feast. 

I stood outside the circle with some reverence for what had died. All I could see was spots of blood, fur, and a huge kidney shaped organ.



It seemed to me that a pack of coyotes might have surprised a sleeping yearling in a spot outside the circle. If there was any death battle, I wouldn’t have heard it while I was sleeping in the far side of the house.


The circle of blood told me little more than something had died. I didn’t see any canine tracks just those of deer and birds. The kidney shaped organ was chewed on one side and packed with bits of straw like chewed grass. It had to be the rumen of a deer; unlikely to provide any nourishment to any predator. There were no bones. Ravens wouldn’t take bones away. What did—coyotes, a wolf, or a cougar?  Cougars have been seen around here.

It was already snowing for about the twentieth time so far this year and it was covering everything fast so I just took as many pictures as I could. I've contacted a few local people to see if they would have any thoughts about what happened here and I haven't gotten any answers yet.

Update 12-31-15

I have had replies from 2 Washington Department of Wildlife (DFW) biologists, a local naturalist, and a store owner whom I’ve talked to before about identifying local fauna. All agreed that it’s hard to say what the predator was without footprints but two of them think it was likely a cougar. Their reasoning was the similar.

The naturalist said:

“I would guess it’s a cougar kill.  That’s the most common and likely thing that happened, and from the bits of things I can see in the photo that’s what I would go with.  Cougars are very tidy and usually drag remains off to bury somewhere more secluded and eat later over the course of a few days.  If it was a deer that was hit on the road and then made it that far and died, and was getting feasted on by coyotes and birds, the deer would still be there.  (Cougar rarely eat something they didn’t kill).  Coyotes rarely kill full-sized deer, but you’re right it could have been a yearling.  Still, I think you’d see much of the deer still there if a coyote was involved.”

From one of the DFW biologists:

“When coyotes and wolves kill an animal, they generally eat it on site.  They will carry a leg away, scatter the remains but usually there is something still at the kill site.  When a cougar kills an animal, they drag or carry (depending on the size of the animals) it away.  My guess given there is no body that a cougar killed the deer but that really is just a best guess without being on site.”


The idea that there might have been a cougar hunting less than 100 feet from my door gave me some pause. The night before the kill happened I walked up the hill from my brother's house relishing the cold, the moonlight and the coyotes howling down on the valley floor. Today I looked in the snow for cougar prints on the road as I walked above my house. I thought I saw some until I realized someone had been snowshoeing on the road and the marks were more likely from a ski pole. I don't like to admit it but I'm a little spooked. I like  knowing a cougar might be out there but if I ever see one, I hope it will quietly walk away,

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Action of Water

The Action of Water
The action of water is often dangerous. This is something we forget when we receive it in the benign form of tap water every day.

Beautiful Terror, Jubilee Farm, Snoqualmie River, Washington, November 2006                 
Photo by Wendy Haakenson


I am a fluvial Geomorphologist and I love rivers. Every year, from my city home in Seattle I watch the news about winter flooding in rural areas; an increasing problem that has come with heavier rainstorms. I go out and stand on curbs watching misdirected drainage run by me on the street. I listen to the wind and the rain and think about the roof of my top-floor condo which is leaking. I hold it in as long as I can but I can’t help myself. When water moves so fast and powerfully, I am most drawn to it; so I go out to see the rivers.

January 15, 2011
In western Washington we are in the second series of floods for the 2010-2011 water year (the period between October 1, 2010 to September 30, 2011). We have astounding valleys—the Snoqualmie, Sammamish, Snohomish, Stillaguamish—formed by glaciers, U-shaped, edged by hills or mountains with much of the valley floor largely preserved in farmland.  Flooding seems to be intensifying every year. Since 1990, the frequency, depth and intensity of floods have all increased and this year appears to be setting up to be a banner year. Right now farmers, many of whom I know, are moving animals and equipment to higher ground. They’re checking United States Geological Survey (USGS) real-time streamflow data online and listening to National Weather Service and NOAA flood warnings. Towns east of Seattle, like Duvall and Fall City, have been either partially or completely cut off. People are locked into their communities defending the ground floors of their houses and rescuing others who have chosen to challenge road closure signs. Maintaining composure in light of flooded houses already once repaired and rescuing the foolhardy is difficult. It’s only January and it’s early in the winter to have had so much flooding. I picture the farmers tapping their fingers on window sills as they look out to confirm the worst.

On  Saturday, January 15, when I heard the second flood of the water year had started, all I could think of was the awesome and frightening force of water; how it makes us feel small and scares us and that that awe should be teaching us something. I wanted to go to Duvall, in the Snoqualmie River Valley about 30 miles east of Seattle, with my brother and sister to eat at the Grange Café for my brother’s birthday. My brother had asked if we might not reach Duvall because of the flooding. I sent him the link to the data for the USGS water level gage. The river hadn’t reached flood crest yet and we went.

At night, the Snoqualmie Valley was an eerie, shiny lake reflecting the lights of stranded farms and fully-lit greenhouses. Some roads were already closed. We thought the river might have crested and we might not make it into town but we did. When we finished our dinner, Judy Neldam, the owner of the café, came over and said that Duvall might be cut off soon. The river was within inches of cresting. We were leaving but I wanted to stay and watch the Snoqualmie rushing by. I kept quiet. The crazy attraction to the power of the river that I secretly felt was shared by no one else—at least no one who would admit it—and we went home.

On Sunday I read on Facebook stories of the farmers I know watching the rivers rise, seeing their houses and barns flood, wondering if they would again have to leave. They elicited information on the rivers as they watched them. I wanted to help them but driving the 30-50 miles to them could just make me another human hazard so I replied to their postings saying that they are documenting the life of their community and to keep it up. That was not said without sincerity. I know they are threatened and we all need to know the dynamics of what they are living—both sides of it—and we need to think about what this means for us.

Perhaps as penance, perhaps as justification for my uncontrollable love of water and its power, since January I have been interviewing farmers about the December and January floods and am trying to create an internal balance of my feelings about the needs of those farmers and the action of water. I can’t deny that they suffer but I also can’t condemn the rivers. They are doing what they do.  I hope there can be reconciliation.

I have interviewed three farmers directly and talked to many others in passing since then. I managed to catch them in between floods or after a snow storm.  Mostly, we talked as they worked or, in one case, had the luxury of meeting indoors when a farmer was preparing for a night meeting about flooding. I have helped sort sheep, patted a lot of dogs and cats, gotten very muddy and heard stories that were often similar but many of them unique to their particular river or particular place on that river.

Luke Woodward and Oxbow Center for Sustainable Agriculture and the Environment—January 31
Luke Woodward is the farm manager at Oxbow Center for Sustainable Agriculture and the Environment (Oxbow) on the Snoqualmie River about 5 miles south of Duvall and 35 miles east of Seattle. When I drove up to meet Luke at the barn at Oxbow he was talking on the phone. He hung up and said to me that he wouldn’t have much time because they were getting ready for another predicted storm. Tractors were out in the fields preparing them for the first spring planting since the January 16-17 floods.

Oxbow was begun in 1999 as a farm and salmon habitat restoration site through a partnership between the landowners and the non-profit Stewardship Partners.  In 1999 this type of restoration was innovative. Now, the trees planted 12 years ago are thriving and Stewardship Partners has a program for “Salmon Safe” farms that certifies this and 339 other farms and vineyards throughout Washington Oregon, California and British Columbia.

Since Luke came here in 1999, there have been six major floods ranging in level from 58.79 feet to 62.21 feet. The normal level of the river is about 48 feet so that is ten feet of water that spreads over the Snoqualmie Valley.  The USGS’s records show that the Snoqualmie River has reached “flood stage” (the height of the water in the river at the nearby gage in Carnation) of 54 feet fourteen out of the last eighteen years. The naming of flood intervals leads to some confusion however. It is a statistical estimate of probability rather than an established predictor of potential flooding. The term indicates that in any given year the probability of a flood that could occur once in a hundred years, for example, is one in a hundred. So the hundred-year flood can occur in any year. 

Luke is fairly sure that the increased flooding he has seen since 1999 is directly connected to housing developments built since then on the valley walls of the Snoqualmie.  Housing developments increase what are called “impervious surfaces”—roofs, driveways and even lawns. Water that once slowly infiltrated through the soft floor of woodlands now runs much more quickly downhill on smoother, harder surfaces. In addition, in many farmers’ opinions, Puget Sound Energy (PSE), the local electrical utility, and the Army Corps of Engineers have managed the Snoqualmie River to the detriment of the downstream inhabitants of the floodplain. PSE has been allowed by the Corps to widen the Snoqualmie River at Snoqualmie Falls in 2005 and 2009. Now, releases at Snoqualmie Falls, which is upstream from Oxbow, seem to increase the speed and volume of floods.

Regardless of how it happens, what happens when the Snoqualmie floods at the levels it has reached so often in the past twenty years is that everything: barns, animals and one hundred plus year old houses are inundated.  Animals drown if not moved. Tractors and equipment are destroyed by water damage and families living on the river are in a life threatening situation. With more frequent flooding, farmers withstand crop losses more often and they are not always able to financially recover before the next big flood. This is unsustainable and a real threat to food production and the profession of farming in the Snoqualmie Valley.

Luke described the 2008 King County Task Force of farmers and local government agencies to study the problems and responses to flooding in the Snoqualmie Valley between 1990 and 2008. Among the things the Task Force reviewed were flooding patterns, damage, crop losses and the overall efficacy of regulations from the local level to the national level; one of the most salient being the issues around building “farm pads” or elevated mounds of fill to put animals and equipment on during floods. One would think farm pads would be a simple and elegant solution to decreasing loss and damage to farms during floods. However, if a large number of pads were built in any floodplain the impact during a flood would be similar to putting ice cubes in a full glass of water: flood levels would increase and overtop previous heights. So, to build a pad, a farmer needs to provide “compensatory storage”, or, in more lay terms, put a hole in the floodplain somewhere else. I wondered, in the long-term, how many farm pads could there be? There is a point at which multiple farm pads and compensatory storage in the floodplain will change what is called its “roughness” and that would change river dynamics as well. On the plus side, when the county allowed a pilot program of thirteen farm pads they found that the pads alleviated stress among farmers—an often un-discussed impact of flooding.  Overall farm pads seemed like a short term solution to me. Luke said, in any case, for most farmers the price of putting a pad in is prohibitive.

Federal, state and county regulations seemed to weigh on Luke’s mind quite a bit. He showed me the agricultural building they had constructed in 2005. At that time farm pads and raised buildings weren’t allowed and they built the structure in compliance with county zoning codes on the floodplain. Since then, as a result of much higher subsequent floods, he has had to raise all of their storage off the floors at great expense. He is frustrated that had they built in 2008 after codes changed, they could have saved the thousands of dollars that it took to retrofit the barn.

Luke told me about a law that has had serious impacts on all farmers since Hurricane Katrina. In Katrina, a lot of the water that broke levees flooded into industrial areas. When it washed back into residential areas and farmland it brought a toxic stew of industrial contaminants with it. As a result, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) passed regulations against selling foods from areas that had been flooded—nationwide. Since most farmers in the Snoqualmie Valley grow root crops and some hardy greens like collards during the winter, when it most often floods, this has cut into their income.
Luke gave me plenty to think about. My primary response was surprise. I hadn’t realized the extent to which the Snoqualmie is a controlled river: with flows manipulated at Snoqualmie Falls and increasing regulations of the floodplain.  The Snoqualmie, to paraphrase Aldo Leopold, is a river “…confused by so much advice.”[1]  It’s still beautiful but maintaining that beauty as well as a balance among farmers, people living in the hills, Puget Sound Energy and wild fish is not an easy zero-sum equation. To grow food, do it using organic practices and sustain this farm, Luke is pulling a lot of threads in an intricate and fraying weave. Pull too far in one direction and the fabric of the farm is altered. The interplay between this farmer and this natural system is a quest for sustenance in the face of powerful dynamics. The limits of what can be withdrawn as produce will be met at some point but when?

Linda Neunzig Herding and Sorting Sheep—February 13, 2011
Linda Neunzig is the Agricultural Coordinator for Snohomish County; one county directly north of King County, where Seattle is located. She is a Chef in the Slow Food community, a highly capable horsewoman, a Certified Veterinary Tech in California and Washington and a sheep and cattle farmer.


Ninety Farms is about 40 miles northeast of Seattle, a half mile from the banks and approximately 5 feet above the floodplain of the Stillaguamish River. This is a different drainage basin with different weather than the Snoqualmie. The “Stilly”, as locals call it, is not dammed upstream nor is it as susceptible to snowmelt flooding as the Snoqualmie. Flooding at Ninety Farms is mostly a result of heavy rain. Floodwaters this year brought a fine silt that covers the ground where Linda grows grass and she is going to have to drag and re-seed the pastures so that the roots can breathe and grass will grow thick again.  She is culling her herd because this year there will be less food for the sheep. Reducing feed reduces the number of lambs she can sell to her customers and thus her income—putting a dent in one of the few local sources of naturally raised lamb as well.

On December 12, 2010 Linda’s house and barns were flooded with four feet of water. She and a friend moved the 300 or so sheep, 3 horses and a multitude of cats and dogs to higher ground on his farm. While a farm pad may have helped her avoid the moving, she says it wouldn’t have changed the cleanup. It took three weeks and the volunteer help of many friends to clean up and bring the sheep back. They were lambing when the flooding started and they were still lambing four months later.

When I showed up early that Sunday morning, Linda was away getting fuel for her tractor. As soon as she got back she started working. She put diesel in the tractor, started preparing the barns for cleaning and let the sheep out of their main barn to the pasture. I asked her questions as she worked but mostly followed along watching what she did and let her comment.

We started working by moving new lambs. A mother had given birth to two lambs in the last hour. Their umbilical cords were dangling and the mother’s milk bag has a streak of blood from the uterus. We walked them over to the horse barn, set them up so that the mother could bond with them and then took the three horses to their pasture. All the while we were followed by a gaggle of cats and dogs. Tillie, the Corgi Linda uses to herd, was constantly at her heels. One young cat inserted himself into everything she did.

As Linda cleaned the barns and yard with the tractor, I walked down the road to the Stilly to take pictures.  It’s a beautiful river with gravel bars on alternating sides of each meander and piles of debris—trees and logs—piled on the banks.  In its quiet non-flood state I could picture just standing by it or fishing but what I was seeing was a water flow that was down closer to average. The gage closest to Ninety Farms does not measure flood height but volume. On this day it was approximately 2,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) but on December 12, 2010 the flow was 37,200 cfs.  

On my way back I saw a farmer whom Linda had told me would be coming to buy pregnant ewes. Linda had set aside about 23 and now had to identify them by age for the buyer. I was recruited to make a list on a receipt pad: 1 yr, 2yr, 3yr, 4yr and full mouth and put hash marks by each as she looked in their mouths and checked to make sure each has two-bag udders. She then released pregnant ones one-by-one to a fenced off part of the barn from the pen in the back where they had been held. One, she called “Coyote” wasn’t supposed to be in there. This one had been attacked by a Coyote when it was young. Its throat was so torn that when it swallowed food it came out of the side of its neck. Linda said, “We fixed it. We didn’t know if she would recover but she’s fine now.” After a while I realized that when Linda said “we” it was mostly an understated way of saying she did something. As she checked the sheep “Coyote” got out. Linda said, "Oh you can have her for free in case there are some that are not carrying babies." In the process of selecting she added in another two just in case.

When she was almost done Linda asked me to count the sheep she had already released. I needed to ascertain whether twenty or nineteen sheep had already been released. The penned sheep moved constantly but together; head to tail, head to head, tail to head. I tried to count by head but they moved up and down, disappearing behind and over each other. When Tillie got them fairly tightly into a corner they still shifted like jello. Finally, I determined that there were twenty. The idea that counting sheep is restful is a complete misrepresentation of anything that happens. No more images of the fluffy white ruminants jumping over logs for me.

When the trailerful of sheep was gone, we moved out to the fields to bring back the herd and sort about 20 more for butchering on the coming Thursday. Linda went out ahead of me. I kept my distance watching what she did. Linda and Tillie actualized a lot of the imagined herding I did when I owned a Border Collie. They turned the sheep towards the buildings and herded them together with an occasional bark and arm waving. They passed me at a distance as I moved further out past them to look at a large nest in the poplars along the river.

As I got back towards the farmyard, Linda had the sheep almost to the gate and they started to turn back. I stood in the way. Up until then, I think she might have thought I was pretty useless. She said, “Good, wave your arms at them and keep coming.” We together got them into the barn and moved some portable fence pieces to pack them together. Among 200, she wanted to get about 20. Linda looked for cropped tails and something she didn’t quite explain to pick them out. For about 45 minutes, it seemed, she walked slowly through the herd. When she saw one she wanted to check, she grabbed it by the neck and pulled it toward the back pen. When she was sure she wanted to put it in the back pen she straddled the sheep to free her hands and opened the gate and shoved it in. The large rams and ewes kept pushing the herd generally away from Linda. When they got crowded in one place, lambs ended up standing steadily on all fours on the backs of the adults. One got out then constantly bleated for its mother.

Linda said, “OK, that’s good. Let’s put these guys back in the field.” We moved the portable fence and she lead the main group out with Tillie. I stood guard to keep the sheep from going back into the barn. To the right I saw sheep coming from the back pen down a chute. I was watching them and thinking there was a gate blocking the chute but all at once they ran out of the barn and joined the main group! I ran out to Linda just as she was ready to open the gate and yelled to her that they got out. “What? Dammit!” She stopped, silent, then turned around and said, “OK we have to do it again.”

This time in the barn the herd was quieter, panting more, moving more slowly. Linda was quieter too. In another 15 minutes or so the sheep to be butchered were penned again. I watched for them to escape. They rammed the pen in the same spot but no luck. The main herd was let go out to the fields.

At one point in the sheep moving and gate opening I told Linda that it reminded me of the dots and squares game I used to play as a kid where you put dots on a paper in a grid then compete with someone to close the squares. It seems that at some point in the past this pencil and paper game would be good training for what we had been doing because if you don’t close the square you lose. Is it just coincidence or is there some agricultural heritage being passed down by this game?

I was ready to wrap up the day and Linda had been invited to dinner by a chef friend so I wanted to give her time to get ready. A couple of times during the day she had stopped and looked at me with her intense blue eyes and said, “You must think I’m crazy.” What I was thinking was not that she was crazy but how incompetent I was as I watched her move and guide and handle the cats and horses, lambs and dogs and tractor while answering the phone and the occasional question from me. She didn’t lose a beat moving quietly from one thing to another. Perhaps when no one is around she might get frustrated and show it but she had only shown that once in five hours of steady work.

I don’t believe Linda would or could do this work unless she was deeply connected to the rhythms, the air, the water, the animals and the land.  It all matches a power within her that needs to be matched—that visceral connection with the natural world that some people can’t ignore. For her the river either makes this possible or impossible and I saw her on a day when she was not fighting the river. It was incredibly peaceful just to watch her manage her piece of the universe.

This peace ultimately was transitory. While I was there I asked Linda about a nest out in a windrow of poplars along the river beyond the pasture. She asserted that it was a hawk’s nest but I wasn’t so sure. Later in the winter, between the second and third floods, she had to confront bald eagles and coyotes taking lambs. The eagles were flying into her barn to get them. To ward off the coyotes, Linda purchased three Llamas; but for the eagles she had no solutions. In addition she suffered through two snowstorms that didn’t affect farmers further south. The storms were late in the year and that was difficult enough but on the question of why the eagles were so aggressive, it seems that the cumulative systemic impacts of such a harsh winter had affected food sources for the wild animals. Her challenges with eagles and coyotes continued through the Spring.

Erick and Wendy Haakenson, Jubilee Farm, Snoqualmie River—February 14

Jubilee Farm is on the west side of the Snoqualmie Valley about 10 miles south of the Oxbow Center.  When I visited many of the fields were still wet from the January flood.


Erick Haakenson and his wife Wendy have built this farm over the last 20 years from an organic vegetable farm to its current status as a biodynamic farm. I found them in their brand new plantation-style house with a wraparound porch and Erick invited me to talk indoors. We immediately started off with a broad philosophical discussion on world population, the capacity to produce food for more people and how the Haakensons evolved from being more conventional organically certified farmers to using biodynamic practices. Erick feels that a lot of “organic agriculture” is going the way of industrial agriculture which disconnects people from a place.  Biodynamic farming is place-based and looks at people as part of the ecological system. For it to be successful, natural processes need to be respected and it includes animals—specifically ruminants—as a necessity in maintaining soil health.

Erick seemed somewhat inured to the flooding as a fact of life he has dealt with for years. He and Wendy lived for five years in a manufactured home across the road from the new house. On November 7th of 2006, in the middle of the night, their home was inundated by floodwaters that rose four feet up the walls. That older home has since been raised and become the residence for farm hands. Their old gambrel-roofed barn still stands near the old residence however it is being replaced by a model barn on a ten-foot-high pad being funded by a USDA Pilot Project grant.

Erick’s concerns with the flooding were not completely with the erratic and unpredictable patterns of the recent past but with the ultimate impacts of climate change and the future scarcity of water. The signal through the noise in hydrologic disruption is the steady rise in temperature that has been occurring for 50 to 100 years depending on what sources you cite. Glaciers have been shrinking more than growing for at least 100 years. If temperatures do continue to rise, the predicted scenario is that water now stored in the mountains in snow and glaciers will all be released during the winter instead of during the summer growing season. This is a problem for all of western North America from British Columbia to southern California where metropolitan water systems are designed around winter storage in snow and ice reservoirs. An adaptive approach that Erick considers a serious one is the idea of building small reservoirs in the mountains to supply winter storage and summer water for farming and water supplies. This idea is so fraught with repercussions on potential environmental impacts that Erick acknowledges he has to qualify any discussion of it very carefully.

Since 2009 Erick and the Snoqualmie Valley Preservation Alliance (SVPA) have been working on a lawsuit against US Army Corps of Engineers in relation to the widening at Snoqualmie Falls that Luke had mentioned.  In the permit process, the EIS reported a determination of non-significance, or DNS, for downstream impacts. Erick and other farmers are appealing this decision in Federal court. PSE petitioned the court of be included as co-defendants, and that petition was granted. The SVPA argues that no downstream impact studies were done to determine what the impact of up-river flood alleviation would be and no public review was allowed.  They are also pointing out that this project is not a good solution for native fish. Increased flows over Snoqualmie Falls seem to increase downstream flow velocity significantly during floods. This might serve the upper valley well by reducing flood heights but increased downstream speed and flows will potentially cut into stream banks, flood more fields and also scour the river bottom eradicating salmon spawning beds.

Erick is an eloquent speaker, deeply philosophical and clearly connected to the piece of land he’s sees himself as being privileged to steward. He and Wendy have a somewhat unique Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share program in which people come out to Jubilee Farm to pick up their food. This does not, like many CSAs, defray the travel cost but intentionally brings people to the farm so that they can have a direct connection to the production of their food.  Their practices emulate a basic tenet of the local food movement of the noted local food activists in Seattle, Viki Sonntag, who often says,
“It’s about relationships.” [2]

What is the Future we can see?
Erick and the other farmers welcomed me back at any time and I went back to see Erick and Luke. In March and May the Snoqualmie River rose again delaying planting. An unusually cold Spring further delayed planting as far out as June for some farmers. Fields were still muddy in some spots when I was there on June 4. I am in touch with Linda by email and the last time she posted on Facebook, she had 150 lambs sequestered in her barn to protect them from the eagles.

I have reflected a great deal on the implications that the experiences of these three farmers have for the food system and for the world. The thoughts from Luke about the current control of the Snoqualmie were a caution to me, the example of Linda and her absolute fierceness in engaging with every piece of the natural world that she can were an inspiration, and the small hint at what could be if we build the small reservoirs in the Cascades that Erick talked about lead me to a vision of a future that I and many others try to avoid thinking about.

The current strength of the local food movement throughout the US has increased the appreciation of farms and farmers. Many in Seattle hope that the city and region can be sustained on local food in the future; with much of it being produced in the Snoqualmie Valley. But the climate and the dynamics of rivers are changing. We are dealing with much more variable variability and the making of any predictions over the long-term is something we should be cautious about.

I may be wrong in many people’s eyes to be excited by the powers that natural systems have but our loss of respect for those systems is pretty incontrovertible. We are living the reality humans created. Population, pollution or just the now-unstable, varying patterns of precipitation around the earth are challenging us everywhere and I don’t think we’re able to say that people will always win. While I also hope that we can create a local food system I wonder how that will actually happen. We want healthy, locally grown for everyone. We want high quality farmland to be preserved for both practical and aesthetic reasons. We all, to some degree, idolize Wendell Berry and envision ourselves being connected to place like he and Aldo Leopold.

I felt myself being niggled at the ear by devils.  A specific point in all of these interviews that fed my devils was Erick’s discussion about the reservoirs in the mountains. If we honestly think about world population as projected on the exponential trajectory it’s now on, there will be an estimated nine billion people on earth in 2050. This presents challenges I’m afraid most food activists are unwilling or unable to visualize or confront.  I can’t even grasp the real possibility of it myself and I wonder how many of us can.

In 2050 my son could be a grandfather. Given population growth and the technical development and environmental destruction that have occurred since I was a four-year-old child playing by streams in New England woods, I think in that future, if we have built a few small reservoirs such as those Erick mentioned, it would be a minor alteration among many more technical. And, while we love the idyll of returning to a pastoral life, it seems more likely to me that current responses to food scarcity will be on the path of primarily infrastructural solutions like those reservoirs. Water conserving and permaculture farming practices will help but simply based on the potential demand for food, they may not be enough.

Of most concern to me is that this future won’t include ways to meet the real human need for a raw connection to the natural world. I can’t see the world where we give this up and I refuse to conclude that I am an evolutionary throwback with too many atavistic urges. I would rather say that I represent the true realities of human existence and that Luke, Linda, Erick and all those who yearn to grow their own food, live on a farm or just wander in the woods do as well.

There are those who might reply that evolution in response to increased population and immense technological change will lead to the diminishment of atavistic urges in the favor of a species much more accommodating of things like brain implanted communication devices and real time connections to almost everywhere in the world. I don’t want to buy into that idea but when I read an article in Wired Magazine Joel Johnson wrote something that seems to support it,

“…I believe that humankind made a subconscious collective bargain at the dawn of the industrial age to trade the resources of our planet for the chance to escape it. We live in the transitional age between that decision and its conclusion.”[3]

Many of us in the developed world are indeed escaping to the colorful electronic worlds and the internet. I participate too, often like it, and wonder at it but I don’t think that obviates my real human nature. Despite the long-ago description by Aristotle of a world made of atoms and the 18th century theorists who changed views of the world to see it as a part of a mechanical universe, I don’t think  there has ever been a time when people did not search out the unreconstructed natural world nor do I believe there ever will be so I stand my ground.

These three farmers are a small cross section of those in Western Washington. That they and others like them are surviving at all is remarkable but when people choose to make their living in the path of the constantly changing dynamics of water and other natural systems they have to be instilled with qualities that many don’t have: incredible perseverance and the ability to work almost continuously in heat, cold and wet. And they also fulfill the aspirations of many of us who want to be back on land, touching it, breathing in the living smell of earth; and they will not give those things up. I won’t either!

I worry about the farmers. I worry about food. I worry about the once-again threat of extinction of the bald eagles that play outside my window. When the rivers come up, my blood roils and in my heart meanders to those places where the powerful water is flowing. I must go there and stand by the river to touch it and remember who I really am. I can work with these forces within me. I trust the farmers I know can too. For those in doubt or in need of direction about what we should do, I say first, “Go find your river.” I’ll be standing by mine and from those places; be they metaphorical or real, we can all look forward and back and envision the world in all its complexity as a place where we create something better for not just us and our children but every living ounce of it.



[1] A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold, Oxford University Press, 1949. Pg. 119.
[2] Sonntag, Viki, Why Local Linkages Matter: Findings from the Local Food Economy Study, Sustainable Seattle, 2008.
[3] My Gadget Guilt, Joel Johnson, Wired Magazine, March 2011, pp 96-103. (quote on 103)