University of Minnesota Agriculture student Ruth Burke is spending this summer interning at a CSA farm called Cramer Organics of Delano, MN. Throughout the growing season, she’ll share weekly updates about the experience with readers of the Heavy Table.
Farm Journal 12: The Fauna on a Farm
An animal call from the nearby woods gives the vague impression of monkeys swinging through trees, yelling at each other. Seconds later, a deeper and more guttural sound rips through the foliage — definitely not the same animal that made the previous noise. Gently layered over these foreign sounds is the constant symphonic buzz of various songbirds and cicadas. Hawks circle in the sky, and as a breeze plays across the fields, dozens of unfamiliar butterflies and moths dance above the crops. If you pay close enough attention to the ground at your feet, you might see the toad hopping across your path or the tree frog leaping through the basil plants. And as you dig out weeds and kneel in the foxtails, you are probably within inches of a retreating snake.
At the beginning of the summer, I remember commenting that it felt like we were working in a jungle instead of at a farm. You wouldn’t believe the incredible diversity of birds, mammals, insects, reptiles, and amphibians (and even a few crustaceans) we have out here. As the summer has progressed, I’ve had many animal encounters that have been both humorous and irritating.
There was the day that a fawn had wandered into one of our fields while we were working. While the baby deer was indeed adorable, the fact that it wasn’t afraid of humans was a recipe for future munched zucchini and pepper plants. Before Joey or I could attempt to scare it off, Madrone came running from the opposite field, carrying a weeding knife in one hand and yelling a battle cry. As he ran through the grassy field, chasing the ridiculously frightened deer back into the woods, we couldn’t help but be reminded of a similar scene from the movie Braveheart. Needless to say, we were bent over laughing for a long time.
It was during our snap pea harvest that I discovered where all the tree frogs like to hang out. We harvested in the morning, when the temp was cooler and the sun was not as fierce.
As we moved our way slowly through the towering forests of pea plants, sunlight virtually obscured by the leaves, dozens of little green frogs leapt ahead of our hands, staying just a pea pod out of reach from our nimble fingers. Occasionally a frog would miscalculate and actually jump onto one of us! These were my favorite moments.
Sometimes I’ve had frightening experiences. One afternoon I was weeding a particularly over-run bed of onions and I found myself kneeling in the bed to get a better position. I was completely immersed in the weeds — the foxtail and lambs-quarters were taller than my head. I wasn’t paying attention to what I was grabbing (as long as it wasn’t an onion) so when I grabbed something that curled around my hand, I immediately dropped it and let loose a little scream. Mary, the other intern, couldn’t stop laughing at me when it turned out my attacker was a garter snake.
Aside from the many up close and personal encounters, just having the sights and sounds of all the wildlife around me really makes me feel like I’m a part of the system, and this is what gives me the most pleasure when I’m out in the fields. The hawks soar above us, occasionally swooping down to catch a doomed mouse in the next field over, not caring that we sit a mere 20 feet from their meal. The dragonflies flit about our heads, happily feasting on the mosquitoes and deer flies that plague us so much. The birds provide such never-ending, rather pleasant background conversation that I find myself periodically eavesdropping on. The key point here is that they don’t care about us and, for the most part, we don’t care about them. I like to think that I am just one more animal out there, doing what I do, and perhaps humoring some other animal that may be watching me.
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