Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Life On the Urban Farm: Heat Stroke and Lions

Heat Stroke and Lions On McDonald's Urban Farm
Michael Sedano 

 Hundreds of thousands of years ago, a cleft in an unnamed mountain range eroded into a foothill arroyo that time, and rainfall, filled with sand and stones and topsoil. The river left behind an alluvial fan, rich land teeming with animal life, predators and prey. After people arrived, the animals adapted, avoiding contact while feeding on pets and livestock before moving to other parts of their mountain habitat. 

News programs delight in videos of bears basking in a hapless owner's backyard swimming pool. It's cute when dangerous beasts get urban on television. It's lethal when it happens in your own backyard. The incredible heat wave didn’t help.

McDonald’s Urban Farm occupies that dell where ancient alluvial deposits support wild and farmed abundance. Amelia McDonald grows citrus and stone fruit, seasonal vegetables, duck and hen eggs, dressed poultry, and a delightful herd of goats. Soon the farm will produce goat milk soaps with local luffa and dried flowers.

Visitors to the farm pass through steel gates plasma-cut by Michael Amezcua, depicting local wildlife, including a mountain lion. Until last week, the only Puma on McDonald’s Urban Farm were soccer shoes. 

Last week,  a pair of mountain lions announced themselves, easily leaping the 8 foot enclosure to kill several goats and drive the farmer to momentary desperation. Forest rangers said McDonald could kill those cougars, just get a permit. The lions occupy a "watch" overlooking the animal pens.

McDonald now locks up the goats in their barn before dusk, hunting hours. The goats safely ensconced, a few nights later, the mountain lions excavate a narco-worthy tunnel, defeating a coyote-proofing wire apron. 

The lions leave with McDonald’s entire breeding flock of “easter eggs”, pink, green, chocolate, and blue-black shell-laying hens. The loss hits doubly devastatingly; California prohibits importing poultry into Los Angeles county. Amelia McDonald’s indomitable spirit is shaken, but her concerns go to her aging parents in the impending climate emergency. 

The power of those lions looms, with two goats about to kid, preventive action demands immediate work. The cats moved several cubic feet of earth to get under that wire apron.

Barbara and I live in a home with 1922 air conditioning: casement windows and screens. We were defenseless against the worst heatwave of our lives. Barbara has never tolerated heat, and the week’s thermometer hit me harder than those hot, wet, Korean Summers when I was young. Our daughter insisted I move her mother to Amelia’s place, McDonald’s Urban Farm, where modern air conditioning and filtration would ensure Barbara’s survival. Much as my wont is to be home, I was lucky to be at McDonald’s Urban Farm when the day dawned hotter than ever, and temperatures soared. McDonald’s Urban Farm was prepared, but for an extra set of hands to save the flock.

Amelia McDonald operates McDonald’s Urban Farm out of a personal commitment to sustainability and local advantage. There’s no money in it—never a justification. My daughter derives enormous personal satisfaction in making things grow, and from connections with other women engaged in self-sustainability lifestyles and responsible environmental engagement. No money, but fulfilling a social responsibility pays one's soul. 

The plague has underscored a glaring weakness in our social fabric, the fragility of long-distance supply chains: they break down and you can’t buy potatoes at your local chain grocery store. Local provisioning provides fresh, fresh provender, with the confidence knowing it's local. McDonald's Urban Farm operates an honor basket for customers, who drive up, take eggs, leave payment or iPhone it in. The farm also supplies vegetable boxes, hosts farm-to-table chef dinners, local 4-H and Girl Scout activities, and private tours. Last year, the menu included mixtamalization lessons and comida from farm-grown heirloom corns.

When Barbara and I arrived, suitcase in hand, to take over our granddaughter’s bedroom in that cool air, McDonald had stocked dry ice, blocks, and bags of crushed ice to lay in front of blowing fans. With the cooling fanning, hens can survive most heat outbreaks. Young chicks and pullets, and badly stricken hens, will go into Amelia’s converted garage, where Poultry ICU is ready for sick beaks.

As for killing the cougars, Charlotte declares that an absolute No. Her mother's joy and the lives of the farm's livestock occupy lower precedence in Charlotte's scheme of things. This is her land, Charlotte's decision. McDonald's Urban Farm immediately began installing welded wire floors and roofs. Those jaulas will be enclosed on six sides against gophers and mountain lions.

The morning heat builds, so by ten a.m., hens are collapsing, desperation in their beady eyes, some collapsing in their tracks. We are losing the flock. All hands on deck. 

In my grandfather-eyes, my granddaughter remains that laughing joyful little girl, reading and dancing, capturing lizards and insects, writing poems, and living deservedly in unfettered happiness. In today’s heat emergency, fourteen-years old Charlotte stands out as a competent young adult, impressing the heck out of her grampa, or any observer, with her knowledge, skill, indomitability. 

Hens are dying. Charlotte springs into action with confidence and expertise and everything organized and in order. I'm impressed what a solid character she's building. "When duty calls and says, 'You must'..." Charlotte has already begun saving hens, not taking time for aphorisms.

In the goat pen, a rooster and his hens need to be caught and brought into the ice-cooled jaula. My granddaughter works fearlessly, undeterred by rooster spikes and flapping hen wings. She makes a beeline for a bird, traps it in a corner, and seizes that bird, gently and lovingly. Sugar and spice. In no time flat, Charlotte has saved those birds. The rooster, whose name might be Rod Stewart, finds himself overjoyed at all these hens!  Last night’s terror from marauding lions long forgotten, look at all the hens.

With Rod and his flock safely moved, Ms. Charlotte leaps to her responsibilities in the main hen yard. Charlotte triages the suffering hens, kneels in the muck to extract a hen and place her on ice and run a hose over the confused bird. The studious teenager surveys the scene, pulls one, two, three, four hens to go on ice and for Amelia to or me to douse under a hose. Some birds revive enough to lift a neck and raise hopes. When a hen rises and wobbles into the palomilla, we know we’ve saved her. No time for cheering, other hens are failing.

Three hens don’t make it. Their colorful bodies lie rigid in the icy run-off. Unhesitatingly, sin asco, Charlotte grabs the stiff legs and stuffs the carcasses into a plastic bag she's retrieved. Later she’ll pull the hen leg bands, tally the loss.

An hour’s intense work, McDonald’s Urban Farm’s main laying flock survives the crisis. A final hen wobbles precariously. Amelia cradles the girl and heads for the ICU. Outside the jaula, the wet fainting chicken doesn’t have the strength to finish expelling a final blanquillo. The pinkish globe bulges partially exposed under the hen’s tailfeathers. Amelia isn’t fazed one bit—I see where her daughter gets her aplomb and skill. McDonald places two fingers around the protruding shell and gently massages free  a warm and slightly wet, pinkish-brown egg.

I eat that egg for breakfast the next morning. 

And there will be others: that hen survived her stint in ICU and clucks happily ever after. As do we, the familia that keeps hen hearts beating is a happy familia. 


Unknown said...

Gracias. Such a wonderful epic struggle and triumph..all in Altadena-our vecindario.
My son John and Karen order Amelia's McDonald
Weekly vegetable box.i will order her eggs.Tanto Amor y dedicación..You and Barbara raised a beautiful familia.

Chuck said...

I agree-an epic story with heroes who happen to be women.This account should be in every classroom, K through 12.