Saturday at Wolftown

I first learned about Wolftown last month, the only time I visited Vashon Island, WA.  My friend Arwen and I had stopped for coffee at The Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie.  Their “Wolf Blend” coffee caught my eye because the package pictured a grey wolf.   Not only was the roast blend right for my taste, but a portion of proceeds would benefit organizations such as Wolftown.  I bought some coffee.

At home that night, I got online and researched Wolftown. Located on Vashon Island, it is a non- profit, federal and state wildlife education and rehabilitation center.  Photos posted to the Web site include predator birds, sea mammals, sheep, working dogs, horses, goats and wolves. When I read, “Wolftown teaches compassionate, sustainable and predator friendly agriculture. We support the slow food movement. We have programs across the west helping farmers and ranchers,” I knew I had to meet them.  I contacted them to set up a visit to Wolftown, agreeing to work in exchange for a tour.  I also wondered if this was something Slow Food Seattle members would be open to and willing to support.

The sheep's favorite job is keeping T's neighbor's lawn tidy.

The sheep's favorite job is keeping T's neighbor's lawn tidy.

I had first read about predator friendly agriculture from Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer.  I was particularly interested in the perspectives of the character, Deanna Wolfe, a wildlife biologist living in isolation studying the habits and movements of a den of coyotes.  It was the first time I considered predators as necessary for the health of prey animals and to forests, but our whole ecosystem in which we live.  When humans hunt, they take the strongest animals leaving the most vulnerable of creatures.  Predators like coyotes and wolves hunt the weakest animals, leaving a sturdier gene pool to thrive.  Predator survival is completely necessary in order for nature to thrive.  The earth cannot live strong without them, however humans have justified the killing of predators for centuries as a protection against livestock.  We have all heard about the wolf becoming uncomfortably close to extinction. T Martino believes there is a better alternative than pulling the trigger, setting traps or poisons.

A horse expert and former internationally acclaimed event rider, T Martino’s life is now dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating sick, injured and orphaned wild animals so they can return to the wild(in most cases).  T specializes in predators, especially raptors and canids.

T Martino and working dogs moving sheep

T Martino and working dogs moving sheep

When I first called Wolftown, T’s husband Pete answered the phone.  T was outside chasing a ram and couldn’t come to the phone (!).  After explaining my connection to Slow Food and my personal interest in learing more about Wolftown, Pete suggested meeting at the Vashon Farmers Market on Saturday.  We agreed to do some work in exchange for their time.  We would make time to talk.

Jason and I rode the ferry over to Vashon and met up at the farmer’s market.  T sells wool and teaches weaving for donations. She also sells her books and calendars, displays educational material and answers questions.   The main attraction is her Wolftown ambassador, a rescued Great Horned Owl.  T obtained him after he was hit by a car.  Blind in one eye and unable to fly, he can’t be returned to the wild.  At closing time, we helped tear down the booth and tent, and then followed them home.

We arrived at Wolftown around 2:30 p.m. The sheep were vocal and ready to eat so T put the owl back in his house and then sent her sheep dogs to herd the flock over to her neighbor’s field.  The dogs herded the sheep into fenced enclosure and then T secured the fence and switched on the electrical current.  Since two of the youngest lambs had gotten stuck before, T asked one of us to keep watch.  There were also predator birds calling from high in the trees.  Jason stayed behind with his camera.

Frog as small as a dime

Frog as small as a dime

I followed T and the dogs back to meet the goats and an Irish draft horse.  Our last stop was adjacent pens where three horses stood: two female and one male.  It took a second to understand my job when T pointed to a shovel and wheelbarrow: my first job was  shoveling horse manure.  T left so I pushed the wheelbarrow into the first pen where two gentle mares watched me work.  I then moved to the pen with the stallion who nibbled and flirted with me while I shoveled his dung.  At one point, he positioned himself between me and the wheelbarrow.  Horse dung isn’t too bad.  It’s essentially clumped hay.

Once finished, I walked out to relieve Jason of his shepherding duties.  His jobs included pulling down the brain-tanned sheep hides off the roof and placing them in bags.  Then he accompanied T as they fed the ambassador owl and one falcon (T fed the other falcon alone).  Jason split chubs of meat with an axe and then followed T with a full wheelbarrow while hurled the meat over the tall fence.  T made it explicitly clear that neither of us could go near the wolves, and we definitely couldn’t feed them ourselves.  Direct gazing or eye contact made the wolves uncomfortable and twitchy.  In fact, they wouldn’t approach their food until all of us were inside the house and away from the windows. They are not dogs.

I was still in the field with the sheep when the wolves began to howl.  A strikingly beautiful sound, I wished for my recorder.

Sheep grazing

Sheep grazing

T, Jason and the dogs came out to gather up the sheep to drive them back to their pen.   Incredible appetites, they asked for hay bales and then ate contentedly while I filled their water buckets.

T motioned and we moved inside.  While the wolves ate, we sat inside and talked about the possibilities for change.  Anyone really interested in good, clean and fair food should care about predator friendly agriculture and Wolftown.  T needs more funds to buy land to secure a refuge for these animals in the future.   Even though volunteers are welcome to work an afternoon in exchange for education and experience, T and Peter dedicate their whole lives to these animals.  I left Wolftown grateful for meeting T.

Wolftown isn’t prettied-up for the tourists.  It is a working sheep farm.  For anyone willing to get their hands dirty in exchange for an incredible day of learning and raw inspiration, I highly recommend calling T.  For those who have more money than time, there is always locker lamb, fleeces, yarn, clothing, brain tanned hides and breeding stock.  A 501 (c) 3, Wolftown appreciates donations.  Be generous!

that face!

that face!

For more information about Wolftown, please visit http://www.wolftown.org/

Learn about predator friendly ag and certification: http://www.predatorfriendly.org

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