Social Connection in the time of “Social Distancing”

person washing his hand
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I am concerned about the idea of “social distancing” during the current pandemic. Do we need distancing from germs? Absolutely! We must “flatten the curve” on COVID-19 and decrease the spread of disease, especially to vulnerable people. But if social distancing means completely withdrawing from your community, it will be detrimental to the health of our neighbors and small businesses.

If we want to halt the spread of the virus, we need to practice:

1. Hygiene; 

2. Consideration; and

3. Social care.

We need to wash our hands, be considerate of people with compromised immune systems, and check in on our friends, family & neighbors.

We need to wash our hands again, consider the impact on local economy and people, and support our local businesses.

How Social Connection Helps in an Epidemic

architectural design architecture brick wall bricks
Photo by Skitterphoto on

During a heat wave in Chicago in 1990’s, 739 people died. This was many more than expected by epidemiologists given the climate conditions. The sociologist Eric Klinenberg explained in this podcast that a lack of social connection is believed to be a major cause of high number of heat deaths.

The sad thing about a heat death is it’s so easily preventable if you’re with someone else who recognizes it. One of the most — maybe the most important risk factor for dying in the heat wave was living alone.”

If we are worried about public health, we should be doubling our efforts to check in on neighbors, especially the elderly and those living alone. You don’t have to be in the same room to check in on them. Call, email, text, Facebook–heck, drop a note in their mailbox! Make sure you are doing your part to keep your germs to yourself, but not your concern for the people around you.

  1. Ask your neighbors if they need groceries. It is better for healthier people to do the shopping than people who have underlying health conditions.
  2. Chat on the phone with neighbors. If you’re not sick, why not knock on the door and keep a few feet back. Make sure the people around you are ok! Alleviate loneliness and isolation.
  3. Ask for help! If you have a compromised immune system or are worried about going to public places, ask the people around you for help! We are in this together.
  4. Share! You want the people around you to have what they need to stay healthy because that keeps you healthy too. If you already panicked and bought all the toilet paper, give some away to people who might need it.
  5. Can you help with child care? K-12 school throughout Oregon was cancelled next week and many parents are scrambling. Maybe you can work at home, but not everyone can.
  6. Can you help with chores? If your neighbor is sick, maybe they need someone to feed their animals or shovel their walk or pick up their mail at the post office.
  7. Can you increase your donations? The folks most impacted by the disruption are people without a lot of resources or paid sick time. Consider giving to the Oregon Food Bank or the World Health Organization.

Pretending that you can get through a public health emergency by yourself is magical thinking. Focus not on walling yourself off, but thinking about ways to make things better for the community.

Social Distancing Hurts Small Businesses

You may not feel comfortable sitting in a restaurant or coffee shop, but you can still help keep small businesses afloat during this time of social distancing.

  1. Buy gift certificates! You can give them away or just enjoy them later. Gift certificates can give small businesses cash to keep going during the outbreak. Think about your normal spending for the week or month, and buy a gift certificate that reflects it.
  2. Order take out! Restaurants and food businesses are especially hard hit by these disruptions.
  3. Do business over the phone. If you were planning to order something from a local business, it will be especially helpful to follow through with that this month and help with cash flow.
  4. Support local organizations. Places like Art Center East have a razor thin margin of operation. It keeps afloat on income from classes, so if we aren’t going to those classes that income is lost. It is a perfectly reasonable decision to avoid a public class, but can you pitch in with a donation? Can you renew your membership?  (I just did!)
  5. Don’t forget other businesses like barber shops and salons, the movie theater and book stores. Again, order over the phone, buy gift certificates, or just drop off a tip to show appreciation for that barber or hairdresser that makes you look so good. 🙂

Thanks for taking care of your neighbors and community!

Your farmer,

Nella Mae




Water Attention

A month ago I was at a gathering of neighbors where we were talking about what the Grande Ronde Valley was like before the wetlands were drained and diked. My friend Bobby kept talking about “water attention.” I thought about “water attention” for weeks, and asked him to explain this new concept to me. He set me straight.

I said water retention, referring to the natural function of a stream including braids, meanders, log jams, eddies and pools. To store the water in the land throughout the year. It is good to have “water attention” too though! That is beautiful. I have spent a lot of time just listening to the water and she has a lot to tell us.”

In this time of extreme flooding in northeast Oregon, she does have a lot to tell us–she is forcing us to have water attention.

What is water attention?

The idea of water attention has been bouncing around in my brain long enough to be defined. To me, water attention is understanding how water moves on the landscape and in our lives. And not just how, but where and when; its quality and quantity; and how it has changed over time.

Flooding in 2011; My view from Mt. Harris.

Water attention is helpful in everything we do. I also think of this silly thing my dad always says me to when we’re doing a carpentry project: “Imagine you’re a leeetle drop of water.” That is to say, when we’re placing tar paper on a roof or sealing in a window, imagine how water moves.

Evidence we lack water attention

If we had water attention, we wouldn’t be surprised when the river returns to its old braids and channels, through our basements and yards, hopping roads and leaving culverts.

If we had water attention, we wouldn’t waste it; we wouldn’t expect it endlessly; we wouldn’t defile it.

We love water. We waste water.

If we had water attention, we would show appreciation and deference to water not just in waterfall or ocean form, but at flood stage, when creeks get muddy, when the aquifer bubbles up in unexpected places and we must move to high ground.

In every river valley, we build our homes on banks, in the floodplain, and atop former marshes expecting the river to conform to our needs. But our understanding of “river” is as narrow as the incised channels we have put her into. Water moves vertically and horizontally. “The floodplain is the river,” as my husband likes to say. It is also the shallow aquifer, the marsh, and every ditch called “Dry Creek.”

How does water move through the landscape? “Imagine you’re a little drop of water.”

As a farmer, I know the importance of water–in the right amount at the right time. Last year when the dike in lower Cove busted, many farmers were flooded for months and were never able to plant. Two years ago, we struggled to finish cattle when the lack of rain and snow dried up our pastures early. A few weeks ago homes and property and safety were threatened and inundated by the rise of the Umatilla River when the Blue Mountains picked up a remarkable 10 inches of water in a few days.

Every year we expect flooding in our upper terraces. We are lucky to have sub-irrigation; we just have to plan around it.

How should we respond? More dikes and flood insurance? Planned retreat from the floodplain, like they are starting in the Florida Keys? I don’t know, but we are living the consequences of the narrow view of the river and overconfidence in our ability to control water–a lack of water attention.

What if we practiced water attention?

Water attention for me starts with understanding how water moves around our homes and through the valley. Here are questions we should be able to answer about water on our landscape:

  • Where are the confluences of major creeks and rivers around me? Have I visited them?
  • What do creeks and rivers look like from high points? (This can help us understand where water is moving on the landscape.)
  • What is my water source? Shallow or deep aquifer? Where does city water come from?
  • How long ago was my drinking water rain or snow?
  • Where does my “waste” water go?
  • How does water change through the season around me? Where is is perennial or seasonal? When is it high or low?
  • How many bridges and culverts do I cross daily?
  • How does water affect plants I see here?
Why do we have camas on the farm? Water and cultivation by native people.

Water Use & Water Attention

In addition to the movement and source of water, I think we should bring attention to how we use it. So, as always, here are some tips we use at home and on the farm for conservation.

1. Use water as many times as you can.

When I was in college, I did a class project/experiment to live on 20 liters of water per day–the amount the UN budgets to each person in a refugee camp. What I learned from this experiment is that you have to use water more than once.

A small kitchen bucket can be the most useful way to conserve water. I rinse produce over a kitchen bucket so I can collect the water to wash dishes or fill the dog bowl. If you’re defrosting something in water, don’t pour the water out! Use it to water house plants or rinse off muddy boots.

2. Don’t lose excess water down the drain!

If you’re running the tap to get hot water, there should be a kitchen bucket under it to catch the excess water. Use that water to fill your tea kettle or fill your water bottle. You can even shower with a small bucket. Just collect the water before you start soaping up. Go water a tree or favorite plant with what you’ve collected.

3. Passively collect water

Besides kitchen and shower buckets, we can passively collect water with gutters, rain chains, and rain barrels. I designed our horse water tank to sit under a gutter with a rain chain. I don’t want the tank to overflow and create a muddy mess, so I have a drain at the top of the tank (like bath tubs have) that runs into PVC pipe and into our creek. It has worked for a decade and directs water away from our horse corral.

4. Use timers and timing to conserve.

I have never been able to remember to turn off a hose or sprinkler. I use timers on my phone and on the stove to remind me not to waste water. I also recommend inexpensive irrigation timers that work like Christmas light timers. Finally, in college, we had tiny hour glasses stuck to the wall of our dorm showers that helped us keep showers shorter.

5. Use low flow, targeted water systems

We use drip irrigation on our farm to conserve the water we use. Anyone watering a garden or flower bed can use drip irrigation. This year, I am offering a bunch of classes at the farm so folks can employ some of the techniques we use at home. We will have an irrigation design class in April. Check out the rest of the classes here.

Thanks for reading!

Sincerely your farmer,

Nella Mae Parks




What to do with Basil

Breakfast ideas: 1) Bagel, cream cheese, garlic powder & basil; 2) Fried/scrambled eggs with salt, pepper, sun-dried tomato & basil on top; 3) Fried eggs, chorizo sausage, basil scramble with avocado


Lunch ideas: 1) Grilled cheese with tomato & basil; 2) Turkey, provolone & basil; 3) Add to a BLT; 4) Ham/prosciutto, mozzarella & basil sandwich; 4) Blend basil with mayo to for any sandwich!


Dinner ideas: 1) Add to ANY pizza (frozen, homemade, takeout!); 2) Grill chicken with basil, tomato, olive oil; 3) Broil French bread with slice of parmesan, basil, tomato, olive oil for bruschetta; 4) Caprese salad with tomatoes, basil, grated mozzarella, olive oil; 5) Lemon, basil & shrimp pasta; 6) Broil salmon with basil, lemon, oil; 7) Add to pasta, chicken, or fruit salad; 8) Add to cocktails!

Spring Spinach/Kale, Basil & Strawberry Salad with Balsamic Dressing

Nella Mae’s Farm Seasonal Recipe

Adapted from Rachel Ray recipe


2-3 cups spinach or chopped kale

1 ½ c fresh strawberries, ½ c fresh basil leaf

½ stalk green garlic or 1 shallot

Juice of ½ lemon, 1 t fine sugar

2 T of balsamic vinegar , Salt and freshly ground pepper

If using kale instead of spinach, chop, add 2 t of white or apple cider vinegar and “massage” with your hands for 1 min. Chop garlic/shallot and put in small bowl with vinegar, sugar, lemon juice, salt & pepper, set aside. Hull strawberries and cut in half. Toss spinach/kale, basil leaf and dressing and serve immediately. Does not keep well.