CARNATION, Wash. — Dave the giraffe gets a fair share of healthy treats from keepers at Woodland Park Zoo, but broccoli was recently added to his diet for the first time – thanks to an organic farm in Carnation.
Oxbow Farm and Conservation Center partnered with the zoo to help provide “imperfect produce” – vegetables that aren’t marketable to humans but are perfectly suitable for animal consumption.
"It's gone a little wild, which is perfect for our animals,” said animal diet specialist Kaitlin Peli. “We're offering things they wouldn't normally get from our produce, something that's going to be fun and entertaining for them."
The partnership was forged during the pandemic. When staffing for the zoo’s garden diminished, keepers turned to the 240-acre farm along the Snoqualmie River.
"As far as what we grow, kind of everything is here,” said Audrey McLane, Garden Coordinator at Oxbow Farm. "Anything you can picture or get at a farmer's market, we have."
But they don't just grow to sell their bounty. Oxbow has three other focal points: a native plant nursery, conservation and education.
“We do a lot of different things which is a cool aspect of Oxbow, we have such an intersection of all these different fields that aren't usually working together,” McLane said.
Each summer, day campers gather in the kids' garden to learn the hard work and satisfaction of tending fields.
"It's really fun to harvest. It's my favorite,” said 7-year-old Hana Tran.
During 2021, the kids helped glean three crops for the animals: fava beans, kohlrabi, and broccoli that had bolted and started to flower.
"Hopefully some of these kids will also be into conservation and animals, and having some say in our future,” Peli said.
A few days after the broccoli stalks were collected, they were introduced to Dave and some of his friends.
The zebras and hippos were in heaven, but the giraffe was a bit more reluctant. He only ate broccoli leaves that had been individually plucked from the stems.
"It is very much like working with toddlers,” Peli said.
Just like people, not all animals like all produce. Whatever they don't eat goes in the compost, returns to the earth, and the growing begins again. A win-win for everyone – and everything – in this small circle of life.