Welcome!

Welcome to our farm’s blog and website! Oakhill Organics is a family-run farm located on Grand Island. We grow everything we sell right here on our 100+ acres, and everything that we grow is sold directly to customers here in Yamhill County! You can find out more information about what and how we grow by following the links above; or, scroll down to read our latest farm newsletter on our blog!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla & the whole Oakhill family

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Summer evening walk

Join us for a summer evening walk!

Join us for a summer evening walk!

Hey y’all! It’s hot out there, have you noticed? Our outdoor thermometer broke a few months ago, but the internet tells me that right now (at 8:30 pm) it is 93° at the McMinnville airport. And it got up to 98° there earlier. Which isn’t over 100°, but it’s plenty hot for most of us.

The kids spent most of the day in and out of the water, swimming at the river and in our little wading pool at home. Casey made it through the day by getting very sweaty in his clothes and wearing a big hat — effective heat strategies for the farmer.

But beauty abounds amidst the heat. Thrives, in fact. So, for this week’s newsletter, I invite you to come with us on the summer evening walk we took earlier today. We’ll see some of the fields here at the home farm:

First we'll stop by our short rows of sweet peas, which we planted because we love flowers ever so much even if we don't always get around to picking them for any commercial purpose. I think all of us in the fields enjoy the color they bring, and they invite plenty of diverse insects (usually beneficial ones) to come visit too. For that purpose, we especially love both phacelia and calendula in the fields.

First we’ll stop by our short rows of sweet peas, which we planted because we love flowers ever so much even if we don’t always get around to picking them for any commercial purpose. I think all of us in the fields enjoy the color they bring, and they invite plenty of diverse insects (usually beneficial ones) to come visit too. For that purpose, we especially love both phacelia and calendula in the fields.

But, come closer, because sweet peas are especially prized for their amazing fragrance. Oh, you can't smell it? Perhaps we'll have to bring some to CSA pick-up tomorrow then.

But, come closer, because sweet peas are especially prized for their amazing fragrance. Oh, you can’t smell it? Perhaps we’ll have to bring some to CSA pick-up tomorrow then.

And, just next to the sweet peas we'll find the new high tunnel Casey built last fall. This house has served us well already this year, growing all kinds of great kale and other yummies. But it was time to prepare for another round of vegetables, so this week it got harrowed and now it's a clean slate again. What shall we plant here next? Perhaps some strawberries for early picking next year!

And, just next to the sweet peas we’ll find the new high tunnel Casey built last fall. This house has served us well already this year, growing all kinds of great kale and other yummies. But it was time to prepare for another round of vegetables, so this week it got harrowed and now it’s a clean slate again. What shall we plant here next? Perhaps some strawberries for early picking next year!

Another big project for the week — hoeing a very large summer planting containing (among other things) tomatoes, summer squash, cucumbers, eggplants, peppers, and lots and lots of winter squash (oh, how we love winter squash!). It took us one and a half full days of work to get it done, with everyone on the farm chipping in (and I mean EVERYONE!). But we got it done!

Another big project for the week — hoeing a very large summer planting containing (among other things) tomatoes, summer squash, cucumbers, eggplants, peppers, and lots and lots of winter squash (oh, how we love winter squash!). It took us one and a half full days of work to get it done, with everyone on the farm chipping in (and I mean EVERYONE!). But we got it done!

And it's a good thing we hoed out those weeds when we did, because these squash plants are starting to "run" now, sending their vines in every direction. Very soon all the (now bare) soil around the squash plants will disappear under a vigorous cover of green. Have I mentioned how much we love growing squash?

And it’s a good thing we hoed out those weeds when we did, because these squash plants are starting to “run” now, sending their vines in every direction. Very soon all the (now bare) soil around the squash plants will disappear under a vigorous cover of green. Have I mentioned how much we love growing squash?

And, turn around again and you find our early summer brassica plantings, featuring the beautiful cabbage heads we're providing as an option in this week's CSA share. While we ate a ton of cabbage last winter, we've been without for a few months now and out household is so happy to welcome it back! Summer cabbage is such a treat!

And, turn around again and you find our early summer brassica plantings, featuring the beautiful cabbage heads we’re providing as an option in this week’s CSA share. While we ate a ton of cabbage last winter, we’ve been without for a few months now and out household is so happy to welcome it back! Summer cabbage is such a treat!

"Mama! Mama! Take a picture of me! ... Make a video of me! ... Can I see the picture! ... Mama! Mama! Carry me!"

“Mama! Mama! What are you doing? … What are you taking pictures of? … Mama! Mama! Take a picture of me! … Make a video of me! … Can I see the picture? … Mama! Mama! Carry me! … The grass is too tall! Carry me!”

While we were out there, Casey moved pipe, to keep the fields being watered through all this heat. Grow plants, grow!

While we were out there, Casey moved pipe, to keep the fields being watered through all this heat. Grow plants, grow!

Just past all those recently weeded crops are some of our potatoes, now in full bloom and quite bushy. Another satisfying crop to grow.

Just past all those recently weeded crops are some of our potatoes, now in full bloom and quite bushy. Another satisfying crop to grow.

One last destination: the tomatoes in the field. Green rows of future sauce and so much deliciousness. Now time for the boy and farmer Papa to walk to the plums while I carry the girl back up through the tall grass for some quiet reading time on the couch ...

One last destination: the tomatoes in the field. Green rows of future sauce and so much deliciousness. Now time for the boy and farmer Papa to walk to the plums while I carry the girl back up through the tall grass for some quiet reading time on the couch …

Thanks for coming on our walk with us! Hope you are keeping cool in your own ways. Enjoying all the local swimming holes perhaps? Or escaping to the beach? Have a safe and fun Fourth of July this weekend! And, enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Raspberries — How much have you loved these raspberries? Sooooo much? We sure have. Our favorite simple summer treat right now is raspberries in cream. The kids like their cream whipped, but I like just plain liquid cream poured into a bowl with my raspberries. That flavor of brilliant raspberry goodness with cream will always be the taste of high summer to me.
  • Plums — The first of this year’s plums! We’ve got two kinds this week: Methleys, which are a red early “Asian” type, and an unnamed yellow Asian plum from my parents’ yard (a giant tree!). Both are cling-stone, and both are loaded with sweet delicious juice that will drip down your chin and onto your shirt (if you’re not careful!). Summer is on! (Also, at the risk of sounding so repetitive this summer, these are very, very, very early for us. In our memory, we usually eat the first of the Methleys when a friend is in town for IPNC — typically the end of July!)
  • Salad — Too hot to cook? Eat a salad instead.
  • Carrots — We ate some of these as carrot sticks with dinner. Man, oh man, farm carrots are the best. Every year, I am continually blown away by how good our carrots are! They never fail to amaze me!
  • Green beans — The first of the summer beans! A chef taught us many years ago that a fresh bean will stick to your shirt. We like to “test” our beans every year, just for the fun of it, even though we know of course how very fresh they are. But, hey, it’s cool to stick a bean to your shirt sometimes.
  • Cabbage — Hoorah for summer cabbage! It’s a tradition for us to offer cabbage and potatoes at the Fourth of July so that folks can make some good classic American picnic food: cole slaw and potato salad. Get your mayonnaise out, folks, because it is time! (Buy some fresh farm eggs today, and you can make a mayo-salad trifecta of cole slaw, potato salad, and egg salad!)
  • Beets — Also, BEETS! With greens attached! Oh hoorah for summer foods! We’ve been enjoying the earliest of these in our own house the last two weeks. We’ve been roasting them, and they get gobbled up quickly.
  • Kale — Hey, cooked greens lovers! Don’t you worry — summer doesn’t mean the end of these staples. We’ve got your back.
  • Chard
  • Zucchini
  • New potatoes — For your potato salad, of course!

And this week’s extra goodies from the farm:

  • Eggs — They’re on for sure now! And so delicious! $6/dozen
  • Pickled beans & basil — A special summer ferment for you to try. $3/half pint and $5/pint. Bring your own jar! Or, $1 if you use one of our jars!
  • Walnuts — $5/lb
  • Pork — Ground pork, pork ribs, and porkchops! Porkchops are on sale for $6/lb!
  • Lamb — Cuts and prices vary! Roasts, chops, and grind!
  • Goat — Cuts and prices vary! Roasts, chops, and grind!
  • Pork fat & skin — $3 lb
  • Ground beef — For your BBQ on these hot days! Burgers to go with your cole slaw, potato salad, and egg salad! $7 for 1/lb packages
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

A family farm

Dottie helped Casey harvest salad mix for the restaurants on Tuesday.

Dottie helped Casey harvest salad mix for the restaurants on Tuesday. (Those very wilted looking plants beside her are big weeds that were just pulled from our beet planting!)

Those parents in the crowd (or folks who have participated in childcare of siblings, nieces, nephews, etc.) will know that babies are pretty all consuming. When we started our “family farm” back in 2006, I’m not totally sure how we envisioned kids working into the mix. I doubt we pondered those specifics way back then, but by the time we actually had Rusty at the end of our fourth season, we knew enough to realize that we probably wouldn’t try strapping him on our backs and getting on with business “as usual.” We’d watched our friends bounce babies on their hips and pace back and forth for hours comforting fussy babies. We knew that it could be hard.

Big bin, little girl!

Big bin, little girl!

We also knew that we wanted to be present in our lives. Present when on the farm. Present when with our babies. For us, this meant that I stepped back from active farm work a lot. I really wanted time and space to sit in our living room holding a sleeping baby for hours on my lap — as maddening as that could be, it was also a sweet and fleeting moment in our lives! Looking back, I am so glad we made that choice for me to focus on being a mom (who also runs the business side of the farm on the side). We’ve known other farmers who have kept both partners more actively involved in the farm. There was an article in our favorite farming journal just this month from a couple about their experience with the transition. They’ve done a bit of both tactics — farming with baby in the fields when possible but also hiring childcare and/or help with harvest when needed. It’s a dance.

But of course, part of the whole point of this farming gig was to be here as a family too. I’ve written before about how important and valuable it is to be raising our children in this context. Already we see the fruits of that experience — our children seem so at ease in the out-of-doors and could out compete most adults in a game of bird or plant identification. This is their natural context, their first language, their home. Regardless of what profession they choose, what skills they hone, we know that growing up here will provide them with an awesome base of understanding of what it means to work — what it means to set your mind on a task, do it, and see results from your efforts. These are invaluable experiences.

So, it seems natural that as they get older, we bring them into the fields with us more now. Even though Casey and I weren’t up for bouncing babies while trying to hoe, now that the kids are getting older, being in the fields feels less like a stretch for all of us — especially in small doses. Getting out there with them has always happened on occasion, but now that they’re five and almost-three, it feels like it can become a more regular thing.

And, so it has been with great joy that I too have gotten to farm in a hands-on way again in the last couple of weeks — picking raspberries and then liberating some green beans and parsnips by pulling some mega weeds. What did the kids do? Play. Wander. Graze. Eat snacks. Look at books. Help a bit here and there. Certainly, there were still some necessary interruptions (my favorite is the classic cry: “Mama! I need to go poo-poo!” That always gets my full and immediate attention!). And I’m not going to try putting in anywhere close to a full day’s work, nor do I want to. The kids have other things to do, and I am happy to have the farm be a really significant foundation of their life, but we will also read books and visit with friends and learn about other parts of the world.

Also hard at work in our fields — bees! This blossom is a phacelia flower, one of our favorite flowers to plant to attract beneficial insects to our fields. Bees LOVE it.

Also hard at work in our fields — bees! This blossom is a phacelia flower, one of our favorite flowers to plant to attract beneficial insects to our fields. Bees LOVE it.

This week, the weed pulling especially felt like a family affair, because as our kids were running up and down the rows (helping Casey harvest for the restaurants), Jasper’s mother was also present, working alongside him to pull out mega weeds from our beets. After years of hearing about our farm (and seeing it on visits), she wanted to pitch in too and experience what her son has been doing all this time. The weeding we were doing was hard work, and so I think she got quite the introduction to what we do out here! But we were glad to have her, and we love any activity that brings family members closer together, whether it be weeding together in our fields or eating a meal together when the work is done (such as our fun Monday farm meals, which include our whole farm crew plus my parents!).

May this week provide you with an opportunity to do good work or be with your loved ones or enjoy a meal with your chosen favorite people (because sometimes our friends are our family too!). We hear some major heat is heading our way, so get your wading pools filled and plan salad for dinner! Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

P.S. Just a little note to our members doing raspberry u-pick right now — we request that you drive on the dirt/gravel road into our farm as slow as possible! The road is covered with a layer of very fine dust that picks up easily and can blow toward our fields! We find that if we drive about 5 mph, this is minimized! Thank you!

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Raspberries — The planting is on! We always forget how amazing these are at their peak — easy to pick, large, and oh so flavorful! Enjoy!
  • Cherries — Depending on how the upcoming heat wave affects this, this may be the last picking of cherries for this year!
  • Lettuce — Hot weather coming … time to have a Big Green Salad for dinner!
  • Zucchini & summer squash — And it’s on! Our field planted zucchini has begun, and we hope this begins the summer’s long run of zucchini and squash. These first squash range in size from big to very big, because we haven’t quite gotten into our summer routine of picking it every few days (the bigger squash were some of the very first). These would be great for eating or for making the first batches of zucchini bread for the year! I’ll share the many ways we love eating this vegetable as the summer goes along. It’s become an important staple in our summer diet. Perhaps one of the easiest (and one of our favorite) ways to eat it is simply roasted! We chop it into bite-sized pieces and roast them on a pan on high heat (425°) with butter and plenty of salt. It’s really important to not overcrowd the pan with zucchini because it contains a lot of moisture and can end up steaming rather than roasting. Either way, it won’t get as crisp as other vegetables, but we can usually get a nice browned edge and then the rest of the zucchini gets succulent and soft. With the butter and salt, we find it to be extremely satisfying. It’s also pretty quick to cook, taking much less time than denser veggies to roast. Often a quick summer meal for us will be a salad, plus roasted zucchini and some kind of meat.
  • Beet greens — More delicious baby beet greens! Suitable for dressing up your salads or for quick cooking! Very similar to spinach.
  • Fennel — I love the flavor combination of fennel and zucchini/squash. When I want something very satisfying and comforting, I’ll slowly braise these two veggies together in butter until they are soft and the flavors have melded. When tomatoes come into season, those are a great addition as well (coming soon in fact! Casey picked some of the first ripe tomatoes in the greenhouse today!).
  • Chard
  • Kale
  • “New” potatoes — Potatoes from this year’s planting are ready to harvest already! They’ll continue to size up in the ground, so we only harvested a sample amount, but oh new potatoes are such a special treat!!!! These are fun different colors, and we think you’ll enjoy them! They won’t take as much time to cook.
  • PotatoesAnd, since we still have these Very Good potatoes in cold storage, we’ll give some of these out too in larger quantities — because we know these have become staples for many of you! (Us too!)

And this week’s extra goodies from the farm:

  • Corn flour  — $5 lb
  • Walnuts — $5 lb
  • Eggs!!!!! — Eggs are back! Woo hoo! It was hard to believe that we really would have a large volume of eggs since the drop was somewhat mysterious too, but they have returned. So has our $6/dozen price. We realized when the egg production dropped that our $4 price was unrealistic. It takes a lot to keep these hens producing good eggs (even if it happens in spurts apparently). Plus, we’re buying certified organic feed, which costs 110% more per bag. But we love eating good quality eggs and know that some of our customers think the higher price is worth the quality (and the organic feed!).
  • Goat — A range of cuts available — chops, roasts, grind! Prices vary. The flavor in the roasts is pretty amazing — somewhere between the flavor of beef and of lamb. We’ve been enjoying it in our house a lot this week.
  • Lamb — A range of cuts available — chops, roasts, grind! Prices vary.
  • Pork chops — $12/lb
  • Ground pork — $8/lb
  • Beef bones — We still have some beef bones left! Get them while they last! $4/lb
  • Fresh pork belly — $8 lb — Delicious in the crock pot!
  • Pork fat & skin — $3 lb
  • Ground beef — And, everyone’s favorite staple meat … $7 for 1/lb packages
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | 1 Comment

Dry times

The requisite summer pipe moving photo. Casey does a lot of this these days, especially since we're going into summer with a much drier soil profile than many years.

The requisite summer pipe moving photo. Casey does a lot of irrigation work these days, especially since we’re going into summer with a much drier soil profile than in previous years.

And, just as was predicted when we basked in all that early warm dry weather this winter, here we are now in a very dry almost-summer season. Summer officially arrives this weekend on the solstice, but WOW the sight around the county is summer all the way. Irrigation is in full force everywhere, including on our farm. Our neighboring cherry orchards are finishing up the year’s harvest. Gravels roads everywhere are majorly dusty.

In the photo above, Casey is moving pipe out of one of our orchards, which he irrigated earlier than ever before. Because it needed it.

And, of course, south of us, water woes run deeper than we can appreciate. California. There’s so much and so little to say about California right now. I am not qualified really to comment, but I know that California’s water woes are adding an extra keen edge to Oregon’s worries right now.

There’s talk of trying to use flood control dams on rivers feeding the Willamette to hold back more water for irrigation purposes later in the season — which would unfortunately add to rather than diminish flood risks for the valley (the reason the dams were built to begin with!). I’m sure we’ll hear many more conversations about irrigation and water use as this season continues. It is hard when we face these vagaries or shifts in what to expect  farms that built their systems on the assumption of water may have to reassess. It may be as simple as finding new more efficient means of irrigation, but it may also mean choosing different crops.

Here in the river bottom, we like to think we have more security, but wells are wells. And if you’ve never been the proud owner of a well, then consider yourself lucky to have not experienced the inherent anxiety of that situation. Much can go wrong with a well — pumps, panels and mechanical things. A neighbor farmer just had her pump fail this week, which meant some fast work on the part of a service team to get her back up and running quickly — I was so glad to see her sprinklers running again when I returned to the island from an errand Tuesday morning!

But there’s also the water in the well itself, which can change in volume and quality based on other factors (usually related to other users of the well, but also because of natural events such as droughts). We all hope to have our straws at the bottom of the cup, as it were, but inevitably if the level of water goes down, someone finds themselves hurting for at least part of the year.

We’ve had our own major well woes, including a significant and dramatic break of our first irrigation well mid-season back in 2007. That was a stressful time for our farm, to be sure, but our second irrigation well has served us since then.

At this point in the season, we can rely on continued drought conditions for several months (even occasional rare rain storms won’t do much to wet the soil). Regardless of the vagaries of the years, the west always experience “seasonal droughts;” it’s part of our regional climate and ecosystem development. Irrigation makes growing a wide range of crops possible in a part of a country that otherwise would be much more limited than our friends who receive summer rain! Apparently many market gardens in the midwest and northeast don’t even have irrigation equipment at all! Which blows our minds!

Even though we are land dwellers who need air to breathe, I am always struck in these dry seasons by how water-y we humans are too. Our bodies are, of course, almost two-thirds water. And, oh, how we seek the water when our surroundings are dry. Our own family has been visiting our favorite river spots to swim and playing in our yard paddling pool, and I know that most folks are doing similar things right now. Nothing feels quite so satisfying as jumping into the river on a hot day. For at least a moment, it feels exactly like home. I suppose it was, long, long ago.

And, in the spirit of summer, we’ve got more good fruits for you all this week — more raspberries and cherries, which are of course still so very early (are you tired of hearing that yet?). Happy summer!

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

U-pick details! We had many people voice an interest in U-Pick last week. Here’s what we’ve decided to do — we will be selling the opportunity rather than having people pay by the lb. So, you will buy a cherry “tree” and/or a section of raspberries, and then you can come out to pick as much from your tree or section as you have time for (coming back several times will help with the raspberries, since they will continue to ripen for more weeks). Cherry trees will be $50 each; raspberries will be $20 for a 20′ section (the strawberry patch is more or less done, but we’ll put it on the map and you’re welcome to pick there too if you’ve purchased a tree or raspberry section). You can buy multiple of trees or sections if you like! Tomorrow at pick-up, we’ll have you sign up (and sign a waiver!), and we’ll give you a map with locations and more directions. The picking will commence this weekend! We’ll be around the farm then to answer questions if everything isn’t clear (Casey’s cell number will be on the info sheet).

Meat chickens coming! Hey, folks who ordered meat birds so long ago — they’re coming! We’re taking our first batch to the butcher this Saturday morning and will have the chickens at pick-up next week for weighing and delivering to you. I will email folks directly tomorrow to remind you that you’ve placed an order (and paid a deposit!). If you’d like to pick up your birds fresh, you can come out of the farm this weekend; otherwise, we will freeze them and bring them to pick-up frozen in coolers for you to pick-up on Thursday. Let me know if you have any questions!

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Cherries — This week’s cherries are from our “Lambert” trees in Katie’s parents’ orchard. These are a classic local red cherry, great for fresh eating (although often “shaken” for use in Maraschino cherries). The trees we picked are almost seventy years old and one of our dear late neighbors helped plant them when he was a child. Keeping such old trees around is truly a labor of love. They’re not easy to pick, being old and tall (newer varieties are usually planted on dwarf root stocks low to the ground so they can be picked without a ladder) — but the trees provide great shade and shelter for animals for nine months of the year (we remove the animals 120 days prior to the cherry harvest), and everyone here at the farm is simply quite attached to these trees. So, they stay, and we all get to enjoy their sweet fruits! There are plenty!
  • Raspberries — The Tulameen raspberries have hit their prime this week. The flavor and texture are just perfect. We had bowls of raspberries with cream after dinner tonight — a super simple and delightful dessert. There are plenty!
  • Salad mix — I feel like I can’t eat enough salad these days! We’re continuing to make our modified mayonnaise dressing. I just picked up a big batch of delicious chevre from our friends at Briar Rose Creamery so that we can now top our salads with it too. Mmmmmmm …
  • Baby beet greens — These beet greens are tender enough to add to your salads (or eat as a unique salad on their own). Or, you can lightly sauté them. Or, you can try what I did tonight. I found myself with a big load of beet greens and a batch of awesome turkey stock, so I decided to make a light and simple soup for us to eat as the start of our dinner. (This soup is really best when made with very flavorful stock, because it is so very simple, so make sure you use good stuff!) I simply gently boiled the beet greens in some stock until they were very well cooked (I also threw in a few extra small carrots from a bunch). Then I carefully pureed the soup with a hand blender and added salt to taste. Casey and I both had seconds (and we garnished it with more of that tasty chevre!).
  • Chard
  • Kale
  • Carrots
  • Fennel bulbs — Want to add more complexity and richness to your beet green soup? Add chopped fennel and peeled fava beans too and simmer until everything is tender and ready to be pureed.
  • Fava beans
  • Potatoes

And this week’s extra goodies from the farm:

  • Corn flour  — $5 lb
  • Walnuts — $5 lb
  • Eggs — Still waiting … but the numbers of collected eggs are going up now! So, there’s hope!
  • Goat — Our first time having goat slaughtered from the farm! We’ve got chops, grind, and roasts. Prices vary (same price ranges as lamb).
  • Lamb — We have a fresh round of lamb in the freezer this week — lots of chops and ground lamb, as well as roasts. Everything looks great. Prices vary.
  • Pork chops — $12/lb
  • Ground pork — $8/lb
  • Beef bones — We still have some beef bones left! Get them while they last! $4/lb
  • Fresh pork roasts & belly — $8 lb. These are cuts that haven’t been cured at all, so “fresh.” We have lots of roasts that make for delicious crock pot meat.
  • Pork fat & skin — $3 lb
  • Ground beef — When all else fails, I say make hamburgers for dinner. That’s what we do anyway! $7 for 1/lb packages
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

Pea woes (And, what makes our CSA a CSA?)

The kids and I sampled the first of the raspberries for our snack last week!

The kids and I sampled the first of the raspberries for our snack last week!

Dear friends — We had some “pea woes” this last week. It was a perfect storm of a disappointing planting, miscommunication, strategy error, and eager appetites. Here’s the deal — first of all, this year’s pea planting has failed to meet our expectations. Why? I can think of a few overlapping possible reasons, but the most likely big reason is that we decided this year to try some new varieties of peas. Our favorite standard is not available as organically grown, and we aimed to have almost all of our seed organically produced this year. With the peas and a few other crops, we have learned (once again!) how important good seed stock is, and next year we will probably adjust some of those choices. (If you’re interested, the USDA allows organic growers to use non-organic untreated seeds when there is a compelling reason to do so, such as quality of the variety.)

This year’s peas just failed to take off in the way we expect, so our four rows is producing fewer peas than we’d hoped for. But nonetheless we picked enough peas last week for everyone to get some. However, we failed to anticipate that everyone’s pea appetite meant that really most everyone wanted to take home more than one item worth. We did not have that many! And we did not stop to think about communicating the pea volume or limit! Which meant that the second half of the CSA arrivals left disappointed by the lack of peas. I think that knowing I have disappointed someone is probably one of the worst feelings I know. Our hearts hurt, and we spent several days thinking about how to rectify the situation in the future. Growing more of favorite foods — yes, always! Placing limits when appropriate — yes, this too!

Because, in spite of meeting in a storefront, we are still a CSA farm. And, to me, implicit in that notion is the idea that we are all sharing the season’s harvest. We don’t want our members to worry that they will miss all the “good” stuff if they don’t show up in the first hour or two of pick-up! It’s a tricky thing for us to balance the “choices” we’ve built into our CSA model with making sure everyone still gets what they want. We know how many CSA members we have in the program; and, we know how many total items that represents; but, we definitely don’t know how those items will be selected. We know that certain foods are favorites, such as the first of anything (because new veggies are exciting!), but people still bring their own preferences and habits to the process too. We always harvest quite a lot extra (though we are wary of harvesting too much extra!), and yet we still can’t predict how things will work out.

From our observations, people really love that they get to choose their veggies. It seems that people have wildly varying appetites and preferences, and thus this option still seems like a good one (we tried going back to “farmer’s choice” last year and found that it left many folks frustrated!). So we scratch our heads on the puzzle of how to plan our planting and harvests — and how to balance pleasing the folks who want lots of one thing with the need for others to have access to the full range of options in the final hours of pick-up. We generally assume that most people will want to bring home a wide variety of items, but sometimes that is not even accurate, skewing our projections even more. (I believe, in fact, that some of these quandaries are exactly what led us to try the farmer’s choice model again last year!)

Another calculation that we weigh here on the farm is simply the time involved in a particular crop — certain crops (for example this week’s peas, raspberries and cherries) simply take a very long time for our crew to harvest. So, sometimes how much of something we bring is simply limited by that factor. In fact, many CSA farms simply do not produce these small fruits (forgoing peas, berries, cherry tomatoes, and beans completely), because they feel that it is much harder to pick those items in the volumes appropriate for their number of members (or CSAs with multiple drop sites will trade off which site gets those items in different weeks). We still love producing these good foods, but we too feel strained when it comes to the picking at times.

Now that we are in our tenth season, I find that I long ago grew weary of the “teaching” side of our farm. By which I mean, that I grew weary of “explaining” why we don’t have a certain crop yet, or not quite enough one season (or heaven forbid — but it happens — none of something in a particular year). This is no fault of our members — I just started feeling like a broken record and as though we were making excuses rather than explaining. We start every single year with plans to satisfy every single customer, and of course every year brings its own variables of weather, timing errors, miscommunications, new pests, and more. Farming has so many variables (some in our control; many not) — it’s rather ridiculous to even tease out the how and why of certain things. I was talking about this with a friend (who recently got out of the farming gig herself), about how just very crazy complex market gardening really is. The reality is that every year we do pretty dang well at meeting all of our goals, but every year there are also a few disappointments. You can trust that any time you have been disappointed by not quite enough of one thing in a season, we too were probably a bit disappointed too. But, in that same season, we inevitably also experienced an amazing bumper crop of even more delicious veggies. Each season has its unique gifts too.

So, even though I feel redundant at times when I address farming’s vagaries, I suppose I will have to continue sharing about the reality of this work. Because of course part of why people choose this model of eating is because it does provide a more intimate connection the real work behind our daily sustenance. Certainly, it would be more convenient to walk into any grocery store (often open 24/7!) and choose from a wide range of foods representing all the seasons at once. But there are untold stories there — fossil fuels used in shipping, low wages overseas, erosion, and pollution. Instead, you have chosen stories that you can know — stories of here and now, of people in your own community striving to do the best they can by the land, animals and people. Rather than prioritizing convenience and certainty, you have chosen connection, vitality, and presence.

As the local food movement has grown well past its early eager days, I think it is easy for all of us to lose sight of how very powerful this experience is. I know that I do. Sometimes I wonder why any of us don’t just go to those 24/7 produce departments and eat raspberries year-round? But, of course — not only do those raspberries have a very different story than ours, they actually pale in every way. When we grow seasonal food for a local market, we can choose varieties that might not ship well across the country or produce in the wrong season — we can choose the best variety for flavor. This week you’ll find at the CSA pick-up, one of our all-time favorite fruits: the Tulameen raspberries. As some CSA members commented last year, “Whoa, these aren’t my grandmother’s raspberries.” Tulameens will knock your socks off. And you will be glad you have traded convenience for that awesome summer sunshine melting in your mouth.

But, of course, raspberries are also one of those slow picking foods. We’ll be picking them tomorrow, and it will be a race to see how many half-pints we can pick before we need to head into town (I’m even going to chip in, and today I picked the snap peas as well — all hand’s on deck when it is small fruit season!). So, be prepared that there will likely be a limit on how many raspberries you can take. I don’t know what the limit will be yet, since we haven’t picked them.

Returning to the idea of how to balance our CSA in the future, we will probably start providing more information again (more of that real story of our farm) to help navigate folks in composing an appropriate share each week (much in the way that we would if we were packing boxes). I will provide information in the newsletter as well as on signs so that folks can arrive with appropriate expectations. Hopefully, this little tweak in our existing system can help us find some balance in meeting everyone’s needs and return us to the spirit of being a really cool CSA farm (that has choices!).

Of course, to further complicate our management of it all, we also need to account for differing share sizes. Some of you have chosen to buy larger shares so that you can take more items — limiting every single household to one of something therefore seems to limit these people excessively. So, we may try to somehow communicate that sometimes something will be limited to one per smaller share or two for the larger shares (10 items and up). This seems so complicated, doesn’t it? But, I bet we can figure it out! If you are ever confused, there are always two or three of us friendly farm folks at pick-up to answer your questions!

And, we still may run out of something, unfortunately. Right now, we’re not been worried about running out of cooking greens, so there’s no need to limit them. I know many of you are like us and eat these as important diet staples! We want you to be able to do that! But — you know — maybe one week everyone gets hungry for kale. It’s so hard to predict! We are very interested in folks’ experiences this year. We are always try to steer our farm in directions that please folks, knowing of course that old adage that you simply cannot please everyone all the time. A packed share box is appealing, because of course it makes planning and harvesting every so much simpler — and everyone knows they’re getting all of it! But, so far, our members seem to prefer the option of choices, even with the risk of possibly missing out on something. But, again, communicate with us. As always, we’ll check in with folks more formally toward the end of the season as we make next year’s plans, but this recent pea debacle was a good early season opportunity for us to check in with ourselves and with you about how we take all this good food we grow and get it to you!

Two final notes: In general, it all works smoothest if every CSA members takes a reasonably balanced share! “Reasonably balanced” is up to interpretation — for some it might be a five item share with five different items. Members with larger shares may choose to go heavy on staples like potatoes and cooking greens with a sprinkling of the other things. But I want to point out that this is a CSA, not a market booth. I think that in general, CSA programs are intended to give members a fun experience of each season’s full range of tastes and textures. Hopefully that is an experience that delights you as much as it does us! Secondly, some of these quandaries may be particularly linked to the time in the season. Many folks are weary of winter’s parade of greens and so very hungry for the summer’s fruits, which are just not yet quite all the way arrived yet. But, in a few months when we’ve got tomatoes and basil and summer squash coming out of our ears, it may be easier for everyone to have equal access to all their favorite yummies without any worries on any side.

Thanks for bearing with all this analysis this week! Every now and then it’s useful to stop and ponder all of these workings together, and hopefully it is also useful for you to know how things work on our end — how we plan and work to make the CSA a reality. And, thank you, always, for your part of making this CSA a reality too! We appreciate every single customer and farm member and thank you for all that you bring to us and to the wider community too. We are blessed to know you!

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

U-pick opportunities! Remember how I mentioned that berries and small fruit take time to pick? That’s where u-pick comes in! Several of you have approached us, asking about cherries and raspberries. We’d like to make this work (for strawberries too!), but we’re not set up to just fling open wide the doors of our farm. Let us know if you are interested in u-pick, and we will make a list of folks to email about logistics!!!!! Thank you!

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Cherries & raspberries — These are the first pickings of two wonderful summer fruits. As I mentioned in the newsletter, we are still picking these, so we don’t know exactly how they will be limited, but there will definitely be a limit! Depending on the raspberry picking, it may be that you will need to choose between these two fruits for tomorrow.
  • Salad mix — Woo hoo! Salad!
  • Carrots — Carrots are a staple crop for our farm! However, these are just the first babies, and take more time to handle. This week the supply is limited to one bunch per share.
  • Shelling peas — Have I mentioned how delightful these peas are? They are so very easy to shell and delicious raw or with light cooking.
  • Sugar snap peas — This week’s harvest of peas is smaller than last week’s unfortunately (see the newsletter for some explanations on this year’s pea crop). Since there was so much heartbreak in the second half of the CSA pick-up last week, we are going to try to reserve this week’s peas for folks who missed out last week and will be putting them out in the second half of the open window (if you come earlier and missed last week, just ask us for some!).
  • Basil — This is the first of the basil, so it is limited to one item per share this week. It’s just a small sampling of the feast to come — enough to make a small batch of pesto or garnish a salad or pasta dish. We had pesto with breakfast this morning. After so many months of eating other kinds of “pesto” (nettle, parsley, etc.), the real deal was quite a treat with our eggs!
  • Fava beans — We still have so many delicious fava beans! Share you favorite recipe with us!
  • Fennel bulbs
  • Kale
  • Chard
  • Potatoes
  • Green garlic — Enjoy this particular manifestation of garlic while it lasts! We have observed wrappers starting to form, meaning that soon we will have to take a break and let this green garlic become garlic garlic! We usually harvest it in early July and let it cure for a few weeks before giving it out. The season has so many treats to come!

And this week’s extra goodies from the farm:

  • Corn flour  — $5 lb
  • Walnuts — $5 lb
  • Eggs — Still waiting …
  • Pork chops & ground pork — We took more hogs to the butcher and had them make our most popular fresh items: pork chops ($12/lb) and ground pork ($8/lb)!
  • Beef bones!!!! — This is probably the #1 requested item at the storefront (that we haven’t had yet)! These are from our pastured beef animals — the real deal. $4/lb
  • Lamb — We still have a few cuts left, including a giant shoulder roast that should be delicious. Because it is so large (I think it is 9 lbs), we are selling it for $6/lb. Also, we did take more lambs to the butcher this Monday, but the new cuts won’t be ready until next week.
  • Fresh pork roasts & belly — $8 lb. These are cuts that haven’t been cured at all, so “fresh.” We have lots and lots of roasts that make for delicious crock pot meat.
  • Pork fat & skin — $3 lb
  • Ground beef — $7 for 1/lb packages
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | 4 Comments

June gloom (and ice cream!)

Time to mow! I wish I'd taken a before and after photo of this orchard. The grass was well above the lowest branches, creating a seemingly impenetrable wall around the trees. Now they are freed! And look at how large they are! We planted this orchard in 2010 ...

June is mowing season! I wish I’d taken a before and after photo of this orchard. The grass was well above the lowest branches, creating a seemingly impenetrable wall around the trees. Now they are freed — and look at how large they are! We planted this orchard in 2010 …

When we went to bed Sunday evening, a brisk wind had picked up, leading us to consider closing windows and prepare for rain. Good thing, because we woke to bright flashes and crashes of thunder in the middle of the night. All four of us awoke, listened for a bit and then fell asleep to the sound of rain as the drama of the storm passed over.

The rain continued for the early part of the week, reminding us of the classic Pacific NW phrase “June gloom.” Oh, how often have been surprised by rain and gray skies in this first month of summer! But, it happens! Regularly!

After a busy spring of planting, planting, planting, it’s nice to get this respite really. We often rely on it for the timing of certain tasks — a rainy June day is perfect for thinning apples and pears in our orchards (something on this month’s ‘to do’ lists), and this week Casey took the opportunity to get quite a lot of mowing done.

Grass sure can grow in the Willamette Valley. And it had grown quite tall here on the farm. The animals are grateful for the food, but in many places it can truly be an obstacle! So the tractor and our powerful flail mower were put to good use, freeing our orchard trees, delineating roadways, and clearing overgrowth from buffers and edges. It feels good to see these shapes of our farm again — definition where there was much softness.

Planting continued too though. We got a big round of brassicas in the ground, thanks to having more bodies around these parts. This week is our first week at our full summer load of employees. We’ve got two extra folks out for the summer, which brings us up to four folks in the field (plus one extra one on Mondays). Having so many extra hands at this time of year is a must, as the work piles up with the lengthening days. We’re quickly marching toward the longest day of the year and the Summer solstice. Much to do! Much to do!

With so many of us out here, we thought it’d be fun to revisit the concept of weekly sit-down farm lunches. We’ve done this before, often as a potluck or other manifestations. But you know what? It’s hard for busy farmers to also pull off great meals mid-day. So this year I hired an enthusiastic and culinary-skilled friend to prepare food for us. We provide her the ingredients (bins full of farm-fresh foods!), and she brings us delightful assortments of goods for our Monday meal. Our first week was a huge success, with much rejoicing as everyone helped themselves to seconds of the coconut-strawberry ice cream.

Rain + ice cream felt like a good start to this month. We took a deep breath, and we are now fortified for the coming blast of heat, which I’m sure will be just one of many as we dive headfirst into summer. And, soon after, I’m sure we’ll be jumping (perhaps not diving) into the river, to find our perennial relief there when the days get too hot for our native NW blood. It’s good to farm surrounded by the river.

This week’s share brings a fun array of early summer veggies. Casey remarked to me that right now it feels like we are poised at the top of an immense wave (an apt metaphor for an Oregon surfer). So many crops are just coming on (including such delights as raspberries and cherries). Here it comes, folks!

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Shelling peas — Make sure you check the labels when you pick up your peas this week! We’ve got both sugar snap (which have an edible pod) and shelling peas (which have a yucky pod but big delicious peas inside). If you take the shelling peas, please do shell them! The peas will be some of the most delightful spring food! At this point, they are almost all sugar with very little starchiness, so you can eat them raw (our kids do!), or a very light cooking will suffice. Pan saute in butter with green garlic and then use as a topping for pasta or salad or just eat it!!!!
  • Sugar snap peas — Again, these are the peas that are good to eat whole, pod and all.
  • Strawberries — And, these are strawberries. YUM!
  • Zucchini — I can tell you honestly that a few years ago I would have felt ho-hum about the start of the zucchini season. Can you believe it actually took Casey and me years to truly love zucchini and summer squash???? I still can’t believe it, because our love is so deeply profound now. After a winter of eating so many greens (and greens with our greens and then some more greens), we welcome a new staple vegetable in our diet. Just yesterday I made a delicious stewy dish for dinner, using kale (mustards or chard would work just as well), sliced zucchini, the final jars of canned tomato sauce, LOTS of green garlic, and pork belly. I first sauteed the garlic in butter (a great way to start any meal!), then loaded the pot with the veggies and cooked them down. I precooked the pork belly in a slow cooker and then transferred chopped meat to the pot. It was delicious!
  • Fava beans — You may notice that our fava beans are getting fatter! You could possibly still roast these whole, but this is probably also now the season for doing all that slow (but delightfully satisfying) kitchen work of shucking and then peeling the fava beans. If you’re new to this food, fava beans grow in a shell like many legumes, so obviously you can shuck them. But then for the sweetest and most tender flavor, you’ll also want to remove the white outer skin that grows around each individual fava bean. We’ve seen people do this with raw fava beans, using a paring knife or a finger nail to get it started. We often will blanch and then shock our beans. At that point, the white skin will just slip off (and the fava beans will be parboiled to boot). What to do then? You can finish cooking them in a bit of butter or oil and then dress them as a side dish (we had some this week with shaved fennel!), put them on pasta, etc. One of our favorite things is to finish cooking our fava beans in olive oil with green garlic and then mashing the resulting beans/cooked garlic into a spreadable paste. Spread on toast. Divine!
  • Fennel
  • Mustard greens
  • Chard — Chard seems to do well on our farm. So well that at some point in the season, we run out of ways to eat it. This week I made an old favorite that’d been neglected for a while: chard MEATLOAF. That’s right! I made a big batch, but you could make a smaller batch by cutting all these ingredients in half (or so). I started by coarsely chopping two bunches of chard and then running the chopped through the food processor to chop it into very fine bits. I put these in a bowl. Then I chopped some green garlic the same way (the amount will depend on your taste preferences! I think I used one large stalk, everything up to the top green leaves). After adding these to the bowl, I mixed in two packages of ground beef, three eggs, and ketchup and salt to taste (ok, I didn’t actually taste the raw mixture, but I imagine some households will want more or less of these last ingredients — thankfully they can both be added at the table too!). I really love mixing meatloaf by hand; I find that I have the best control over the process, even if it is a bit messy afterward. I poured the mixture into a medium-sized pan (probably about the volume of two loaf pans, so if you’re making a single batch a loaf pan should work!) and then baked it at 350° for one hour. I like meatloaf well cooked. Ours was “done” about two-thirds of the way through the baking process, but it was liquidy and not crispy yet (I like crispy outsides of meatloaf!). One hour for our batch was perfect, but watch it carefully because your pan shape and loaf volume will determine that best done point for you. This dish was gobbled up by everyone, including our most picky eater who loved it SO much. With the double batch, we had plenty for an entire meal the next day. I served it with raw sugar snap peas that we dipped in a homemade dressing/mayo dip. Yum!
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet onions
  • Green garlic
  • Garlic — The next garlic season approaches! And last year’s garlic is really on the way out now — the remaining heads are lighter and require more work to use. It’s time to clear them out to make room for this year’s crop, but we don’t want to just throw them to the animals! So, this week, consider taking a HEAPING LOT of garlic as one of your items! We’ll even put that on the sign! HEAPING LOT! Help us find these final garlic heads a home! Thank you!

And this week’s extra goodies from the farm:

  • Green garlic ferment! Finely chopped green garlicky goodness! $8/pint, $4/half-pint.
  • Corn flour  — $5 lb
  • Walnuts — $5 lb
  • Eggs — Hens on strike! As we explained to of our egg-loving customers last week, we are transitioning our hens to a new diet right now — from the farm-grown one we’d been using to an organic ration (we just plumb ran out of the feed we’d grown! Until later this year anyway!). Apparently the hens are taking their time getting over the change.
  • Lamb — Prices vary depending on the cuts. We have roasts of all kinds. This is going fast, so if you want lamb, I recommend checking out the selection this week. We’ll take more animals Monday.
  • Fresh pork roasts & belly — $8 lb. These are cuts that haven’t been cured at all, so “fresh.” We have lots and lots of roasts that make for delicious crock pot meat. Most of the uncured products have sold, but we still have at least one beautiful ham left! More animals going to the butcher tomorrow morning, destined for pork chops and fresh sausage.
  • Pork fat & skin — $3 lb
  • Ground beef — See my chard meatloaf recipe above! So good! $7 for 1/lb packages
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | 2 Comments

Certification, the 2015 update

We've got "organic farm" signage posted at the edges of our farm (usually in the midst of thick hedgerows, such as this one). We communicate regularly with our neighbors, but it's helpful to let all possible farm workers on neighboring farms know our status too.

We’ve got “organic farm” signage posted at the edges of our farm (usually in the midst of thick hedgerows, such as this one). We communicate regularly with our neighbors, but it’s helpful to let all possible farm workers on neighboring farms know our status too.

I have written about the organic certification process many times over the years. Back in 2009, I published an article in In Good Tilth making a strong argument in favor of the certification process and questioning the use of the phrase “beyond organic.” I can’t find any online archive of that article, but you can see a little blurb of my article in this Utne Reader blog post — I only just today read all the comments below that heartily disagreed with me! (By the way, I still don’t like the phrase “beyond organic” for many of the reasons that it irked me so many years ago!)

However, in 2012 I ate my words a bit when I wrote about our  decision to “uncertify” our farm (i.e. drop our certification for a few years). Interestingly, there are comments on that post that criticize me/us again. Clearly, there is no winning position in this particular game! Some people favor the clarity, ease, and verification of organic certification; others favor the grass roots anti-government position. I suppose now we’ve been in both camps over our prior nine season. Perhaps we now have a better understanding of why or why not a farm would make the choice to pursue certification. I do still understand the position of chafing under the government ownership of the word “organic” — a word that started with small local farms and now is stamped on all sorts of foods that, for various reasons, don’t meet the original ideals (I’m thinking here of processed foods, imported items, and items grown by massively large corporate farms).

What we learned from our own experience is that the primary difference between a certified organic farm and a not certified “organic” farm is paperwork. We know this, because the way we grew on our land during our break never deviated from our ideals. (In fact, if anything, taking a break from the certification process gave us a little extra flexibility to experiment with how we wanted to manage our land. The certification process often assumes that a grower knows how he or she is going to proceed through the season, and in those years of growth we just really didn’t always know the details up front. We learned a lot as we went, always making choices consistent with our ideals and consistent with NOP standards (NOP = National Organic Program).

Nonetheless, I’ll tell you what: when I go to the store, I buy certified organic foods. Yes, indeed. Given all the labeling confusion in the marketplace, it is a label I still reach for. Of course, I prefer local food (generally, most of our food comes from our farm), but — yes — I am happy that I can buy organic ketchup in a bottle. Because my kids love ketchup, and I could never make enough in our crock pot to keep up with their one bottle a week habit.

But perhaps more useful for you all to know, after taking an important hiatus, we’re back in the certification game as a farm too. For those of you who don’t want to do back reading on the blog to learn why we got out, I’ll summarize: in 2012, we expanded our acreage (from 20 to 100+ acres), had a second child, and added animals to the farm. Basically, something had to give that year. And, we needed time on the new land to get to know how we wanted to use it before we started making maps and filling out forms.

After a few more seasons, we were ready to do that work. So, part of our work this winter was revising maps, making seed lists, and making our new “organic systems plan” (a long document that covers a wide range of topics relating to how the farm operates, including things like pest and fertility management). Thankfully, we had lots of prior experience with the process! Then this Tuesday, we had our organic inspection. We always have a few butterflies in our stomachs before this happens, even though we know we’ve done all our homework — our farming practices are organic, and we keep good records. But, just like with doing taxes, there’s always that nervous feeling that maybe we didn’t do our homework exactly right and the inspector will find a missing piece in our record-keeping system. But of course he didn’t, because it was all there. (If you’re wondering, all the record keeping required by certification is useful stuff on a farm — dates of sowing, fertility application rates and dates, harvest logs … it’s all stuff we keep track of anyway, but being certified takes the process to just a slightly more organized level!)

This recent inspection also had a bit of a celebratory/reunion feeling to it, because our inspector was someone who has inspected our farm several times before — including our very first year ever. It felt sweet to embark on this process again with someone who was present for our first time through it all. (This was especially surprising to us because we are actually working with a different certifying body this time — Stellar, a program of Demeter Association, the U.S. body of the same-named international Biodynamic association).

As I said, all went well, and we expect to receive official certification status within a month or two (mostly just depending on how quickly the application moves from various desk to desk in the final steps). You can bet we’ll post about that when it happens! We are excited!

But perhaps you’re still wondering why we decided to get certification again anyway … What differed in the feelings of being certified versus not that tipped the scales in favor of certification again? I think the best way I can describe the difference is that when we take those extra steps of getting certified, we feel a stronger sense of integrity about our whole farming enterprise. I want to emphasize that this is a statement about how we feel; perhaps not applicable to other farms. We acknowledge and still feel the pain and frustration that comes with the USDA’s ownership of the label. However, we feel good about participating in the certification process and being able to — without any reservation or caveats — tell people that our crops are ORGANIC.

Getting our crops certified organic is the first step in what might become a larger process. Next we’ll need to decide whether we want to get the livestock operation certified (a different deal with quite a few more challenges), but we can’t do that until their feed is certified (and since we grow their feed, that means our crops come first!). We may decide that it’s sufficient that all of our animal feed is certified organic. But we also want to further explore using Demeter’s Biodynamic certification process in future years (again, getting our crops certified organic is a first step here too). I wrote a bit about our early steps into the world of Biodynamic agriculture in this past newsletter. Those steps are in the possible future and represent opportunities for our farm to continue to grow, but they are by no means certain. One step at a time!

More and more I’ve been realizing lately how very much growth potential remains in Casey and my life. This is so obvious to me now, but in earlier years of my life I really pictured everything culminating in our early 30s and then just sort of coasting while we appreciated the life we’d built. Ha! I am so pleased to learn that life is not static after 30. Of course not — of course not! And yet from those earlier vantage points, I really couldn’t have begun to imagine the growth that would happen for us personally and on the farm in this decade of our life. I still cannot picture future decades either, but now I am more certain that growth will happen! (And, I also know that it will also probably be painful at times too!)

When I think of how much more we can learn about farming, especially by taking more time to understand Biodynamic growing, I feel so excited about the coming years. Other areas of our home and family life also present equally rich and exciting opportunities. On this sunny May evening, with this year’s organic inspection behind us, life is feeling just plain fun.

Anyhow, we’ll keep you updated on the certification news. For now, enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Work at the hospital? You can eat our salad mix there now too! I keep meaning to mention that Willamette Valley Medical Center has recently started using our salad mix on their salad bar! It’s been a fun partnership, and I know at least a few of our customers have been happy to eat our salad during their shift at work. Harvest Fresh also started selling our salad mix earlier this spring, as I mentioned in an earlier newsletter! We love how local our farm is. Did you know that we’ve never sold any of our farm products outside of Yamhill County? We grow here; we live here; we sell our products. We love the many overlapping layers of our farm community! Including you!

~ ~ ~

McMinnville Farmer’s Market has begun! Perhaps you noticed the activity at 2nd and Cowls last week — the farmers’ market season has begun! While we do not currently have a booth at market, we are happy to share the same general vicinity and afternoon with them. Many of our customers overlap, and we hope that our CSA members will have time to stroll over there after picking up their shares! Likewise, market customers are welcome to come down to our storefront to check out our offerings!

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Strawberries
  • Sugar snap peas — Before we grew strawberries, the sugar snap peas were the super special sweet spring treat. They still fit that category to me! We’ve been munching on these all week. Remember that mayo-like salad dressing I mentioned a few weeks back? I’ve been making some of that for dipping our peas in. I add more oil to make it a bit thicker. Some honey and extra salt are delicious too.
  • Fava beans
  • Head lettuce
  • Chard
  • Braising mix
  • Potatoes — I wanted to talk for a moment about a problem we have in our potatoes. Apparently, some of them (especially the larger pots and especially the Russets) have hollow spots inside. Unfortunately CSA members found these spots before we did in our own household (I think this is a matter of odds — we are only one of 120+ households eating our veggies each week!). The good news is that the spots are not rot; they were formed when the potatoes were growing. They essentially grew too fast to keep up and formed the cavities! However, it is still unpleasant to get big weird holes in potatoes! So we wanted to let you know that if you’ve had such holes, please let us know so we can get you extra potatoes. As CSA farmers, it is our assumption that our members are taking home high quality cook-able produce each week. In the rare event that this is not true, we’d like the opportunity to make it up to you! Thank you! … also, I wanted to mention that Casey has been making the kids some killer hashbrowns lately with our potatoes. He peels and grates them and squeezes out extra liquid from the grated potatoes. Then he puts loads of butter in a cast iron pan and fries the hashbrowns until they are cooked through and browned (putting the lid on at first helps with the first phase of the cooking process). With lots of salt, they are supreme diner-style indulgences.
  • Sweet onions — Watch out! You might just faint from the beauty of these over-wintered sweet onions. I wish we knew exactly the magic that has to happen to grow onions this big and beautiful, but the reality is that it seems to be tricky. Very often we find that the onions bolt before sizing up, but then we get a good year like this and its really quite worth the continued trials (oh, and maybe following the Biodynamic planting calendar helps too!). Since these are sweet onions, they are quite mild and suitable for eating raw on salads and sandwiches. Eat those beautiful green tops, too!
  • Green garlic
  • Garlic
  • Other special treats …

And this week’s extra goodies from the farm: Remember to bring containers when appropriate! Especially for eggs!

  • Green garlic ferment! Finely chopped green garlicky goodness! $8/pint, $4/half-pint. Remember to bring jars if you have them. We bring some, too!
  • Corn flour  — $5 lb
  • Walnuts — $5 lb
  • Eggs — $4 dozen — Time for an egg update. Our egg loving customers have noticed that our supply has dwindled. We’re working on it!
  • Lamb — Prices vary depending on the cuts. We have roasts of all kinds. This is going fast, so if you want lamb, I recommend checking out the selection this week. We’ll take more animals soon.
  • Pork products — Whoa! We learned last week that people get really excited about sausages and bacon! We sold out of the bratwursts and bacon, but we still have some of the Canadian style bacon and several hams. The hams range in size from 3-4.5 lbs. Prices vary! Check it out!!!!!! (And, yes we will take more hogs for processing soon!)
  • Fresh pork roasts & belly — $8 lb. These are cuts that haven’t been cured at all, so “fresh.” We have lots and lots of roasts that make for delicious crock pot meat.
  • Pork fat & skin — $3 lb
  • Ground beef — Meat loaf? Tacos? Hamburgers? Yes, please! $7 for 1/lb packages
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | 2 Comments

Feeding our family of four

IMG_0980I suppose it’s not terribly surprising to hear a farmer say that she has food on her mind. But, oh I do. Food is, of course, a pretty common subject of thought around here. We grow it, harvest it, sell it. I’m sure we think about food (especially vegetables) more than most people! But these days, the topic is closer to home.

Specifically, I’ve been pondering this: how to feed our family. I’m sure that from reading our newsletters, it sounds like we’ve got this feeding ourselves things all figured out. And, yeah, we have lots and lots of years of practice with cooking scratch recipes from fresh, seasonal vegetables. But, you know, it’s still hard. It can be challenging to cook delightful, fresh, seasonal meals three times a day every day.

We face all the usual challenges that other families will relate to: trying to figure out what to feed a slightly picky kid, full schedules without a lot of wiggle room for food prep, the challenge of cooking food while simultaneously keeping kids from getting into trouble, and general boredom from repeating the same meals over and over again.

Lately the challenge has increased as Dottie no longer naps during lunchtime (oh, how easy it was to prepare lunch when the toddler was asleep!), and both kids have increased appetites as they grow. I used to be able to cook enough food that we’d consistently have leftovers for lunch, but no more! It almost always gets all gobbled up by these four hungry eaters. This means that lunch requires more creativity and work than it used to — it’s another meal! Bigger appetites for more people is just more work! I suppose it’s no surprise — for most of human history, growing and preparing food has been the basis of human activity (and especially for women!).

Anyhow, when I find myself in these challenging periods lacking in obvious inspiration (or just feeling in a rut), the changing seasons of our diet can be such a delightful way to revive my interest and enthusiasm for making food. As the season shifts, new foods necessarily make their way onto our plates, and I can find myself rejuvenated by those new colors, textures, and flavors. For example, roasting fava beans and whole green garlic together was a big hit this week — so easy, so tasty, and so very spring.

Alas, there were no leftovers from tonight's delicious dinner of kale and pork roast simmered in tomato sauce with green garlic, sweet onions, peas (from the freezer), and dried mushrooms!

Alas, there were no leftovers from tonight’s delicious dinner of kale and pork roast simmered in tomato sauce with green garlic, sweet onions, peas (from the freezer), and dried mushrooms! We scraped that pot clean!

I also find that making lists and meal rotations helps me a lot. When I feel stymied by what to make, working from a pre-planned list of ideas helps me a lot. I don’t make it complicated, it can just be as simple as “roasted meat + cooked greens” or “egg dish + salad + roasted veggie” Just having those basic formulas on a schedule helps to insure that I have a starting idea and that we eat a balance of meal types over the week (thus helping to eliminate some of the boredom that can come with eating the same thing too many times in a row!). I generally begin to stray for my meal plans within a few weeks, but getting back to a rhythmic foundation can really help me get over the humps. I’m working on a new meal plan for our family right now that better accounts for our new lunch reality of rare leftovers, hungry eaters, and two kids up and awake. For me, this new plan also includes making more time in my day to cook, since having more time to prep so often results in a more delicious, interesting (and less stressful to prepare) meal. I’m still trying to figure this out and am hoping to make better use of our slow cooker for full meal preparation (we use it a lot to cook meat, but then I still spend a lot of time turning that into a meal after the fact!).

Some of our newer farm products are also inspiration to me. For the prior two years of animal product on our farm, we had access to plenty of high quality meat, but it wasn’t ground (because we would have to do that ourselves, which we did … on occasion). Now that we too have access to ground beef again, we’re branching out beyond our staples of roasts into old favorite foods like meatloaf, hamburgers, and tacos!

I’m excited to try some of the new pork products we’re picking up from the butcher tomorrow: ham, Bratwursts, and pancetta (Italian style bacon) — all “uncured” with celery salt (no nitrates added!). I’m already thinking of how good it would be to pair chard, fennel, green garlic, and ham … mmmm, I’m getting inspired already!

So, this week I’ll keep fine tuning my lists and meal rhythms and as spring brings more new foods to our menu I will delight in the changes! I hope you too are enjoying the shifts and keeping up with your own unique challenges! Food can be such a joy — let us be intentional about building a life that makes room for food enjoyment through mindful preparation and eating. Food sustains us and can nourish our bodies and souls. May you find whatever tricks and practices you need to help you find peace and love in the work of feeding yourself and your family!

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

CSA payments due tomorrow! Many of you have already brought us checks for this CSA payment, but if you haven’t yet here’s another reminder! Check your emailed statement for the amount, or you can ask me at pick-up. Thank you, friends!

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Strawberries — They are even sweeter this week! And there are more of them! Hoorah!
  • Lettuce
  • Fava beans — Did you try them? I’ve heard at least one report of success with roasting (as I described in last week’s newsletter). We’ve eaten roasted fava beans several times this week. Our favorite combination is roasted fava beans and green garlic! Put whole green garlic on the pan with the fava beans, and it becomes delicious — all the way out to the crispy greens.
  • Fennel — Roasted fennel is pretty awesome too. Just sayin’.
  • Kale
  • Chard
  • Celery leaf
  • Potatoes — I know I mentioned recently that my new favorite potato treatment is the old fashioned baked potato. I’ve been keeping a few baked potatoes in the fridge at all times lately. I reheat them by slicing them into thick rounds and then pan frying these in butter (liberally salted). The kids love them, and they’re practically instant food (since they are pre-cooked of course).
  • Leeks
  • Green garlic
  • Garlic

And this week’s extra goodies from the farm: Remember to bring containers when appropriate! Especially for eggs!

  • Corn flour  — $5 lb
  • Walnuts — $5 lb
  • Eggs — $4 dozen
  • Lamb — We’ve got more lamb! Prices vary depending on the cuts. We have roasts of all kinds and ground lamb available as well. This is going fast, so if you want lamb, I recommend checking out the selection this week. We’ll take more animals soon.
  • CANADIAN BACON! — The Canadian-style bacon was a big hit last week! We sold over half of our inventory already and expect to sell out this week. Get it while it lasts! $12/lb
  • More pork products — In addition, this week we’re adding more new pork products: BRATWURSTS, HAM, and PANCETTA (Italian-style bacon). Prices vary! Check it out!!!!!!
  • Fresh pork roasts & belly — $8 lb. These are cuts that haven’t been cured at all, so “fresh.” We have lots and lots of roasts that make for delicious crock pot meat.
  • Pork fat & skin — $3 lb
  • Ground beef — Everyone’s favorite staple meat! $7 for 1/lb packages
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

Spring beauties

Caption here

A wild rose growing in our hedge.

As the kids and I were riding bikes this week, I was struck by the sight of a few blooming rose bushes amidst so many willows and blackberries. Although the blackberries were definitely not planted by us, the willows were — back in early 2010, when two other prior attempts to plant a hedge had seemingly failed. The first attempt happened in 2007, when Casey and I cut dormant twigs from native plants we liked and stuck them in a line along our road. Without water or tending (plus a few aggressive mows by the county), that first hedge hardly grew at all. Except for these handful of rose bushes that apparently quietly stuck around and then made a home amidst the new hedge.

And, now they are blooming: bright pink blossoms greeting us as we make our way. Although the rose bushes are now taller than me, given their location on the roadside, I doubt anyone in a car or truck would even notice them. But at the speed of foot and bike travel, they make for a breathtaking sight — so many pink buds, offering a delicious fragrance if you do indeed take time to stop. I’m smitten.

But, the whole world is offering us such gifts right now. May is such a drop dead gorgeous month. As the rain returned this week, it brought with it cleaner air again and lovely light. As the clouds come and go, shafts of sunlight make the green pastures glow with the most vibrant color of the year. That spring green just screams “life!”

And flowers abound in more places than just the hedge, of course. Flower gardens are in full glory — the kids and I visit my mother’s garden regularly to see what new delights are arriving. The snowball has passed its peak and left white blossoms all over the ground (blown by the spring winds everywhere), but the poppies are in full glory, and just in the last few days all the tame cultivated roses are opening. Some of them (the tea varieties) are much more chaste than the hedge roses, but others offer us a more voluptuous blossom to lower our noses into. Oh, this season!

Oh, and that rain? Aside from the beauty and the air cleaning, I should mention that it was also very welcome for its watering properties as well. If you haven’t driven out in the county lately, Yamhill County farmers are already in full irrigation mode. Coming on to the island last Friday evening, we counted five reel guns just by looking one direction. So, the rain was welcome. We need it. The season is so far progressed that rain does not mean we can take much of a break from irrigating, but it sure gives us some peace and a nice boost to all the plants (and pastures especially!).

We hope you have been enjoying this beautiful May and its gifts of flowers and green. Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Reminder! CSA payments due by May 21! I sent out emailed statements and payment reminders to everyone who owes their next CSA installment. If you have any questions about your account or payment amount, please let me know! Otherwise you can bring us cash or check to pick-up or mail it to us: Oakhill Organics, P.O. Box 1698, McMinnville, OR 97128. Thank you!

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Strawberries — To Casey, the arrival of strawberry and fava bean season marks the true beginning of “the growing season” (as opposed to the shoulder seasons). Weather vagaries and such still abound through the whole summer, but abundance is here and we’ve begun that awesome parade through the main season crops. Need it be said? These strawberries are the earliest we’ve ever picked (you’ll likely hear that refrain a lot from us this year). We do very little to encourage earliness in this crop — no plastic mulch or greenhouses. So, seeing red fruit in early to mid-May is surprising to us! Nonetheless, we are glad to welcome these gems, as we had just last month run out of our stored apples and the gap in fresh fruit felt rough on our farm family. But now we are rejoicing in strawberry goodness. And, friends, not only are these strawberries — they are Hoods. Which if you are from Oregon you know means flavor-packed! The flavor should only get better over the next few weeks too as temperatures go back up.
  • Fava beans — Are you new to fava beans? Welcome to this new eating experience. I had certainly never eaten a fava bean until we grew them for our farm, but years later we’re totally hooked. Also known as broad beans, fava beans are a legume native to the “old” world and with a long history of cultivation. They can be used in many different culinary applications. As they get older and more mature, the tender bright green beans inside grow a slightly tougher white skin (inside the pod) that is often removed before cooking, making it a two-step process. It’s a bit laborious, but worth it a few times every spring (and good work for little hands!). I’ll write more about that in later weeks when the beans have reached that stage, but for now I’ll invite you to enjoy fava beans in a different way. At this stage, the beans inside are still quite tender and fresh, and we have learned to enjoy eating the whole bean, pod and all. You definitely need to cook these — they are only distantly related to snap beans after all. Our favorite way to cook whole fava bean pods is to roast them on a pan in the oven. This is a time when you definitely do not want to overburden the pan so as to miss out on the roasting magic (too many beans and you’ll end up steaming rather than roasting). First toss the beans in oil and then lay them on a pan and liberally salt. Roast at 425° until turning brown and getting crispy/soft. Serve whole! You can also BBQ for similar results.
  • Fennel bulbs — Remember that I posted about fennel bulbs in this prior newsletter.
  • Lettuce
  • Mustard greens
  • Kale
  • Chard
  • Potatoes
  • Leeks — The leeks are beginning to bolt (put out seed heads). You’ll be able to see the bolts coming out of the tops of some of the leeks. That top part is super delicious — chop it up and throw it in the pan with the rest of your leeks (and remember that we even like the greens finely chopped too!). But I find that sometimes as it goes down into the leek, the bolt can become fibrous (this varies a lot from leek to leek). To check my leeks, I slice them in half and then pull out the bolt and check it separate with my knife. If it slices just beautifully, I put it in the food. If not, I’ll just put in the compost and chop up the rest of the leek. I must say, I love seeing so many vegetables harvested at different stages of their life cycle (such as eating young fava beans and then more mature beans later). Since leeks are “biennial” plants, they flower and develop seeds after a winter of being in the ground. We’re now in that part of their life! But next year’s leeks are already in the ground too (including some we’ve planted specifically for late summer harvest). This is a crop that overlaps on our farm — we always have leeks growing somewhere!
  • Green garlic
  • Garlic

And this week’s extra goodies from the farm: Remember to bring containers when appropriate! Especially for eggs!

  • Corn flour  — $5 lb
  • Walnuts — $5 lb
  • Green garlic & chard stalk pickles — Did you know that in some European culinary traditions, chard is actually cultivated for its stalk? I’ve heard that in some places, the greens are actually tossed to the animals as cooks focus their attention on the stalk (for uses such as delicious gratins). And yet in the U.S. so often we make the opposite mistake and put our attention on the leafy bit with some disregard for the stalk! The stalk is indeed a delicious vegetable, with the greens or on its own. This time of year as the chard also begins to “bolt” (see my comments about leeks above), those chard stalks grow extra thick and meaty. A deliciously cooked chard stalk reminds Casey and me of cardoons (another European specialty). For this week’s fermented offering, Casey chopped up chard stalks and mixed them with green garlic. We think this is going to be awesome. $8/pint, $5/half pint ($1 more for our jars)
  • Eggs — $4 dozen
  • Lamb — We’ve got more lamb! Prices vary depending on the cuts. The chops go fast, so if you want them, get them this week! We also have roasts of all kinds and ground lamb available as well.
  • IMG_0976BACON! — Oh, yes! We sent hogs to the butcher a few weeks ago with directions to ‘make us some bacon’ (among other things like ham and sausage as well). Some of those tasty products are still in progress (smoking and such does take time), but today Jasper went and picked up the first installment: Canadian-style slab bacon from three different cuts (shoulder, loin, etc). This is technically “uncured” pork, meaning that it was “cured” using celery seed rather than nitrates. The result is delicious goodness. $12/lb
  • Fresh pork roasts & belly — $8 lb. These are cuts that haven’t been cured at all, so “fresh.” We have lots and lots of roasts that make for delicious crock pot meat. Pulled pork anyone? Yes, please!
  • Pork fat & skin — $3 lb
  • Ground beef — It’s back!!!!! $7 for 1/lb packages. “And, there was much rejoicing.”

Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | 1 Comment

The community season

Last Friday, one of our youngest CSA members supervised as Jasper cut potatoes for seed. In the background, you can see folks dropping cut seed into furrows. On the far left is Casey riding our little orange tractor, covering up those seeds with hilling discs.

Last Friday, one of our youngest CSA members supervised as Jasper cut potatoes for seed. In the background, you can see folks dropping cut seed into furrows. On the far left is Casey riding our little orange tractor, covering up those seeds with hilling discs.

Last Friday, we welcomed May Day, also known as Beltane. In the turning of the year, this is the halfway point between the darkest parts of the year and the lightest parts. We are now in the half of the year with the greatest photosynthetic potential — a time that brings almost unbelievably rapid growth to all green leafy things in our fields and beyond.

This is the time of year when we have to completely change our mental calculations for upcoming harvests, because growth is not at all linear. The lettuce that only grew 50% between last week and this may well double size by next week. Strawberries that were green two days ago will ripen before we know it (and, yes, we have eaten the first of the ripe Hoods this week — in early May!).

This half of the year is exciting, bringing with it the bulk of our work and activity. Given the precocity of this particular season, we’ve already done a ton of planting and other work that might otherwise be crammed into May (see my post-script for an update on our new transplanter!).

But, our personal activities also seem to pick up in pace this time of year. It feels very much as though all that sun energy shifts our bodies into higher gear too. Already, Casey and I feel ourselves waking with more energy than we ever do in winter (regardless of amount or quality of sleep). Days are exciting, and we find ourselves filling non-work moments with visits and celebrations with friends and our wider community. Our family home is relatively small, and these sunny days also become the setting for most of the gatherings we host (since it is easier to be outside!).

Just last week, we launched the busier social season with our farm potato planting and potluck. The gathering was so lovely. Given the afternoon start time, we understood that most of our CSA members just couldn’t join us, but a few did, along with some other community members who wanted to visit and check out the farm (including two new farmers from outside of McMinnville — they joined us after a long day of work at their own farm!). The planting went off without a hitch, putting those potato seeds in the ground perfectly timed with the biodynamic planting calendar. Last year’s potatoes were planted similarly synched to the planets, and the harvest results were stupendous, so we’re excited to see how this year’s crop does as well. After we finished planting, everyone gathered by our house for a perfect potluck dinner — everyone brought complementary elements, and we feasted on baked potatoes, salad, pork, and banana bread muffins as the gold evening light descended on the fields.

The next day, our family headed off the farm to a friend’s homestead for a truly magical May Day gathering — flower-bedecked children, May pole, and all! After several hours of visiting, dancing, and playing in the mud (the children, that is), we headed home feeling so very sun-kissed (but, miraculously, not actually sun burnt).

I love this time of year. I love the energy we have for our work and the excitement of each coming harvest. Before we picked the first ripe strawberries this week, our family tasted the first of the ripe wild salmonberries on a walk in the woods. And, so it begins: that rolling thrill of successional harvests. Our children delight in knowing that every week of late spring and summer will bring something new. They eagerly anticipate the arrival of each new harvest and rejoice in first fruits of all kinds. Watching the progress of ripening fruit makes for good farm walks for us — I hardly need to prod the kids out the door if the destination is to “check on the plums.”

And, I must mention again, that of course all these first fruits are expected to arrive much earlier than usual. For us to eat ripe salmon berries and Hood strawberries in early May is exceptional. All signs point to all harvests arriving so early through the year. I hope we don’t get burnt out on summer’s glory too soon! But we’re choosing to not worry too much about the vagaries of this particular season. It is proving to be an interesting one, and I’m sure we’ll all talk and talk and talk about how it goes, remarking regularly on the earliest of each and every harvest. It’s not bad, this talking about the weather. We share our experience of the weather, so I like to think of it as important common ground in our community.

This evening, the clouds are rolling over the farm, bringing ever-changing qualities to the light. When the sun hits, wow it is warm. But this morning, we still put on our sweaters to leave the house. Oh, May, how lovely you are with your sweet sunshine, green growth, and [relatively] mild warmth. Thank you for joining us again this year!

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

P.S. The new transplanter got more use this week, once again allowing Casey and the crew to get a lot of starts in the ground in dribs and drabs of work over Monday (a day also filled with other things, like delivery of animals to the butcher and friends visiting for lunch). This time, I got a photo, so you can see what it looks like behind the tractor:

Little plants going in the ground!

Little plants going in the ground! No one is bending over! Hoorah!

~ ~ ~

Farm news:

  • First, for those of you who still want to attend a farm event this year, I want to remind you of two more opportunities this season: We will have a farm dinner on Saturday, August 15, and our Pumpkin Patch open house in the afternoon of Sunday, October 25. Put those dates on your calendar!
  • And, if you’re thinking a CSA payment must be coming soon, then you are correct! The next payment is due in two weeks, on May 21. I will send out email statements with exact amounts and account history next week. If you have any questions after receiving those, please email me! Thank you!

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Head lettuce — Yes, I’ll mention it again: our family is eating lots of salad lately. At least one salad every day. Always dressed with our new favorite “creamy” dressing (scroll down to find that “recipe” in last week’s newsletter).
  • Stinging Nettles — I’m guessing that the nettles are winding down for the season. It’s been a solidly good run, and we are grateful for how much we’ve been able to eat this spring!
  • Kale
  • Chard
  • Parsley
  • Celery leaf
  • Potatoes — I felt sort of ridiculous last week, when I put a big load of potatoes in a pan to bake for our CSA potluck. It was such an easy way to feed a lot of people at once that I remarked on it several times! Why baking potatoes felt like such a revelation is a mystery to me. I suppose our default is always to chop and roast — it’s certainly much faster, and I love all those deliciously crunchy edges. But with a bit of lead time, baking potatoes certainly beats many other cooking options for easy feeding of the masses. Mothers of countless generations before me have known this to be true. And, so, I am finding myself repeating that simple choice more. Even the leftovers are great, since our yellow potatoes don’t turn mushy when baked. I can slice them and reheat the already cooked potatoes on a baking sheet (and, yes, then we get those deliciously crunchy edges too).
  • Leeks
  • Garlic
  • Corn flour
  • Some extra treats too … !

And this week’s extra goodies from the farm: Remember to bring containers when appropriate! Especially for eggs!

  • Corn flour  — $5 lb
  • Oat flour — $5 lb
  • Walnuts — $5 lb
  • We are still taking a break from the fermented veggies — we’re just in a lull between obvious “fermentable” options! Chard stalks, pickled, next week!
  • Eggs — $4 dozen
  • Pork cuts — We’ve got shanks, pork belly, fresh ham roasts, and lots kinds of roasts! Prices vary.
  • Pork fat & skin — $3 lb
  • Lamb — More lamb coming next week!
  • Ground beef — More beef coming next week! (Including bones!)
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | 1 Comment

Making technology work

Newly planted transplants being watered in our fields this afternoon. These went into the ground SO FAST.

Newly transplanted starts getting watered in our fields this afternoon. These went into the ground QUICKLY.

We bought a new tool for the farm this week. Such acquisitions always bring with them equal amounts of excitement/hope and anxiety/worry. Now that we are in our tenth season, we have a thorough understanding of how technology can be time-(and back-)saving, but also how new tools can bring new complications to existing systems (along with their own mechanical quirks to figure out).

This week’s new tool was a biggie in terms of money outlay and potential for the farm. We bought a two row mechanical transplanter. We resisted buying a mechanical transplanter for a long time (ahem, we are in our tenth season after all!). We were hesitant because they require at least two people to operate (one in the tractor driver seat, one on the transplanter); they generally require specific soil prep conditions; they require specific start conditions; and they can generally impose a more rigid set of planting circumstances because it becomes more onerous to adjust in-row plant spacing, bed spacing, planting depth, etc.

None of this creates insurmountable obstacles, but we knew that technologies such as this remove flexibility. It just becomes harder, even if the technology only creates a psychology barrier to changing things rather than creating a true obstacle. For example, if changing bed spacing requires adjusting the planter, how often will we do it? Or, will we just choose an average mostly-good bed spacing and stick with it for all of our planting? Experiences tells us that the latter option is most likely amidst a busy farm.

Until now, we’ve planted by hand. We walk down the row “laying out” starts at the appropriate spacing, and then another person follows behind planting — quickly scooping a divot in the ground and packing the start in. We do this quickly, giving each start just a few seconds of attention. The movement becomes automatic very quickly. However, need we say that this is hard work? Not so hard in the first five minutes. Or even the first hour. But a whole morning/afternoon/day of planting can be exhausting and lead to aching back and legs. Even the laying out process can be tiring because one needs to slightly lean over to avoid hurting the plant by dropping it from too high.

Casey planting with the Drängen back when we first acquired it in 2008. We bought ours used from another farm, who imported it from Europe. Now they can be purchased domestically.

Casey planting with the Drängen back when we first acquired it in 2008. We bought ours used from another farm, who imported it from Europe. Now they can be purchased domestically.

Many years ago, we acquired a nifty tool/tractor that we used to help ease the back ache from this work. It’s called a “Drängen” work cart, and it’s a self-propelled platform that allows a person to move over the field in a face-down prone position. These types of tools were developed in northern Europe, where high labor costs mean that owner operators and their families still do quite a lot of field work themselves (much like Casey, who does physical work all day). These farmers need body-saving mechanisms to avoid early burn out! I think it’s a really neat design, and we have used our Drängen with off-and-on success over the years. We learned that it does require a typical northern European body to use effectively (i.e. long arms), and that it does require patience to adjust it to one’s body shape (otherwise it creates other body problems). But when used effectively, it definitely helped with the planting process (at least with the planting; the laying out was still done in the old way), and we like that it didn’t impose any particular bed or row spacings onto our system. It felt very flexible.

But the Drängen wasn’t a perfect solution, and we’ve continued to ponder mechanical transplanters, since so many of our farmer friends have employed them with great success (albeit with modifications to their plantings systems to make them work!). When a certain type of transplanter showed up for sale locally on craigslist, we jumped on it. The seller let us borrow it this last week to give it a try. And, yes, there was a lot of tinkering to be done to get the adjustments right for our starts and spacing and such. Oh, yes. Plenty.

The new transplanter, a two-row Mechanical 4000, parked in our pole building for now. Note the SEATS. Cushy. The starts get dropped in the little rotating cones and then tamped in as the transplanting rolls along.

The new transplanter, a two-row Mechanical 4000, parked in our pole building for now. Note the SEATS. Cushy. The starts get dropped in the little rotating cones and then tamped in as the transplanting rolls along.

But, then. Then there was planting. Lots and lots of planting. The owner actually came out to help one afternoon, and he, Casey, Jasper, and our friend Duncan planted in three hours what would have probably taken two days to plant using our old methods. And, I should add, these were three hours of sitting down in comfortable positions. This trial demonstration was very compelling, and need I add that we wrote our new friend a check the very next day?

Again, we know that this new tool will likely bring us headaches. There will be more mechanical blips and weird things where we find that our starts are falling through the chute right and breaking on the ground. Such things will happen. But sometimes those minor headaches are totally worth the payoff. Sometimes technologies really can bring new levels of efficiency to the farm! We are excited to see that be true with this new tool.

The irony, of course, is that with the increased speed of planting time, our transplanter will likely sit unused for big chunks of the year! I think this is how many of our friends’ farms have grown and grown and grown in acreage over the years — they adopt new efficient technologies and find themselves with the time to plant/weed/do more. I’m hoping that we can instead just feel grateful for the efficiencies and allow them to bring ever more sanity to this farm — to grow those luxurious-feeling buffers of time around our work. For sure, we will be grateful to any tool that gives us more comfortable bodies as we do our work on the farm. We are very aware that our bodies (and those of our employees) need to be part of the farm’s long-term sustainability vision!

And, are you wondering what we planted? Cabbage! Cauliflower! Chard! Lettuce! Leeks! Onions! (Leeks and onions are notoriously the hardest, most laborious, frustrating transplants of the year — getting those in with this machine was a great test of exactly why we’d been wanting it. What a relief to have those big plantings already in the ground, without the usual accompanying back ache!)

This Friday, we do more planting — potatoes on May Day! Again, if you are planning to join us for the planting/potluck (or one or the other), please RSVP at pick-up this week (or email me if that works better). We need to know how many people to expect! You can find directions and more information in last week’s newsletter here. The weather is supposed to be perfect! (And, again, if you can’t join us this time, no problem! We hope to have you out another time this year!)

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Salad mix — We have been eating lots of salads in our house this spring. We add meat on top and call it an easy meal for these busy days. I always make a salad dressing fresh for each salad. It’s super simple using an immersion blender, and we love the results. I mix up my preference, but lately I’ve been making a really satisfying variation on mayonnaise. I use a wide-mouthed pint mason jar and add one raw egg and a bit of vinegar (maybe equal proportions to the egg itself — I mix up what kind of vinegar, switching between Red Wine, Balsamic, and Apple Cider). I add some salt and pepper and a clove of garlic if I’m up for peeling it. Then I put it my immersion blender and start blending while drizzling in olive oil. When the dressing reaches about the one-third mark, it starts getting thick and emulsifies. The more oil, the thicker it gets. I usually stop when the jar is about half full, which in my experience results in a nice creamy dressing (I like using less oil so that you can better taste the vinegars, but more oil would make it stiffer and more like mayo). We dress our salad liberally just before serving. I always dress it in a large bowl, using my hands so that all the leaves get coated evenly. Like I said, we eat meat on top to make it a meal, but you can add all kinds of filling toppings to achieve this effect (perhaps varying the vinegars/oils to nicely complement flavors): cubes of cheese, nuts, smoked fish, dried fruit, chopped veggies, sliced hard-boiled eggs, etc.
  • Stinging nettles
  • Red Russian kale
  • Mustard/kale bunches — These are mixed bunches of mustard greens and “dinosaur” kale, picked from our greenhouses. Dino kale goes by many names: lacinato, black kale, black palm, tuscano. It’s probably the most favored kale of the restaurant world, but it is harder to grow than other varieties (of course!). In some times of the year, the ribbing gets tougher, but this spring greenhouse kale is tender all the way through. I chop it finely (chiffonade), ribbing and all, to cook for our meals. The mustards can be cooked with it. A delicious blend of flavorful cooking greens!
  • Chard
  • Parsley
  • Celery leaf
  • Beets
  • Potatoes
  • Leeks
  • Green garlic
  • Walnuts

And this week’s extra goodies from the farm: Remember to bring containers when appropriate! Especially for eggs!

  • Corn flour  — $5 lb
  • Oat flour — $5 lb
  • Walnuts — $5 lb
  • Sauerkraut — $5 pint / $3 half pint ($1 for our jars). We still have some cabbage sauerkraut. We decided to take a week off of fermented veggies for now as we figure out the next direction for our crock (what comes next?).
  • Eggs — $4 dozen
  • Pork cuts — We’ve got pork! Lots of pork! Have you ever tried braising pork belly? This is the same cut that gets used to make bacon. Bacon is delicious, and it’s not just because of the curing. Try it fresh! It’s a revelation!
  • Pork fat & skin — $3 lb
  • Lamb organs — We’ve got organs left, and we are taking more lambs to the butcher next week. Since they will be aged before cutting, lamb will be back in full force in two weeks.
  • Ground beef — $7 for 1 lb package ~ Almost out! Just like the lamb, we’ll have more in two weeks.
  • Bacon, ham, sausageComing soon! We delivered four hogs to the butcher this week, with instructions for all of the meat to be turned into various yummy things: bacon, ham, sausage — all of it using the natural “celery seed” method for “curing” (technically, they call the results “uncured,” but don’t let this lead you astray, because the bacon is most definitely bacon, etc.). These should be ready in a few more weeks, and we are so excited to share them with you!
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