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Spring clover!

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Hills of sand and million dollar rains

Wee child plays with the vast ocean.

This last week we got away. In July. To the beach. As a family. To play.

As I mentioned last week, stepping away from our life this time of year takes some real work and intention. And trust that all will be well without us for a few days. But, oh, the break we provided ourselves was so worth it. To pause the routines and be more present with our children and each other and friends. To sink our toes in the sand. To surf. To play. To let our “to do” lists float out of our minds so that we had some extra mental space for appreciating everything more deeply.

We were there with another family. I watched the youngest children of the group playing in the surf — running out toward the water, wading up to their knees, and then running back wildly as the waves rolled back in. Out and in, laughing and screaming with the joy of it all. And, my mama friend and I stood there, smiling but also holding our breaths a bit. Because while the children knew this game was fun and probably recognized the power in those waves (adding to the visceral thrill), this mom friend and I really knew what they did not — we knew the massiveness of that ocean; its infinite force; the incredible vastness of its being; its hugeness. Watching these very tiny little people dancing at the edge of something so utterly powerful and awesome, I felt like I was seeing something bigger, something symbolic of life itself. This is the dance we do, always only at one moment in our whole life, at the edge of the complexity of people and relationships, life and death, the universe. We could allow the fierceness, the bigness, the immensity of it all to paralyze us into inaction. Or, we could dance. We could run and laugh.

And, then, as we returned from the beach every day, we climbed the dunes. Several times a day, in fact, we climbed up this hills of sand, usually carrying a child or a heavy bag of gear (or surfboard in Casey’s case). And it was hard work every time — each step we took up included at least a half-step slide back down. And I remembered how so often in the last few years I have compared our daily life to climbing a hill of sand — with two young kids in the house and a growing farm to manage, there have been days and weeks when it feels like we are just running around putting out fires and never getting ahead. Climbing that endless metaphorical hill of sand.

But, there I was, climbing an actual hill of sand last week, and I couldn’t help noticing these things: That even with the slippage, I made it up every time, with kids in tow or whatnot. I made it. Climbing a hill of sand is hard, but it is doable. And, I also noticed that it’s kind of fun. My muscles burned, but my feet enjoyed the feel of the sand, and I felt safe. I felt like if I stumbled, the fall would be soft. It was just a hill of sand after all.

(I should add here that this feeling of climbing a hill of sand is more of a memory than a daily reality anymore. Every day, these kids grow, and we grow as parents and farmers, becoming ever more comfortable in our roles. And what was once all new and growth has become routine in so many ways. But still — the memory of that hill of sand is a fierce and visceral one! And, I expect that we will have more hills of sand to climb in our future. Life’s best blessings are often accompanied by a fair bit of chaos and work!)

So, we danced in the surf and climbed our hill of sand and slept in a yurt and ate good food and visited with friends, and then we returned to the farm. Re-entry from a trip can be hard. After past trips away, we have returned to long lists from our employees of all the things that went wrong and need Casey’s attention (however, I’d like to point out how awesome it is that they DEAL with these crises in temporary but totally doable fashions so they do not disturb our vacations!!!! So awesome!). Anyhow, this time, all was well on the farm. And so Casey swung right back into routine by attending the CSA pick-up, and then … it rained. That night the rain began, and it continued off and on through the next day and night.

A rare sight indeed! Picking ripe blackberries in full rain gear!

If you are reading this blog from a distance, I need to stop and explain: it does not rain in Oregon in July. Like, never. July is a month of constant irrigation and dust (from combines mostly) and hot, hot days. Casey had stepped back from that urgent work of irrigation so that we could get away, and then … it rained. Ok, we realize that the universe has a lot more on its plate than our little farm, but on some level, this beautiful gentle, soaking rain felt like a gift. Or a reward for our faith as we chose to let go and find our peace again in the midst of summer. Or it’s just a fluke. But, a happy fluke nonetheless!

The farmer we used to work for in Bellingham would call these freakish summer rains “million dollar rains.” I suppose because extra rain in the midst of our prime growing season can cause such dramatic growth all around. Every single square inch of our farm got irrigated last week. And then the warmth returned, and all those trees and vegetables and pasture grasses have extra water to grow, grow, grow!!!! Oh the rain made us happy farmers! (We also appreciated the little clearing in the air and a break from the heat!)

I’m sorry for mixing up all these metaphors and images. I’d hoped I would be able to link them all together coherently upon returning, but perhaps this week is about vignettes, about little glimpses of The Bigger Picture and The Peace Perspective Can Bring. But, I’ll tell you what, if peace is to be found, for Casey and me it’s all about water. The ocean. The rain. These things revive us in the season of dust and heat. And, of course, so does the river. Our weekly trips to the river sustain us.

Hope you are staying cool and savoring summer’s surprises (and also summer’s plenty — oh, the food! The summer foods!). Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

P.S. Just for fun … with everything being so bizarrely early this year, we picked our first apples this week! They are from trees not yet in full production (they are in our newest of our three orchards), so it was just enough for our house to enjoy at a few snacks. But these were some big apples!!!!

Rusty shows you how big these Lodi apples were. WOAH!

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Cucumbers
  • Broccoli
  • Fennel
  • Green & yellow beans
  • Kale & collards
  • Potatoes
  • Summer squash & zucchini
  • Garlic
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Gone to play

Dottie during our weekly morning date at the river.

Well, folks. This is going to be a most minimal newsletter. I just want to touch base so you know we still exist and that the CSA harvest will be on as normal (with Casey present as normal too!). But, at the moment, we are gone! Off to play at Oregon’s beautiful beaches with farmer friends who are also playing hookey for a few days.

Technically, I am writing this before we leave and will date stamp it to post at the usual Monday evening time. So by the time you read this, I will be thoroughly in relaxation mode. However, getting away from the farm midsummer takes quite a bit of intention and lots of planning. But it will be worth it. Because we are a family too, and while summer is a busy season on the farm, it is also a prime time for play and vacationing too (as you all know!). Ours will be a mini vacation, but delightful nonetheless.

More farm-y thoughts back here next week! For now, enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Green beans!
  • A sweet surprise — You’ll get something fun in a pint cup, but we’re not sure which fun thing yet …
  • Lettuce
  • Kale
  • Collard greens
  • Potatoes
  • Summer squash and zucchini
  • Leeks
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Notes from this July

Rusty working in his garden ...

Oh, summer is upon us. This week we weathered several truly hot days, followed this weekend by a lovely break that brought us cooler temperatures and some rare all-day thunderstorms. Out here on the farm, life feels buzzing with fullness from sunup to sundown (which is still quite a long day, in spite of us having passed the solstice now!). If we ourselves are not moving on a project, then someone else on the island is: another farmer making use of the last moments of the day to mow or the barn swallows busily feeding their babies in the nest on our porch. Always something.

All this movement and work makes for a beautifully exhausting time of year. Really, we love it, because we know how quickly this moment will shift again. We love watching the heat speed along plant growth. This time of year we can check on a planting in the morning and find it larger or taller at the end of the day. So much growth!

For your viewing pleasure, here are snapshots from the week:

Dottie in our home garden (same as "Rusty's garden" above).

… is it so ridiculous that we have a home garden? This is actually the third time we’ve attempted a small garden in this spot, and the first year it’s actually really worked — in large part because it’s the first year that kids have been super engaged in it, allowing us time and energy to take care of it! I can tell you what: it is SUPER satisfying to hoe such a (relatively) small space! We’re having lots of fun, and the kids visit it daily to check on plant progress. This year our garden is mostly random things that Rusty was interested and we had extra transplants of. Casey tried to keep things in rows, but with kids helping, it’s a bit more random than not. But we’re hooked and will keeping on “gardening” every year! (Also, if you visit us, Rusty will insist on giving you an extensive tour of his garden. It’s his favorite thing to do right now.)

Casey and the crew brought in our garlic harvest last week. It's as beautiful as we anticipated! Casey lined these garlic up on the table the other night without saying anything. How could I NOT take a photo???

And speaking of July growth, the field corn planting is exploding right now — taller and taller every day!

This is how Casey begins every single day (including weekends) this time of year. After all these years, Casey is still our main irrigation pipe mover! In midsummer, he moves pipe usually twice per day. These are 40' long sticks of aluminum — not as heavy as one might expect, but it still adds up to A LOT of work every day (including simply plenty of walking!).

But there are moments for play too in July ... lots of them! We spend quite a lot of time outdoors, exploring the farm or just swinging away in the shed ...

I hope you all are enjoying summer’s energy too! This is the moment in the year when summer feels like it could last forever. It won’t. Let that thought carry you through those extra hot afternoons — savor it!

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Potatoes!!!! — Casey was super excited to harvest the first of this year’s potatoes for you this week! Food-wise, we’re in a bit of a lull between exciting fruit crops (the cherries and raspberries are done but we’re still waiting on tomatoes …). But, potatoes! In our house, we’ve been making a lot of hashbrowns lately with these delicious potatoes, but I think a potato salad may be in the works for our weekend trip to the beach. I don’t really need to give you advice on this one, I’m sure!
  • Celery leaf — Think of this crop as an herb rather than a vegetable — this is celery that is grown specifically for its leaves, which pack some seriously delicious celery flavor. You can chop it and add to a salad (or even a potato salad), or add to stocks and soups for the quintessential celery base flavor.
  • Salad mix
  • Kale
  • Chard
  • Summer squash & zucchini — Have you tried making last week’s “squash-a-ganouj” recipe yet? If not, try it this week! I think we’ve been eating it almost daily!!!
  • Garlic — Some of the beautiful new crop! Use for making squash-a-ganouj or in any other delicious garlic application!!!
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Old fashioned farming

Hay in the field.

Last week I finished reading Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. I’ve long been familiar with Berry’s nonfiction and poetry. In fact, Casey and I wrote Berry a letter some number of years ago, letting him know that he can be credited (at least in large part) to turning us onto the idea of farming so long ago. We felt the need to thank such a living legend while he was (and still is!) living.

But Jayber Crow was my first experience with Berry’s fiction. Not surprisingly, the pace of the book was slow, and I worked through it with some dedication a few evenings a week. It was slow but rich. And all so very intentionally so.

The story spans many almost the entirety of the 20th century in rural Kentucky. Through the dramas of the characters, we see larger movements unfolding — especially the movement away from an old fashioned man and animal-powered type of farming and toward mechanized (and high debt) farming. As someone who is very familiar with Berry’s nonfiction essays, the themes felt very familiar as they revealed themselves through these specific stories. With regret, the narrator tells the story of one farm in particular that over decades transitions from a sustainable stewardship under the hands of a hard-working but patient and calm farmer (horses and mules and all that) to an out-of-control, eroded wasteland under the hands of his rushed, prideful son-in-law. But, of course, the narrator takes his time telling the story, clearly revealing where his own loyalties lie simply in his pacing if nothing else!

And, so, pace has been on my mind. Along with hand tools and other kinds of “power” on our farm. Our own farm is not-so-much “old fashioned” as all that. We’ve never believed that by eschewing chemicals and debt we were just walking back in time. We own fuel-powered vehicles, including a tractor for tillage and such. But our farm certainly can relate back to those ideas Berry idealizes: stewardship; intentionality; appropriate technology; human and animal scaled operations.

Fittingly, I went to Wilco this weekend to pick up a second pitchfork for the farm. I ran into some long-time CSA members who commented that I looked so perfectly “farmy.” Yes, pitchforks and scythes and all that do harken back to those older farms — the era that Berry eulogizes in his writing.

But for us, a scythe or pitchfork is not nostalgic (nor is our decades-old cultivating tractor) — these are real useful tools. Ones we prefer (at least for now) over their modern equivalents. We owned a scythe before any other tool on our farm — before we even had a farm. Wendell Berry has a famous essay about scythes (“A Good Scythe”) that turned us onto the idea of a different kind of power. Since acquiring our first “good” scythe over a decade ago, we have used them regularly. Because they are useful. How do we use it? Where others might use string-trimmers and such. Oh, the difference between wielding a loud, vibrating, fume-creating string-trimmer and a scythe — how vast in every way! We scythe the grass out around our orchard trees; we scythe green oats to feed our animals; we scythe lines in the pasture to keep the grass from shorting out our electric fencing … I am not convinced that doing this work with a hand tool is any more taxing that carrying around a big machine. If anything, we’re convinced of the opposite. And, it’s lovely.

Using the tractor to haul loose hay.

The pitchforks have been getting more action too since we started making our own hay last week. I mentioned that we bought a mower-conditioner. We also bought a hay rake (and we borrowed a “tedder” from a neighbor). But we did not buy a baler. Instead, we have been manually picking up hay and piling it in our hay shed loose. Which is of course how hay was stored for all the centuries before balers were invented.

Is it as efficient as bales? Oh no — not in terms of effort or space. But it’s scale appropriate. A baler is an expensive, complicated, single-use piece of machinery. We hear they are good at breaking themselves when you need them to work. And so for now, buying our own baler is not high on our farm’s priority list. For now, making hay for our own animals will continue to be a hybrid-enterprise — part mechanized and part good old-fashioned human powered labor.

Casey throws hay higher and higher!

Incidentally, that old-time farmer that gets high praise in Jayber Crow is described as being a good leader because he starts work with his hired hands, digs right in their with them, and ends work with them. As I watched Casey hauling hay beside two of our workers, I thought this is also something we have in common with that farmer — we love the work that we do, and we would never ask anyone working for us to do anything we wouldn’t (or don’t) do beside them. And so, tasks that could feel very hard just feel like good valued work. We watch as the hay piles up, perfectly conditioned in the summer heat, and moved by caring hands. Certainly, it wouldn’t make sense to do it this way on a larger scale, but for us, for now, it works. One step at a time; intention all the way.

I suppose that’s all we can do around here — the future is so hard to predict, and the enormity of our work can feel daunting if we think of it all at once. But one step at a time; a load of good hay here, a load of good hay there — and so we prepare for coming seasons.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Make some squash-a-ganouj! “What’s that?” Casey made it up this week. We have always loved the flavor combination of baba ganouj: roasted eggplant + tahini + garlic = yes, please! But our eggplant season is often fairly brief (depends on the year, but compared to other staple crops, it is always much shorter!), so we would have to wait until late summer to get our baba ganouj fix. Until now! This weekend Casey tried making baba ganouj with zucchini instead of the eggplant. He roasted it and then prepared everything else using (more-or-less) basic baba ganouj proportions. In other words, he stuck some roasted zucchini in a food processor with tahini, lots of garlic, and salt … if we’d had some lemon that would have been awesome too, but we didn’t, so Casey added some red wine vinegar, and it was still awesome. We’re totally hooked. The texture and flavor is super close to the eggplant version (perhaps a bit milder? But not much!). He made another batch tonight. Highly recommended!!!!

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Fennel
  • Lettuce
  • Beet greens
  • Chard
  • Kale
  • Summer squash & zucchini
  • Leeks
  • Garlic
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As June ends …

Casey enjoying perhaps the earliest plum we've ever harvested here on our farm! "Happy early birthday to me," he said with joy. (He turns 35 next Saturday!)

How is it July already? Tomorrow, anyway … We are knee deep in real summer now, although we appreciated the last little respite we received just after the solstice. A final touch of Oregon June before we head into the real dry season.

Alas, I had so many plans this week for newsletters — the farm has me thinking a lot these days about so many things related to growing food, nourishing community, understanding each other as people. But, today was “one of those days.” Our normal rhythm was interrupted by various things, including lots of fetching things — the kids and I picked up some laying hens this morning from a friend and then Casey spent the better part of the day picking up a mower/conditioner from our tractor guy in Canby. This is step #1 in our new adventure of making our own hay! As I’ve noted in previous newsletters, we’ve had others make hay on our ground before, but it’s time for us to take control of the process from start to finish.

So, even as I write this, Casey is out “making hay while the sun shines.” The kids are already in bed, but we have a few more hours of sun left here in Oregon, such as it is in summer. But I can tell that our farmer bedtime approaches, so rather than try to muster some beautiful prose, I’ll end with a few more photos from the week that can help share the story of our farm in this season:

Sigh ... a most beautiful potato planting under a crisp blue sky.

I've set for a goal this year to harvest and dry enough herbs from around the farm to last Casey and me through to next spring (when the nettles come up again!). I pick a few little items here and there as the kids and I meander. Today's harvest: red clover blossoms and St. John's Wort!

Rusty loves to check out the animal den beneath our large Linden tree by the creek! We found some cool jaw bones here once. And, we think an owl lives high up in the tree too, because we've found pellets and droppings in a pile nearby. These are big adventures for these little ones (and me too!).

Have a safe and happy 4th of July everyone! We’ll be on the farm (as usual) celebrating Casey’s birthday (as usual). We don’t really do loud noises — for now … we’ll see how long until our adventurous boy changes the tone of the 4th on our farm.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Reminder: The third quarterly CSA payment is due this week! I sent out email statements a while back — check yours for exact details (if you didn’t get an email me, then it’s likely you don’t owe anything this time around). Please email me if you have any questions! Thanks!

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Summer squash & zucchini!!!! — I can’t believe how excited I am about this summer squash and zucchini! I hope you are too! I’ve written many times in this newsletter about Casey and my own “journey to being vegetable eaters.” I think it’s easy to assume that farmers like ourselves are lifelong vegetable eaters, which is only somewhat true for Casey and me. As with many people, we were fairly ambivalent about vegetables growing up and really grew into our love as adults. This love grew directly out of trying new vegetables over and over again. Vegetables which I once actively disliked (fresh tomatoes!), I now love! Others that I just didn’t have much enthusiasm for (fennel), I also now love. Summer squash and zucchini fall into this category. For years and years and years, Casey and I grew these crops and felt pretty “eh” about them ourselves. We’d eat a bit every year, but in the last few years we really got excited about them. Last year especially, our liking turned to downright ecstatic love as we discovered how much we love roasting summer squash. This year when we picked the very first earliest summer squash, this was what we did first: slice it into chunks and then roast it at 425° (with butter) until soft and crispy on one edge. We like to put plenty of salt on it. I’m going to start drooling right now, in fact. We also love using summer squash and zucchini as the base for all kinds of summer stews. I’ll start with onions/leeks frying in butter, add zucchini, then maybe some kale or carrots or whatever else we have around (tomatoes, of course, once they arrive). Plenty of salt and butter helps here too. But seriously delicious stuff! Also, I love that summer squash is a great item for the kids to help with in the kitchen. Last year I bought them both “safety” knives that can actually cut foods but not skin, and summer squash are a favorite for them. I pull up chairs on either side of me and cut long strips for them to cut on their own cutting boards with their own knives. Rusty has been known to chop all of our squash for a meal — a real help!
  • Cherries
  • Fava beans
  • Lettuce
  • Kale
  • Carrots
  • Summer leeks
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