Welcome!

14Welcome 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 farm, and everything that we grow is sold directly to customers here in Yamhill County! We sell primarily through our unique 45-week long Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, which offers customizable share sizes and contents. 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 news on our blog!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

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Through Casey’s eyes

I love this photo that Casey took of the southern entrance to our field from the road. To the right of our trusty field gator is our now six year-old willow hedge. It has certainly thrived and provides a useful buffer between our fields and the farm to the south.

I love this photo that Casey took of the southern entrance to our field from the road. To the right of our trusty field gator is our now six year-old willow hedge. It has certainly thrived and provides a useful buffer between our fields and the farm to the south.

You may have noticed that I (Katie) do most of the documenting of our farm. I suppose it’s in large part because Casey’s doing most of the rest of the work. But it’s also because these are my strengths and loves — I do actually even have degrees in writing AND photography! Not that I think overly highly of my skills in those areas now, but they’re both things I continue enjoy doing, capturing these weekly images and stories from the farm.

But today Casey took the camera with him as he went out to harvest, and I thought I’d share this week the things that he found worth of capturing. I’ll do my best to provide relevant captions of my own.

Look at how big our apples are getting already! (This is thanks to our diligent thinning but also just the passage of time and some lovely summer-y weather.) Our earliest apples -- the Chehalis -- look like they're just a few weeks out from being ready. Hard to believe but true. Also, check out that farmer hand!

Look at how big our apples are getting already! (This is thanks to our diligent thinning but also just the passage of time and some lovely summer-y weather.) Our earliest apples — the Chehalis — look like they’re just a few weeks out from being ready. Hard to believe but true. Also, check out that farmer hand!

Some of our apple trees are so loaded with fruit that we are planning to prop the branches this summer (because we fear they may break under the load of their fruit otherwise). In other exciting orchard news, some hornets have build a big round paper nest in one of our Methley trees -- the ones that will ripen first (and soon!). Hornets are aggressive against people who come too near to their nests. We've had other nests on the farm before, but never in places where we got in each other's way. But we need to pick those plums! Casey's already been stung twice just for being in the area, so he's been trying to figure out how to remove the nest safely. He knocked part of it down with a 30' long irrigation pipe yesterday, but it didn't fully remove it. More careful work to come on this matter so that we can pick plums for you soon!

Some of our apple trees are so loaded with fruit that we are planning to prop the branches this summer (because we fear they may break under the load of their fruit otherwise). In other exciting orchard news, some hornets have build a big round paper nest in one of our Methley trees — the ones that will ripen first (and soon!). Hornets are aggressive against people who come too near to their nests. We’ve had other nests on the farm before, but never in places where we got in each other’s way. But we need to pick those plums! Casey’s already been stung twice just for being in the area, so he’s been trying to figure out how to remove the nest safely. He knocked part of it down with a 40′ long irrigation pipe yesterday, but it didn’t fully remove it. More careful work to come on this matter so that we can pick plums for you soon!

Casey harvested the first of the garlic today! In our ongoing "dribs and drabs" model of getting farmwork done without extra help, he decided to just harvest twice as much as we need for this week's share -- half will go to the CSA and half will be hung to cure for use later. He'll keep doing that until most of the garlic is out!

Casey harvested the first of the garlic today! In our ongoing “dribs and drabs” model of getting farmwork done without extra help, he decided to just harvest twice as much as we need for this week’s share — half will go to the CSA and half will be hung to cure for use later. He’ll keep doing that until most of the garlic is out!

Close up shot of garlic and the farmer's hand again!

Close up shot of garlic and the farmer’s hand again!

At breakfast this morning, Casey was extolling the virtues of our current tillage system (as well as pondering new improvements for future seasons). This tool, our chisel plow, has been especially helpful this year. It has only a few strong tines, which get dropped very deep into the ground to run straight through. They break up any hard "pan" deep below the surface without turning the surface. The result is a lighter soil that still has plenty of healthy soil life.

At breakfast this morning, Casey was extolling the virtues of our current tillage system (as well as pondering new improvements for future seasons). This tool, our chisel plow, has been especially helpful this year. It has only a few strong tines, which get dropped very deep into the ground to run straight through. They break up any hard “pan” deep below the surface without turning the surface. The result is a lighter soil that still has plenty of healthy soil life.

After the chisel plow comes the power harrow, which has lots and lots of vertical tines that spin around in the soil (again without turning it over). This is the final tillage that Casey uses on a bed before planting it. And of course, there's our good old tractor. Just the right size for us. (Not too big; not too small.)

After the chisel plow comes the power harrow, which has lots and lots of vertical tines that spin around in the soil (again without turning it over). This is the final tillage that Casey uses on a bed before planting it. And of course, there’s our good old tractor. Just the right size for us. (Not too big; not too small.)

So, there you go — a little tour of parts of the farm that caught Casey’s eye today.

Daily life out here continues in its normal summer pattern — lots of harvest, planting, and weeding.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • New potatoes — These are the first of this year’s potatoes! And, they’re purple!!!! You’ll find that new potatoes have a different flavor and texture than ones that have been stored. I personally enjoy both types of potatoes, but I do find it exciting to be enjoying the new textures and flavors (and colors) of this season!
  • Head lettuce OR broccoli
  • Chard
  • Zucchini & green summer squash
  • Torpedo onions
  • Garlic — Pictured above! This is a soft-necked variety of garlic, great for all your typical garlic uses.

And this week’s extra goodies from the farm:

  • Eggs — $6/dozen
  • Ham — No nitrates-added artisan-made ham from the last of our hogs! $12/lb
  • Ground pork — $8/lb
  • Pork organs, fat & bones — $4/lb
  • Coming soon ~ Beef and goat!
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The gloom of June

Obviously taken on a NOT "gloomy" June day -- Rusty picking and eating the low hanging fruit from our cherry trees.

Obviously taken on a NOT “gloomy” June day — Rusty picking and eating the low hanging fruit from our cherry trees.

Last week, after we came out of a brief but intense first heat wave, I heard many people marveling in astonishment at the arrival of rain! In June!?

Oh, let me tell you. It certainly does rain in the Pacific Northwest in June. It can be hard to remember this fact after two prior years of very early summers (following on the heels of warm and dry springs), but June is a time of unpredictability. In fact, I’d say that is the one thing you can predict about June — that’s you just can’t predict it at all! If I were to plan an outdoor wedding, I wouldn’t plan it in June. Odds are equal that it may be 100° out or that it may be raining.

Old timers know not to expect reliably dry weather in these parts until after the Fourth of July. Historically, even the Fourth itself was not a predictable day! I remember many a wet celebration from my youth (including a very rainy week spent at horse camp in early July back when I was ten or so).

There are even two words to describe the spells of wet, cool weather that may arrive in June: “June gloom” and “June-uary.”

I don’t think that the last week could fall into that latter category. While we have seen more overcast skies, a handful of downpours, and mild temperatures, it certainly still feels like we’re moving toward summer out there. Not like in earlier seasons we remember when it seemed that all growth in the fields paused in June, leaving us farmers completely freaked out as we prepared for the earliest summer CSA harvests. No, that is not at all the case this time around — things are growing and growing, just as we’d hope for June.

Just for fun last week, Casey decided to mark the growth of leaves on one zucchini plant over several days. He drew a spot in the dirt where the first leaves touched on one day and watched in amazement as they grew past that and were replaced by new leaves in just two days!

And, early this morning Casey put poles out for our pole beans. By breakfast, ten plants had already started wrapping their tendrils around the poles to climb, and I’m sure by now the majority have followed suit.

Yes, plants sure can grow this time of year. Gloomy skies or not.

Next Monday is the summer solstice! Already! It’s also a Full Moon, which I’m sure brings all sorts of auspicious energy to the day as we hit that day length peak of the year. I have to admit that the summer solstice brings me joy, but I find I cannot as fully enter into the marking and celebration as I can at the other side of the year. When the winter solstice arrives, I am so ready to turn that corner, and the darkness brings so much time and space for pondering it all. In summer, it’s more like a hit-and-run celebration — “Oh, gee, it’s the solstice! How wonderful!” and then we keep on running by, so occupied by the energy that this season brings with it and all the activities of work and play that fill every single long day. Whew! I feel like a buzzing bee, all humming along, dancing from flower to flower while the sun shines! It’s all loveliness and joy, but I know that come fall, I will be ready for a rest.

In the meantime, June’s gloom brings a little glimmer of rest into the early summer days. When those downpours roll across the valley, I can feel myself relax a little deeper, happy with the knowledge that our irrigation efforts are being aided by nature herself and that for the moment we can pause inside and make some lists and look out the windows. Perhaps those downpours are the equivalent of candlelight in the winter — a little balancing taste of the other side of the year’s wheel.

And, of course, the food is just coming in. Good old Jasper (our long-time employee of yore) visited the farm for dinner on Monday, and he commented on how many fun early crops he’s seen on our CSA lists this year. Yes, indeed! No doubt that we’re eating summer foods, and with great gusto.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Cherries
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes and cucumbers
  • Head lettuce
  • Fava beans
  • Beet greens — These are a fun spring treat. We don’t usually grow beets just for the greens, but we do find that it’s useful (and delicious!) to “thin” our beet plantings at the same stage that their greens are super tender and flavorful. You can eat these fresh as a salad or lightly cook them as you would chard (but they will cook faster).
  • Kale — It’s back! Thank you for your patience as we transitioned between the greenhouse spring kale and the field summer kale. We are so happy to see this favorite green back in the line up (and on our plates!).
  • Chard
  • “Storage” squash
  • Potatoes
  • Zucchini & summer squash — We have another color and shape now in the zucchini category. Welcome to “Magda,” our all-time favorite summer squash/zucchini. This light green squash is rounder than typical zucchini. You can use it in all the same ways, but for some reason we love it extra lots. We roasted some at lunch. Delicious!
  • Torpedo onions

And this week’s extra goodies from the farm:

  • Eggs — $6/dozen
  • Ham — No nitrates-added artisan-made ham from the last of our hogs! $12/lb
  • Ground pork — $8/lb
  • Pork organs, fat & bones — $4/lb
  • Coming soon ~ Beef and goat!
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

Apple thinning

My hands again this week ... this time reaching for another little apple to tug down.

My hands again this week … this time reaching for another little apple to tug down.

I’ve mentioned in several newsletters now that we’ve been slowly working on “thinning” apples in our two orchards. The process took us several weeks to complete, but we did finish this weekend (at the beginning of a very hot Sunday!).

When we thin apples, we are simultaneously provided a very intimate tour of every apple tree in our orchards (all 130 of them), as we circle it slowly, looking for every spur on the tree and making sure that only one apple remains there (by delicately removing the others). We purposefully prune our trees to be human height so that we can do this work by standing on the ground, and it’s beautifully calm work to do with one’s spouse. Conversation can flow easily as we each circle a tree, meditatively looking into the branches and physically touching the tree as we go.

Even in this early spring season, we can already see such huge differences between different apple varieties. The Goldrush trees were all heavy bearers, setting thousands of apples on each tree, requiring much more attention from us than some other types (some of which only need a cursory look around to make sure no spur was over-loaded). On some trees, the cull applets popped off easily, as though they were just waiting for our fingers to signal that it was time to drop and leave room for just one. On other trees, we had to carefully twist off apples that had already grown to be golf ball-sized.

Thinning apples is one of those seasonal activities that naturally brings to mind so many prior experiences. We of course recalled our previous seasons of thinning — and mostly found ourselves remarking again and again on how much fruit we have this year compared to earlier years! We planted the orchards in 2009 and 2010, so they really are just now in full maturity and we are seeing the balance of what they are likely to produce in most years.

But we also naturally recalled the experience of planting each orchard — how the first orchard went in the winter before I got pregnant with Rusty, and the second one went in when Rusty was a little tiny baby on my chest.

And, even farther back, we recalled learning to thin fruit on a hot May day in Chelan in 2004. It was our first week of ever gardening (really!), and yet we had these ideas that farming was our calling. So we spent a week staying on an organic homestead and helping with the spring work. In that particular climate, stone fruit grow exceedingly well, and so we helped thin a peach tree, doing the same basic task of removing all but one fruit in each location so that they could grow as big as possible (and to eliminate some pest and disease pressure from over-crowding too). That peach tree was much larger than our apple trees, and so it was also our first experience of standing on an orchard ladder (which have only three legs rather than four and are actually amazingly stable). I remember how sore my neck became from looking up all day as I reached for baby peach after baby peach, littering the ground below my ladder.

And, as today, we talked and talked with Jeff, our host and mentor. We still recall stories he told us that week about his land and the work and so many experiences he and his wife had had over their decades of living on their homestead. How much we learned in that one week!

The children helped us some with our thinning this year, although mostly they played nearby and collected caches of fallen apples. I do imagine that in future years they will join us for longer and longer as they grow into the beauty of gentle work. Not this year, but someday.

The fruit are already growing so big because of our work (and irrigation and heat and time). Now when I look out our living room window, I can see red orbs growing on the trees closest to our house. The earliest apples are really only weeks away from being ready. Already! It is hard to believe but true.

The summer solstice is still a few weeks away, but we are very much in the thick of the growing season. As you will see in this week’s share, which features treats that astound us by their presence in early June. Tomatoes! And more!

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

How we eat fava beans: As I was preparing fava beans for lunch yesterday, I thought, “I need to share this with the CSA!” Because fava beans can be overwhelming sometimes. At this stage of growth, they are really best when shucked and then peeled free of the white outer skin that grows around each bright green bean. But who was time to sit with a bowl and shuck and peel a bag full of fava beans?

Ok, maybe we all have that time if we prioritize it, because really doesn’t sitting on the porch shucking beans sound somewhat romantic? It does to me, but the reality is that I don’t think about doing that early enough before a meal to make it happen in that slow paced romantic way.

Instead, here’s how our fava beans get eaten. A few at a time. Casey and I both have gotten into the habit of adding just a handful of shucked and peeled fava beans into our cooked greens (or other dishes) at each meal. It ends up being quite easy when we don’t overwhelm ourselves with a whole bag of beans at a time. If I throw the beans into my pan at the same time as the garlic or onions, then the beans are cooked through by the time my greens are done. And I’m consistently amazed at how much just a handful of beans adds to the color and flavor of the meal I serve as a result. It’s a reminder to us that it’s June, a special time on the farm featuring special foods!

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Cherries
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes — The first! As such, each share will just receive a small portion, but OH there are so many more to come. These have been delicious (because of course we had to taste the VERY first ourselves).
  • Radishes
  • Fava beans
  • Bok choy
  • Head lettuce
  • Beets
  • Zucchini
  • Potatoes
  • Storage squash
  • Torpedo onions — These special Italian onions are sweet enough to eat raw (chopped on a salad or sliced onto a sandwich) but also have fabulous flavor when cooked. They are a summer favorite of ours.

And this week’s extra goodies from the farm:

  • Eggs — $6/dozen
  • Ham — No nitrates-added artisan-made ham from the last of our hogs! $12/lb
  • Pork chops — $12/lb
  • Ground pork — $8/lb
  • Pork organs, fat & bones — $4/lb

Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

Down to the river to play

I found a swallowtail butterfly on our hike this Monday. I thought it was injured, but after me holding it for a few minutes, it flew away into the trees.

I found a swallowtail butterfly on our hike this Monday. I thought it was injured, but after me holding it for a few minutes, it flew away into the trees.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that “river season” has begun around these parts. Yes, it has. We’ve been down to visit it twice in the last three days, and I see more visits in our future.

Warm weather brings these visits on. As well as a draw to the dense trees and wilder parts of the island.

In previous years, I would have also listed a need to find a bit of respite, but this feels less true this spring than in past years. Life on the farm itself has changed a lot in recent months. I can’t say that we really feel the same intensity of being on the farm as in former years (when we were juggling more balls and managing more people and acres), but it’s certainly true that in spring, our ‘to do’ lists do seem endless at times. But we work on them one item at a time, thinning more apple trees here, weeding more summer plantings there, and things happen.

A big egg! (And half an egg shell too.)

A big egg! (And half an egg shell too.)

But it is still lovely to run away to our favorite river for fun. This weekend an old friend and her son came to the farm for a holiday weekend visit, and we hiked through the woods to our favorite Willamette River play area — a several acre expanse of river rock, filled with pools of water and alongside a side channel of the Willamette itself. Our friends found a fist-sized agate, and we all marveled at the size of an abandoned egg we found resting on a log (don’t really understand how it got there without being broken). It was much larger than any goose or duck egg I’ve seen, so we assume it was from a very large wild bird such as the local ospreys or turkey vultures or hawks. (Also, if you ever find an abandoned egg and are curious about what might inside, think carefully before you crack open what will likely be a very rotten egg. Just sayin’.)

On Sunday, we went to our friends Rich and Val of Mossback Farm annual farm party. They were some of the first folks we met when we moved to Yamhill County ten years ago, and their party is a ‘must attend’ for our family. It’s fabulous seeing their place once a year and see all the changes that can take place in that time. Over the years, we’ve watched fencing go up, trees planted, trees grown (and grow!), and more.

Perhaps my one and only (minor and temporary) regret of our life with small children is how our life has contracted in many ways. Before having kids, we attended the farmers market in McMinnville and were always meeting new farmers and going to visit each other’s farms (often traveling fairly far afield in the Willamette Valley to connect with farmers). But in the last six years, we’ve pulled back from so much of that kind of activity to keep our focus here at home, where the kids have been growing and where we have still been very busy with our own farm. It has felt like the right energy for our little children, but I do miss the creative energy that came from meeting new people and seeing how other people are approaching their farm enterprises. I’m sure we’ll do more of that kind of outreach and education and socializing again as the kids get older, but in the meantime I’m certainly grateful for a few long-term farm friendships that get us a small taste of that experience during this season of our life.

And, our place here is, well, lovely. When the children are so satisfied by the vastness of Grand Island and Yamhill County, why would we really want to wander too far away for now? I am always amazed at how every hike to the river — on the same familiar trail — brings us fresh new adventures each time. We see new plants blooming that we hadn’t noticed in prior seasons; we hold butterflies in our hands; we pick up fallen feathers and eggs; we harvest nettles; we taste the first of the salmon berries. Always something wonderful, if albeit set in a familiar setting, so close to home. Perhaps many of the best things are like this — those minute details that can also be seen in the context of familiarity. That’s why we keep walking to the river, in every season.

The farm is similar, of course. Field walks at this time of year reveal June’s incredibly rapid growth. Cherries are in already! We are in the thick of it all now!

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Cherries! — Everyone in the valley is marveling at the earliness of this year’s cherry harvest! Our neighbor started “shaking” his trees last week. He said he’s never seen a May start to the harvest in his 20 years of managing that orchard. These cherries are from one tree in our orchard that is always the earliest. We call it a “Rainier,” because of its similar coloring (yellow with a pink blush), but it’s likely to be a different kind of older cherry since the orchard is 70 or so years old. Either way, they’re a very good early cherry — not quite as sweet as what is to come, but so satisfying as the first of the year!
  • Strawberries
  • Radishes
  • Beets — Beets with greens! Please consider both parts food. The beets are great roasted or steamed. We love to steam them and then eat them with plain yogurt. It sounds sort of funny, but it’s simply divine. The greens can be cooked as you would prepare chard (they are actually the same species!).
  • Fennel bulbs
  • Fava beans
  • Chard
  • Zucchini
  • Potatoes
  • “Storage” squash
  • Garlic scapes

And this week’s extra goodies from the farm:

  • Eggs — $6/dozen
  • Ham & bacon — No nitrates-added artisan-made ham and bacon from the last of our hogs! $12/lb
  • Pork chops — $12/lb
  • Ground pork — $8/lb
  • Pork organs, fat & bones — $4/lb
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

Animals on the farm, revisited

The sheep gathered along the fence this afternoon, the munch on the pea plants we tossed over the top.

The sheep gathered along the fence this afternoon, to munch on the pea plants we tossed over the top.

Today Casey I picked the last of the peas in one of our greenhouses. The two rows of plants had long ago outgrown our last trellis line (which was at the top of the posts) and was falling over in the paths. We carefully lifted up each section to pick the remaining good peas and noted that the plants were starting to dry down and yellow, and most of the peas were at the very ends of the plants. Sure signs that the plants were ready to stop putting on fresh new green peas and would start “maturing” the peas they’d already set — given that we’re growing these particular plants for fresh eating, edible-pod snap peas, that meant that their time with us is done. Unless we wanted to grow seed, we wouldn’t be excited about the next stage.

So, after picking, we began pulling down the trellis lines and hauling the still green plants out to the sheep and goats, which are pasturing nearby. They happily ran to our piles of pea plants to munch on the nutritious plant matter left there. We are always so happy when we see parts of the plant that we can’t “use” as human food be so heartily enjoyed by farm animals in this way. There’s a profound sense in that moment  of the farm being a complete system, with fertility cycling in and out of the ground (up through the plant and back down through the manure — with a lot of sun ray goodness in between).

We will miss this experience next year.

Because, also today, I realized that we have a plan for every single animal left on the farm. The last of the hogs left a few weeks ago (more bacon and ham coming to the storefront soon!); two beef animals and three goats leave in early June; one more beef animal and our sheep will leave in late summer; our flock of laying hens will leave in November. Most of these animals are leaving our farm via the butcher, to be turned into nutritious food for our customers. But two of the oldest ewes will be returning to their earlier home on my parents’ home, to live out a happy, spoiled retirement in the cherry orchard.

For the first time in four years, there are only full grown animals on our farm and no baby animals who will grow up and stick around until future years. There are no chicks, no piglets, no lambs, no kids, no calves, no turkey poults.

We’ve been vague until now about what exactly we are doing with animals on our farm. We knew last year that we wanted to scale way back and slow way down with what we are doing, which is why we intentionally stopped breeding any animals toward the end of last season. But I don’t think we knew until perhaps even today that we were truly done with animals on this farm.

I should always add the important (and very true!) caveat: for now. We are done with animals on this farm, for now.

For Casey and me, coming to this decision took time. There are so many wonderful benefits to having a mixed animal and crop farm. We have relished many parts of this experience. We have especially loved providing a reliable source of grass-raised meat for our customers and our own family.

But this will be our fifth season having animals on our farm, and at this point we feel like our farm needs a break. The tricky thing about raising animals (especially when breeding them as well) is that there are no built-in breaks. There are seasons to the work, but there are always animals to care for in every season. And, they need tending every day. In this way, raising animals is a profoundly different experience than growing crops.

We knew all the challenges of raising animals before we jumped into it — that’s why we waited six years to give it a try! In those early years, people often asked us why we were raising vegetables and not animals, and I’d joke: “Lettuce doesn’t run away!” It was a glib response that was also true.

I don’t feel like I can say that any part of the animal raising experience really surprised us, except that I don’t think we were quite prepared for the weight and the gravity of the work. When dealing with other sentient, living beings, farming takes on a different level of seriousness. Working with them is also inherently a higher risk activity as well — well designed handling systems can help here, but ultimately they only buffer the farmers from the risk rather than eliminating it. Turnips don’t kick farmers in the head; cows can and do and have. Meanwhile, the inevitable losses from our mistakes or natural happenings weigh heavy on our hearts. There’s an emotional and physical toll we have never experienced while growing fruits and vegetables.

And, I have to admit, the double whammy of raising animals and raising children is a profoundly exhausting emotional set of endeavors!

There are other practical considerations too — profitability, butchering logistics, feed sourcing, etc etc etc. Rather than going into too much detail, I will just summarize by saying that good farm-produced meat and eggs and milk really does need to be at least as expensive as it is, and probably should cost even a bit more!

So, again, we feel ourselves cutting some of those metaphorical psychic “strings” I spoke about in an earlier newsletter this year. Or, at least, preparing to cut them at the end of this year. Although at this point, each set of animals that we load to leave the farm represents a cut string I suppose. We see them off with gratitude in our heart for what they have contributed to this place and to our bodies and to our customers.

It’s funny to be writing so many newsletters this spring along this theme of scaling back. It’s a fun topic for us right now and one that we see playing out in other people’s lives now too — in fact, I am leading a panel discussion on the topic of “scaling back” at a farm conference this fall! Yet, each time I sit down to write a newsletter like this, I do marvel at how there can still be more things that we are cutting back on. I suppose that just goes to show how very much we have been doing out here in recent years, with 100 acres in our management and every kind of crop and animal in rotation on that land and many more hands helping with all of it! And, when I look at what we are doing each day, what we are harvest, what we are growing — it is still so rich and diverse. And becoming so much more fun every day for us as we bring it back to a family scale.

A CSA member pointed out to me this last week another really positive point. Each time we cut back on something, such as producing animal products, we open up a niche for another farm. Amen amen amen. I love thinking about this, and knowing without a doubt that other farms are also growing and changing and adding enterprises and experimenting, and that there will be another farm (or several) out there who step up next year to grow healthy animal products for us all. I am already grateful to them.

And, one last word about animals products as a whole, and specifically meat. As an adult, I have never eaten meat casually. In fact, for the first six years of Casey and my married life, we didn’t buy meat for ourselves to eat, because, well, it’s an emotionally and spiritually heavy thing. At the time, we didn’t really know yet about farm-raised meats, and we certainly didn’t want to participate in the factory farm machine. We began buying meat again when we moved to Oregon and met animal producers and visited their farms. The question of “to eat” or “not to eat” with meat is so big, and I can’t really begin to tease out all the ethical, health, ecological, and spiritual questions about it in one newsletter. I think that in general, the decision is more complicated than most vocal parties allow, and there is no easy answer. Our being humans in the world who eat food has an impact, and it’s truly hard to get out of that!

But I want to say that after living in intimacy with domesticated animals for the past five seasons, our respect for life and the gift of life and the gift of nourishing food has grown deeper and deeper. The significance of it all is something we can never ignore or forget — the gifts are so a part of our every cell (literally) that we live with all these animals in us. As much as I, personally, feel that healthy animal products are an important part of my diet, I also feel the weight of that choice too. There is a huge responsibility to live a life that is worthy of what we take in each day.

So, to that end, I want to close with one of my favorite Wendell Berry poems. Long ago, when we lived at Holden Village, this was printed on the laminated “grace” cards that were on all the dining room tables for use before meals. But it’s actually intended to be a prayer for after eating (as the title indicates), and it’s one that I try to reflect on as regularly as I can after my own meals:

Prayer after eating ~ Wendell Berry

I have taken in the light
that quickened eye and leaf.
May my brain be bright with praise
of what I eat, in the brief blaze
of motion and of thought.
May I be worthy of my meat.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables! (And whatever other nourishing foods you might eat too!)

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meat — what’s coming up:

Just so there is no confusion, we will still have meat on the pick-up through the end of this season! (As well as filling a few individual orders.) There should be a plentiful supply of meat in the freezer at all times. If you’d like a head’s up of what to expect, here’s a rough outline of what we’ll have and when:

  • Now — ground pork and chops
  • Soon — bacon and ham
  • Late June — ground beef, goat (ground and cuts)
  • Early fall — ground beef, beef cuts, lamb (ground and cuts)
  • November — stewing hens (these will be available for purchase at the final CSA pick-up as well as the two Holiday Harvests at Thanksgiving and Christmas)

If there’s anything you’d like to reserve in advance, please let us know so we can try to insure you get what you want!

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Strawberries
  • Radishes — The first of the radishes from the field! Radishes are typically the first of the first field-grown crops each spring, and they always seem like an important milestone in the year. They also happen to be delicious. We ate some with lunch. I sliced them a little thick and we used them to scoop up bites of chicken salad (like a cracker). What a spring treat!
  • Sugar snap peas — It’s highly likely that these will be the last of the spring snap peas! It’s been a beautiful abundant few weeks of peas! Enjoy the last of it! (And more good things are coming up soon.)
  • Fava beans — The fava beans are now developed enough that they are great for shelling and cooking as just the inner bean! Some people like to go the extra extra mile and also peel off the white skin on each bean. This is optional — traditionalists swear that it makes for the best flavor (and color), but it’s extra work that you shouldn’t let get in the way of enjoying your fava beans. Once you have your shucked beans, what to do with them? We like to boil them for a few minutes so that they are almost all the way cooked (it really doesn’t take long) and then finish them in a pan with butter and green garlic. They’re great tossed with pasta (that’s very traditional) or mixed into cooked greens or just served on their own with salt.
  • Zucchini
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage — We have both “regular” cabbage and also “Napa” cabbage (which is actually more closely related to turnips and mustards — great for stir fries and Asian flavored ginger cole slaw).
  • Chard
  • Winter squash
  • Potatoes
  • Garlic scapes
  • Green garlic

And this week’s extra goodies from the farm:

  • Eggs — $6/dozen
  • Pork chops — $12/lb
  • Ground pork — $8/lb
  • Pork organs, fat & bones — $4/lb
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

Putting in the summer garden

Eggplants growing in the field, just a few days after planting.

Eggplants growing in the field, just a few days after planting.

Unlike most garden hobbyists, we are planting something out here in almost every season. We have to keep planting in order to supply our CSA with fresh produce almost year-round! However, there is still that week or two in the late spring when we feel like we “put in the garden” in the more traditional sense.

This last week was the peak of that summer planting action. On Friday alone, Casey and I sowed and transplanted half an acre of summer season crops: sweet corn, winter squash, zucchini, green beans, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, and so much more. On Monday, we put in another 14 rows of potatoes with help from some CSA members. These are all crops that grow and mature during the main growing season of summer. Many, like the winter squash and potatoes, will get stored for use all winter — but they still grow during the summer.

Yes, the focus of May is definitely on ground prep and planting. We see it all around us in neighboring fields, as people put in their corn and kale and green beans and more. Brown fields are showing tidy lines of green as the newly sown seeds emerge.

May is also a funny time of year — the rate of plant growth is speeding up, but we’re still used to the earlier weeks of spring when growth was almost painfully slow. Now we look at a new kale planting and wonder how long we’ll be able to pick it for the CSA — the answer is that it will likely be sooner than we expect, because we’re still somewhat “calibrated” for the slower part of spring. This is the time of year when CSA farmers across the country start feeling the nervous jitters in their stomachs because it just doesn’t seem possible that all those little lettuce and kale plants will be producing in time for those early June shares.

Of course, we’ll already well into our CSA season, but the transition from our over-wintered/storage/greenhouse crops to field-grown spring/summer crops still inspires some of those same May tummy jitters. Even in our 13th year of farming, spring is still a surprise in this way — how May arrives and suddenly leaves arrive in profusion and plant growth takes off. The rapid growth will continue for the next few months as we watch our own lines of green grow and grow.

So far, only a few of last week’s direct-seeded crops have emerged. The calendula was up first — such a vigorous flower. We sow calendula and phacelia flowers inter-mixed with our vegetable crops in order to provide food and habitat for important beneficial insects that prey on other insect pests. We have seen a huge difference from their presence in our fields (most especially when we sow them in with our Brussels sprouts plantings, which are prone to being over-run by aphids). But we also enjoy their beauty. Calendula blossoms are a cheerful orange smile, and phacelia unfolds its long periwinkle spiral blossoms over a long period of time (pollinators of all kinds love phacelia blossoms). Both will end up in our house in bouquets once they are blooming!

This afternoon, after the CSA harvest was in for the day, Casey and I began one of our favorite annual tasks — thinning the apples in our orchards. As the trees have matured, this task has become bigger and bigger! But it’s delightful work to stand in our now very leafy and verdant orchard and carefully pick off all but one apple on each spur (the little woody bit of branch that produces apples each year). Doing this helps ease the disease pressure on the fruit and allows each individual apple to grow bigger. We’ll be working on this task off and on for many days. Thankfully, as I said, it’s very pleasant work and something to look forward to. It’s also satisfying to look at a tree that is loaded with thinned fruit and imagine the bins and bins of apples that we’ll pick from each tree. Yum!
We’re always looking ahead around here. The work of the farm is such an endless cycle — we find ourselves enjoying the harvest from one season while we plan ahead for harvests two seasons later (whether that be in the form of planting or thinning fruit). The cycle of seasons propels us forward. Here we g(r)o(w)!Enjoy this week’s vegetables!Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla~ ~ ~Meet this week’s vegetables:StrawberriesSugar snap peasFava beansCauliflowerFennel bulbsChardZucchiniWinter squashPotatoesGreen garlicGarlic scapes

    — These are the fun “twirly” bits of green that grow out of the top of some garlic varieties in the spring. They are tender and delicious. You can chop them up (all the way to the little bit at the top) and add them to sautéed foods or to salad dressing … or just roast them and eat them!

And this week’s extra goodies from the farm:

  • Eggs — $6/dozen
  • Fresh pork — We just picked up a new batch of fresh pork cuts from the butcher this week! This is our last pork for the foreseeable future. We have available: pork chops ($12/lb) and various bits for roasting: shoulder roasts, shanks, etc. ($8/lb). We also have organs and bones available ($4/lb). (Yummy bacon and ham coming soon!)
  • Bratwurst! — Artisan-made without any added nitrates or sugars. $12/package (one lb packages). Only a few packages left!
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

Summer style

Picking peas this afternoon.

Picking peas this afternoon.

So, I’ve written before about what our farm looks like now that it’s just us doing all the work. Folks, it’s getting mighty relaxed around here. It’s all summer style now that the sun has arrived.

For years, we’ve implemented a fairly strict dress code. For safety and efficiency reasons, we’ve always required that every single person working on the farm wear long pants and sturdy closed toed shoes at all times. Certainly not every single activity technically required this gear, but we figured that it’d be too complicated to have employees trying to gauge that for themselves all year long, especially when newer folks might really not have the experience to make that call. Overall we felt most comfortable knowing that basic precautions were being taken to keep a person’s body safe.

Of course, we had to do the same — long pants and closed-toed shoes at all times, for all tasks.

Guess what? We’re not doing that anymore. When appropriate, yes of course. But is it necessary to wear these protective garments when standing up picking peas for the CSA all afternoon? Nope. So, there I was, picking peas in the greenhouse in my favorite sandals and my favorite summer shorts (which I’ve owned and worn for literally two decades now) when I got a text from good friends saying they were headed to our Grand Island swimming spot for the season’s first splash and would we want to join.

At first, my answer was, sounds great but we’re picking peas. But then I realized how very hot I was. And sweaty. And look, we were almost to the end of our primary rows. And certainly we could pick the other greenhouse tomorrow morning. And really how can we say no when good friends are driving all the way out to Grand Island to go swimming?

So, we rushed to finish the last peas in our rows, jumped in the car and followed our friends down to our river spot for the very first spontaneous swim of the year. The adults all splashed in together, diving into that cool water with great joy.

More river swimming is in our future. It’s one of our favorite parts of living on the island. Almost ten years ago, Casey and I were in the closing period on this piece of land and still weighing whether to ultimately buy it. Our realtor had written a sales agreement that allowed us a lot of legal ‘outs’ if we got cold feet, and oh we were feeling the anxiety that comes with buying land (at the young ages of 25 and 27!). We were realizing that it would be a huge responsibility and we were scared about all the possible challenges and hardships. After falling in love with the land initially, we were focused on all the minor negative issues we’d have to deal with.

Then, during a blazing heat wave, we wandered out here to escape town and made our way down to the park. We sat there in our work clothes then and looked at that water for a few hot minutes before we finally waded and then dove in. The relief was total and complete and we realized then that YES we want to live here and be close to this river.

We still feel grateful every summer for our proximity to the heart of this valley, to the snaking green water that brings life to everything verdant growing here.

So, it was totally worth finishing our work early today to celebrate the beginning of what we call “river season.” It was really the first time this spring that I’ve even considered river swimming. As nice as it’s been at times, it just hasn’t been an overly hot spring. But we’re well into May now, and in true Willamette Valley fashion, we’re seeing our first glimpses of summer. Of course, May’s version of summer is much more verdant than the August version, keeping it distinct and making it overwhelmingly lovely. Really, I keep looking out our window at all the new green foliage and lush green grass and thinking, “This is so beautiful. So so so beautiful.”

Tomorrow we will head back out to finish the harvest, likely wearing sandals again. Summer style.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Potato planting party next Monday, May 16! Come join us on the farm between 4-6 pm to plant potatoes. This is fun, easy work that most people can do (the work is easy, but please be aware that the ground in our fields is uneven). You can wear sandals and shorts if you want! Kids are welcome to come help (with parents, of course!). After we’re done, join us at our house for a potluck supper! Bring a dish of food to share and a plate and utensils for yourself to eat on.

Directions to the farm from McMinnville: Take HWY-18 to Dayton. Drive straight south through Dayton and stay on Wallace Rd / HWY-221 for about seven miles. Turn RIGHT onto Grand Island Rd. After the bridge, turn RIGHT onto SE Upper Island Rd. Our driveway is the first one on your LEFT. We share the driveway with our neighbors, so please park on the RIGHT side of the driveway.

~ ~ ~

CSA payments due next week! If you haven’t paid your next CSA payment yet, please do so by next Thursday, May 19. I emailed statements last week that include your total due, but if you have any questions please email or ask me at pick up.

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Strawberries — They’re back! One pint per share again this week!
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Fava beans — The first of this year’s fava beans are ready! These fava beans have beans inside, but they are also still tender enough to be roasted or grilled and eaten whole. If you’d prefer to just eat the beans, you can do that too! (But don’t try to eat the beans whole raw! The outer skin is only tasty or edible when cooked at high heat!)
  • Broccoli/cabbage/cauliflower
  • Kale
  • Rainbow chard
  • Fennel bulbs
  • Zucchini — One of our standard ways to prepare zucchini is on the stove top. I start by sauteing chopped green garlic in butter, and then add chopped zucchini (and more butter) with some salt. I turn the heat up to medium high and cover the pan to let the zucchini begin cooking. They will release some liquid at this point, which helps with the cooking too. If I’m making this dish as the base of our meal, I’ll add four or five medium-to-large zucchinis to the pan (it’s a big pan). Lots of butter helps to cook that much chopped zucchini without it sticking too much. I stir regularly and cook covered until the zucchini is looking mostly cooked and there is liquid in the pan. At that point, I remove the lid and turn the heat down to medium and let it continue to cook until more of the liquid is gone. I love adding chili powder or tumeric (and plenty of salt) to provide flavor. Toward the end, I’ll add chopped cooked meat (today it was turkey) and let all the flavors blend. For us, this dish will serve as a main dish. With enough butter (we love butter) and plenty of cooking time, it all becomes so satisfyingly like comfort food. It hits the same spot that a big plate of butter noodles does. Except that it grows on our farm! (So far, we haven’t found a noodle plant, although we do want to try again this summer making noodles from zucchini and other vegetables with a spiralizer!)
  • “Winter” squash — We’ve decided that we should rename this category of squash “storage” squash to distinguish it from zucchini and summer squash, which are different in that they need to be eaten soon after picking (because they are still green rather than ripe). Because, at this point calling it “winter” squash feels pretty inaccurate since we’re well past winter and still eating it! We ate the sweetest butternut squash of our life today at lunch (along with our sauteed zucchini and turkey).
  • Potatoes
  • Green garlic

And this week’s extra goodies from the farm:

  • Eggs — $6/dozen
  • Bratwurst! — Artisan-made without any added nitrates or sugars. $12/package (one lb packages).
  • Pork — We have a few remaining shanks for $8/lb. More pork coming from the butcher soon!
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

How do we celebrate?

Dottie watches the May pole dance from atop Casey's shoulders.

Dottie watches the May pole dance from atop Casey’s shoulders.

When was the last time that you sang and danced with other people to celebrate some part of our shared human experience? Perhaps you are like many Americans (I have observed anyway) and cringe at the very thought of public singing and dancing! Or, perhaps you are like me and can say: Oh yes! I have celebrated in that way very recently!

Last week, the kids and I got to dance and sing with friends multiple times. Our homeschooling group hosted a folk dance teacher at the library for a very fun afternoon of dances from around the world. They were mostly very simple so that even the youngest kids could participate on some level, but there was great joy to be had even in those simple dances done together with friends. Even just holding hands in a circle can feel so magical.

The resulting woven pattern on the pole!

The resulting woven pattern on the pole!

Then, on Friday, we hosted a little gathering of friends here on the farm for an early May Day celebration, including a May pole! Actually, we had two May poles: one for the little kids who really just wanted the joy of waving a ribbon around in the air without any direction about how to dance, in what direction, or whatnot. Then, we had a larger pole for the bigger kids and adults, who very carefully learned the simple weaving dance and then danced those ribbons into a beautiful pink and green pattern. I loved watching the delight on the faces of everyone as they danced cooperatively in the evening light (graced by a rainbow, no less!). How often do we Americans get to experience our relationships in quite that way?

To me, it feels that our natural opportunities for such exuberance are limited in American culture today. Even within some places of worship (which are the last bastion of regular singing in America), truly communal singing has been replaced more-or-less with spectator appreciation of a musical show on a stage. Certainly there are still communities of singing and dancing — people can sing in choirs or join square dancing groups even here in McMinnville. But these feel like sub-cultures that people must actively seek out. And, on some level, the participants generally have to start with a sense of confidence about their singing or dancing. How often do we hear people protest that they just cannot sing or dance?

Ah. Of course, we cannot do what we don’t do. No doubt!

But within the context of human history (and prehistory), our culture is an anomaly. If we travel outside our narrow band of time and space, we find that humans interact with each other and with their places through song and/or dance — to worship, to celebrate, to mourn, to pray, to connect. I think that the magic of song and dance is that they can bring a larger group of people together into a single purpose. Certainly, there is no way for 16 people to have a truly meaningful conversation that involves everyone. But, when those 16 people, ages 8-40+ join around a May pole, they can each hold a ribbon and interact with each other in a way that builds bonds and has fun and is quite egalitarian! Connection happens in a way that is different than our normal day-to-day verbal communications. Some people might say it transcends simple human conversation. I’m not sure I’d put that value label on it, because we still need other forms of connection too! I just think that as a whole our society has lost sight of the community building that comes from these kinds of activities. Watching a beautiful performance can be transformative in its own right, but I think we also need to be part of groups that make music, sing or dance too at times. I think it’s an important part of being human and connecting with each other.

The human body is an instrument. We weren’t born an instrument in order to just perform for each other; we are born with this beauty inside our bodies so that we can connect with each other.

Why write about singing and dancing in a farm blog? Because, for me, it is all related. We started this farm ten years ago this spring primarily because we wanted to connect. We wanted to connect our bodies and spirits to the land, to work, to our food, and to people. Those drives are still here, inspiring everything we do. And as the years have gone by, I’ve worked intentionally to keep pushing on those values, seeing how much more fully we can embrace and live those ideals. And, for me, these turnings of the seasons have always called for celebration. For observance. For marking. It’s part of why I write this blog, to document the daily ordinary and extraordinary that happens here on the farm as we walk through each season again and again.

But all along, I’ve also wanted to sing and dance those stories too. That wasn’t part of my upbringing — our family didn’t go to church or sing as a part of our family culture, although I sang at camp and at my private Catholic school. Living at Holden Village was an early inspiration to Casey and me as well, since it is a community that celebrates daily worship every evening and incorporates song into many other parts of life as well (all of it in the context of an amazingly beautiful and profound mountain setting!). But how does one make such things happen in places where they are not? (Which is most places these days.) That was a question in the under-current of my mind. It was a longing buried well below many more urgent questions, such as How Do We Start A Farm Anyway? But before we left Bellingham a decade ago, I ran across a little book about celebrating festivals with family, and I bought it, not really even having a clue how to implement such ideas in my own life.

It has taken me more than ten years to begin to answer this question. Ten years of growth in so many areas of our life here on the farm. But I had had enough experiences to want to keep seeking more of them. Experiences with vulnerability and beauty in community — people reading poetry by firelight, contra dancing after a wedding, singing Christmas carols with friends. But, I’ll tell you what — it probably won’t surprise you at all to learn that sometimes getting folks to sing or dance can be really really really hard. Again, so many of us are completely out of touch with our bodies as instruments of beauty and connection. We have come to see these activities solely as performances, best left to the professional and gifted!

I have realized in the last ten years that in order to get my friends to sing and dance with me, I had to grow a lot in my own confidence in my body as an instrument of connection. Certainly, some of that was just getting to be a more competent singer (thank you McMinnville Women’s Choir and its director Betty Busch for helping with my humble growth in this area!). But, just as much, I have had to watch carefully as other people create safe places for activities and lead others into those connections. Again, at choir, but also at places of worship and other community events (including the homeschooling folk dances!). (Teachers also do this important work every day as they ask groups of students to grow in their understanding of concepts through discussion — another vulnerable type of sharing activity!) What simple activities can lead us beyond our initial nervous “cringing” into the beauty of connection! For me, the May day gathering was the culmination of ten years of growth into a role where I can make a vibrant community vision come alive.

We need more people to have that vision and more people to grow in that role. Many more. I’m not sure what kind of impetus it would take to lead a large scale revival of group singing and dancing in America. Even just half a century ago, people still sang and still danced. And now … not so much. (Especially not on the secular west coast. I think pockets of musical culture still exist throughout the country.)

I’m not the first nor the last voice to rally for a revival of regular group singing and dancing in America. At the end of the 20th century, folk musician Pete Seeger joined up with music educators to put together two books titled, Get America Singing … Again! As music programs get cut from school budgets and more and more parents raise their kids without singing in the house, how do we revive what is a core of our human experience? Where does one begin?

Of course, as 21st century Westerners, there are so many ways in which our daily lives deviate from all those who came before. We also are some of the first generations to have a profound disconnect from the source of our food, from the daily work that is needed to sustain our bodies. I’m sure one could argue that it is all connected — we are out of touch with the earth which nourishes our bodies which are the instruments of beauty and connection.

I feel grateful every day that Casey and I are not disconnected from the earth or our food. In today’s era, the work we do seems somewhat unique (although less so than when we started the farm), and yet harvesting food is the work of humanity. We are doing the work that our ancestors did centuries into the past. In this sense, producing food is not something to do because it is our unique calling or fulfills our identity or whatnot — it is what we do to be human. Certainly there has been some liberation to follow other pursuits for people as we’ve needed fewer humans to be involved in the production of food. But for millennia, daily human life focused on food — and then responded to and supported that work through art, music, crafts, spirituality, and ritual. Whether we want to be farmers or not, I think those ancient experiences are still inside us — in our DNA or our spirits or some other part of the human that we don’t even have words to describe.

I think that in many ways, my strong inner desire to sing and dance is a response to these experiences on the farm. They are natural responses to living closer and closer to those shared, ancient experiences of being human. To see spring awaking and want to gather with friends to celebrate every beautiful thing about this new season! To use the physical metaphors of song and dance to live in those rhythms in an intentional way. To respond with active gratitude to the daily gifts of beauty and sustenance that surround us on the farm.

Again, I don’t know what kind of sea change could lead a whole society back to a culture of singing and dancing — this is a bigger question of how we do or don’t physically connect in a digital age! But I know that I can do my part here in my family and community, to join with others who are like-minded or who are willing to stretch themselves and grow. Who knows what is possible if we each follow our inner longings to connect in positive ways? (And of course, I’ve only addressed one level of connection that has been neglected in our society, but there are many others too!)

And, today I have two opportunities for you to connect with your community. First, come join the McMinnville Women’s Choir for our spring concert this Saturday, 7 pm, at First Baptist Church. Tickets are $5 at Oregon Stationers or $8 at the door. And, yes, this may technically be a “performance” of sorts, but our choir sings primarily for the sake of singing together each week (it’s in the mission statement!). I think that this community joy comes through in our concerts and wraps up the audience in that glowing love too. Plus, you may be inspired to join us!

Second, come connect with the earth by planting potatoes here on the farm! I put more info below. After planting, we can connect some more by sharing a delicious potluck meal (a wonderful way to connect that it seems we are very good at here in Yamhill County).

And, for now, enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Potato planting party on Monday, May 16! Come join us on the farm between 4-6 pm to plant potatoes. This is fun, easy work that most people can do (the work is easy, but please be aware that the ground in our fields is uneven). Kids are welcome to come help (with parents, of course!). After we’re done, join us at our house for a potluck supper! Bring a dish of food to share and a plate and utensils for yourself to eat on. We won’t make you sing and dance … not much, anyway. (Ok, just kidding — no singing and dancing this time.)

Directions to the farm from McMinnville: Take HWY-18 to Dayton. Drive straight south through Dayton and stay on Wallace Rd / HWY-221 for about seven miles. Turn RIGHT onto Grand Island Rd. After the bridge, turn RIGHT onto SE Upper Island Rd. Our driveway is the first one on your LEFT. We share the driveway with our neighbors, so please park on the RIGHT side of the driveway.

~ ~ ~

Next payments due by May 19! I emailed statements to our CSA members this week to remind everyone that the next payment is due by May 19. You can bring a check or cash to us at pick-up, or mail us a check to: Oakhill Organics, P.O. Box 1698, McMinnville OR 97128. If you have any questions about your balance due or your account, please ask me! I can answers questions at pick-up, or you can email: farm (at) oakhillorganics (dot) com.

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables: (Wondering about carrots? We’re all done with the winter storage carrots and now waiting for the first of the spring-sown carrots. But, here’s an interesting piece of info — we had 40 continuous weeks of carrots before we ran out!)

  • Apples
  • Sugar snap peas — I feel silly even giving suggestions on how to eat peas, because — um — they’re so good to just eat out of hand! BUT! We have lots of them this week, so here is another of our favorite ways to eat them: roast them! Spread them in a pan without any overlapping with some butter and roast at a higher temperature (425° works for our oven). Stir a few times, and roast until they are beginning to brown and getting crispy.
  • Broccoli — Broccoli is another favorite of ours for roasting.
  • Fennel bulbs
  • Zucchini
  • Kale
  • Chard
  • Winter squash
  • Potatoes
  • Green garlic — Still wondering how to make best use green garlic? Think it as a giant garlic-flavored green onion or leek and use it the same way. Chop the stalk all the way up to the leaves (then peel the leaves and chop more stalk!) and add to the pan with butter to sauté before adding your cooking greens. Or, for a real treat, lay whole stalks of green garlic on a pan when you roast broccoli or peas. The green garlic will roast up to be soft inside and crispy outside, and you can eat the whole thing!

And this week’s extra goodies from the farm:

  • Eggs — $6/dozen
  • Bratwurst! — Artisan-made without any added nitrates or sugars. $12/package (one lb packages).
  • Pork — We have a few remaining roasts and shanks for $8/lb. We just sent more hogs to the butcher on Monday! And more beef and goats will be heading that way in June.
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

End of April notes

The fields after a big rain on Friday morning.

The fields after a big rain on Friday morning.

Just as we were heading to bed last Thursday, Casey and I heard one loud clap of thunder, followed quickly by pounding rain. We have metal roofs just below our window, and the sound was so loud that we really weren’t sure whether it was very large raindrops or hail. A few more flashes of lightning lit the sky, and the rain continued off and on all night and into the next morning — an inch in total by the end of the 24 hour period.

Friday morning itself was set aside for our organic inspection — our once a year visit by an inspector who sits down with us to look through our records and walk around the farm with us. The inspector who came this year has been here many times before and was actually our very first inspector way back in 2006! We’ve learned a few things since then about how to make the process go smoothly (it’s all about the organized record keeping!), so the morning was a happy one as we gathered around our kitchen table drinking hot nettle tea and listening to the continued rain.

We had to delay our field walk a bit as another brief but intense downpour rolled over the farm. But we made it out there and walked the very familiar path around the perimeter of our farm — a smaller route than just a few weeks ago before we dropped so much acreage from our direct management. If you like to know numbers, when I updated our certification map, I calculated that we dropped from 116.5 acres to 25.5 acres (a 91 acre difference!).

This week has been off and on rainy and sunny — so very springlike to us. To me, a classic spring sight on the island is sunshine lighting up vibrantly green, newly-leafed out trees against a background of dark gray rain clouds in the distance. I was struck by the contrasts in that spring sight our first year out here, and it continues to wow me with its splendor.

True to the theme of last week’s newsletter, this week has been full of dribs and drabs of useful work — more transplanting in the fields, harvest, and closing shop and arranging matters on the land we’re no longer farming (there are loose strings to tie up and information to communicate to the new farmers). Already tractors are out there on both of those pieces of land, mowing and spreading manure and preparing for what will likely be an abundant farming season for both farmers.

In the week ahead, we look forward to the start of May (and the halfway point in spring! Whoa! It’s only going to get busier around here!) and the opportunity to do work other than transplanting (now that the transplanting “window” has closed in the biodynamic calendar). On the list is mowing, mowing, weeding, and mowing. And then more weeding. And more mowing.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Any last minute orders for pork? Our remaining hogs go to the butcher next Monday. Is there anyone who was waiting to decide about ordering a half or whole animal for your freezer? Let us know this week if we should reserve one for you! The price is $5.50/lb for the hanging weight (which is the carcass before processing — our heritage hogs typically dress out at 50-65 lbs each). We pay for all the butchering costs except for making into bacon and sausages, which you would pay if you want that. Our butcher does a beautiful job with no-nitrate added “curing,” and we can have them make bacon, Bratwurst and/or hams for you if you like (again, you would pay for those costs). Email us ASAP to reserve your half or whole!

A correction: In last week’s newsletter, I invited people to the McMinnville Women’s Choir’s spring concert, but I wrote the incorrect date (which I have since corrected in the post). The concert is 7 pm, Saturday, May 7. Tickets are available at Oregon Stationers now!

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Sugar snap peas!

    Sugar snap peas!

    Apples

  • Sugar snap peas — One of our all-time favorite spring crops has arrived! This is shaping up to be a banner snap pea year. The first picking has supremely satisfying, and the peas are super duper tasty. These are edible pod peas, which means you eat the whole thing!
  • Broccoli
  • Zucchini
  • Fennel
  • Kale
  • Rainbow chard — Aren’t all the different colors pretty? This chard was the unexpected hit of the CSA pick-up last week and we actually ran out! So, Casey picked more this week.
  • Winter squash — Casey and I have been marveling this week at how unusual it feels to be eating zucchini, snap peas, and butternut squash all in the same meal. But we’re loving it.
  • Potatoes
  • Leeks
  • Green garlic
  • Eggs — Limit half dozen/share (you are welcome to buy more eggs as well!). Rusty has begun helping us collect and wash the eggs in the mornings. It seems like an appropriate first farm chore for a six year old boy (he has lots of other household chores already).

And this week’s extra goodies from the farm:

  • Eggs — $6/dozen
  • Bratwurst! — Artisan-made without any added nitrates or sugars. $12/package (one lb packages).
  • Pork — We have a few remaining roasts and shanks for $8/lb. More hogs heading to the butcher next week!
  • Ground beef — $8/lb
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | 2 Comments

Dribs and drabs

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Casey cutting potato seed to prepare for planting.

As Casey and I have returned to being a family farm without any hired labor, folks have raised their eyebrows many times and either said aloud or wondered to themselves: “How is that going to work?”

Hey, it’s a good question. One that I think we’ve been feeling out a bit as we go, although we set plenty in motion to make our 1.5 person farm work. The big picture changes were to cut back on what we’re trying to do — I wrote a few weeks ago about cutting back significantly on our acreage. Our animal operation is much smaller now too and getting smaller (the last of our hogs head to the butcher on May 2). The overall size of our CSA is a bit smaller this year too. All this trimming down on our expectations of the farm means that there is overall less work to do of course, which is good since there are fewer of us out here doing it than in the last seven years when we did have hired labor on the farm.

And, of course, the labor that we provide on the farm is substantially different in quality than anything we could hire. That’s not a criticism of our employees — it’s just the reality of small business operation. The owners will always know the most about the Big Picture and All The Moving Parts and therefore be able to be efficient and productive in their work in ways that folks hired for a season just never can be. It’s just the nature of the system, and one that we are embracing now as we scale back so that the work matches our available labor.

But still, there’s plenty for us to do on our farm! We still have a 90+ member 45-week long CSA! And we sell to local restaurants! And we have animals and perennial fruit to tend! Yes, we have plenty to do.

So, how are we getting it done? What we’ve discovered this year has become a bit of a happy motto for us: We get it all done in “dribs and drabs.” Seriously. We’ve stopped thinking of tasks as Big Things. Planting is no longer a task that piles up until it’s an all day activity. Instead, if Casey has an hour free after restaurant deliveries, he’ll check the biodynamic planting calendar and see if it’d be a good day to go sow or transplant a few rows. Or, he’ll jump on the tractor and work up two more acres of ground. In the morning when he wakes up early before the rest of us (which for Casey means waking up at 4 am), he’ll fill a few flats with soil mix and sow transplants in the kitchen. The same strategy applied to other projects, such as pruning the orchards and managing the greenhouses this winter. Casey even hoes in nearby greenhouses while filling our animal watering tank at the well each morning. Dribs and drabs, here and there, the tasks get done.

It’s been a big shift in how we think about our work, one that really does work best when just the owners are responsible for getting it all done. There’s no time lost in explaining a task or setting up. We know what to do and can just dive in fully for an hour or two. It’s been really satisfying and has kept our work from piling up into daunting, over-whelming lists. Certainly our weekly rhythm still contains a few solid dedicated chunks of time to our regular tasks — Tuesday morning is always spent on restaurant harvest, Wednesday is spent on the CSA harvest, Thursday afternoon is the CSA pick-up. But much of the rest of the time is used in shorter bursts of attention that add up to some majorly productive work!

We’ve been applying that same “dribs and drabs” approach to planting this spring’s potatoes. Since we received them a few weeks ago, they’ve been laid out in indirect sunlight in our greenhouse in order to “chit,” which is a word to describe allowing some light to stimulate the growth of buds at the eyes. This gives the potatoes a head start when they are finally planted, because they are already awake! Once the potatoes were chitted and we had ground available to plant, Casey started watching for “root” transplant days on the biodynamic calendar we use. On Monday, he and the kids made use of the first open window by planting 1250 row feet of potatoes. Today, we went at it again and planted five different varieties in 2500 row feet. We still have some potatoes left to plant, which we will save for the official “potato planting party” coming up (see note below about date/time change!), but we’re getting it done in dribs and drabs in the meantime.

But, speaking of our potato planting party, we need to update our plans! When we originally scheduled it, we read our biodynamic planting calendar a little incorrectly (it was a “root” day but not a transplant day). We don’t really understand it, but we’ve really seen that planting by our calendar makes a profound difference in our crops (which is a topic worth a whole other newsletter), so it’s worth moving the potato planting day to match the calendar. Unfortunately, the new day may be a little more challenging for some people to join us for. On our end, that’s ok! Even if just one or two people come out, we will enjoy their company and appreciate their help! The last two years this planting party was a hoot, and the resulting potatoes grew beautifully and abundantly!

Here’s the new plan:

  • Potato Planting Party ~ Monday, May 16 ~ potato planting from 4-6 pm, followed by a potluck supper at our house

Please make the change on your calendar, and we hope some of you can join us! The work of planting potatoes is fun and accessible for folks of many abilities and ages. Kids are welcome (with parental supervision of course!).

Also, while I’m sharing upcoming May dates with you, I also want to invite you to join the McMinnville Women’s Choir for our spring concert:

  • Water for Our Soul ~ 7 pm, Saturday, May 7 at First Baptist Church, McMinnville ~ Tickets $5 (kids are free) and available at Oregon Stationers now

I’ve been singing with the choir for two years now (this will be my fifth concert!), and the choir is full of wonderful women from our farm’s community and beyond. We’ll be singing songs from many traditions — all of them inspiring! The concert would make a great Mother’s Day weekend outing for you or your mother (or mother of your children).

Before I sign off I of course should provide a little update on my mom. Her surgery went well last Thursday and she returned home from the hospital two days ago to continue her recovery process. There is still some uncertainty about what comes next, but we are so glad to have her home! Thank you for all your prayers and positive thoughts for our farm family.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Strawberries — Of course, by now you know what last week’s surprises were: strawberries and zucchini from the greenhouses! (Can I just say how much we have been loving our greenhouses this spring? Overall they don’t represent much acreage on our farm, but they are crazy productive and fun for filling in the gap between the winter storage crops and field-grown summer crops). This week we still have a limit on one pint per share, but we won’t make you choose between strawberries or zucchini this time!
  • Apples — We’ve been doing a happy dance in our house lately that this year we had enough apples to make it through to the start of strawberry season. For us (and our kids) this means that we’ve been able to meet our own fruit needs all winter and into spring.
  • Zucchini
  • Fennel bulbs
  • Broccoli & purple sprouting broccoli — Limit one item/share this week! Thank you!
  • Kale
  • Rainbow chard
  • Winter squash
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Green garlic
  • Eggs — Limit half dozen eggs/share (you are welcome to buy another half dozen to make a full dozen! We just want to make sure we have enough eggs for everyone who wants some!).

And this week’s extra goodies from the farm:

  • Eggs — $6/dozen
  • Bratwurst! — Artisan-made without any added nitrates or sugars. $12/package (one lb packages).
  • Pork — We have a few remaining roasts and shanks for $8/lb. More hogs heading to the butcher early in May!
  • Ground beef — $8/lb
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | 3 Comments