Spring clover!

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* Why are the “Full Diet” entries password protected? They contain very specific logistical information for our current Full Diet CSA members — not terribly applicable to anyone else. All our newsy entries and photos are public for anyone to view!

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Leaf and flower

Apple blossom glory!

Winter has its own beauty in bare branches and dark skies and quiet evenings. But, oh, what a miracle it is each spring to have life vibrantly return to every plant! There is a moment every year, when I reach a finish point with winter — I am ready to see the leaves on trees again, and then I find myself wondering: will they come back? Because, it is always a miracle to me. Every time.

This week we are in the thick of that miracle. Everywhere I look on the farm, fresh new leaves are unfurling, reminding so much of the fragile wet wings of newly hatched chicks. In both cases, it is hard to realize that those little slips can really be the beginning of those being’s future strength. And, yet, it happens — the leaves continue to unfold, retaining their fresh new color (often bright green) and yet growing and growing until they cast deep shade and reach with power to the sky to capture all that glorious sunlight we receive this time of year.

The kids and I have been watching two trees in particular this year — their own trees that we planted especially for each of them. Rusty’s is a Big Leaf Maple that was quite tall when we planted it and now towers far over our heads. We’ve positioned our trampoline beside it, and every day I note the progress of the buds, now opening into chartreuse green leaves. Dottie’s tree is a pink dogwood, and it has some more time before the buds reveal leaves and flowers, but we check on it too. In the meantime, we are almost overwhelmed by the beauty of the orchard just behind that tree — apples and pears in full beautiful bloom .

Rusty asked Casey and me our favorite colors this weekend. Casey’s not really a “favorites” kind of guy, but the answer was simple. He looked out the window and said, “green.” Because, oh yes oh yes, green is beautiful right now. It is all around, in the growing grass and the new leaves.

Each year when we make this shift, from a landscape of twigs to a landscape of leaf, I find myself releasing a breath I didn’t know I was holding. Suddenly the world becomes softer to me. I feel more enveloped and held close by all this foliage around me. Just at the time we find ourselves spending increasing longer hours playing n our yard, the privacy there increases, as greenery fills in those open gaps that allowed vision and light to penetrate. And, every year, there is the joy of watching trees grow. We’ve planted so many over the years — hundreds and hundreds — and it is exciting to watch them reach higher and higher to the sky.

Well timed with this experience of wonder, we attended an open house this weekend hosted by the Oregon Biodynamic group. It was held at the beautiful Hearthland Sanctuary at the edge of McMinnville — a truly magical day of sunshine filtering through tall oak trees to fall on eager farmer souls learning and conversing about the very heart of our work.

What is biodynamic farming? If nothing else, you’ve probably heard of this concept via the wine industry, which has more fully embraced these ideas than any other sector of American farming (perhaps because flavor in wine can take on so many subtle nuances, allowing the vibrancy of biodynamic practices to really shine). Casey and I are very new to these ideas even though we’ve known about them for years. Like many before us, we’ve remained skeptical of biodynamics, which approaches the natural world from a wholly different paradigm of understanding. I’m still wrapping my head around all of it, but as a very concise description, biodynamics approaches growing from a holistic point of view that takes into consideration cosmic forces and considers health on the level of the individual farm (which is ideally self sustaining in terms of fertility, water, and other “inputs”).

In practice, this means that biodynamic growers have both crops and animals on their farms (ideally in a proper balance to allow the farm to feed the animals from its ground). Sound familiar? Yes, that is where we are heading with our farm, which is probably why we are listening more to the biodynamic voices than we used to. Beyond this lofty yet simple premise, things get a little more “woo woo” (as “BD” farmers will freely admit!) — farming activities are carefully calibrated with moon and zodiac cycles, and special biodynamic compounds are applied to fields and compost (and made through alchemical means). These last two bits are new to us, and it is only this week that we are starting to tease apart the cryptic planting calendar to understand what it means to plant on a “leaf day” versus a “flower day,” etc.

For us, beginning to embrace this different paradigm of seeing our farm (and the world) is a bit of a leap of faith, but for some reason it feels really good and right to both Casey and me at this time. Over the last few years, managing our farm has shifted away from our prior almost simplistic understandings of our farm in terms of soil health (which to us was a matter of soil life + fertility levels) to something more profound and complex. I would not say we understand any of these new experiences fully (or even partially), but more and more we appreciate what we cannot see — those hidden (to us) energetic connections between all the beings and things on our farm, including deep roots into the earth itself and connections out to the cosmos as well. I suppose biodynamic farming gives us a framework for further bringing these ideas into our farm and life. Given the current scale of our farm, some of these practices will have to be incorporated slowly. Once again we’re talking about long-term goals. So, we’ll see.

Even though we’re in our ninth season of operating this farm, we still ask ourselves almost daily: “Why are we doing this? What are our goals? Do we want to continue?” I suppose it’s like marriage in this way — to keep the marriage alive, on some level you recommit yourself to the person every single day, actively appreciating them with gratitude. We are very much married to the farm as well, so it makes sense that we would feel this way about the farm too. Beyond our simple commitment to be here and tend this place, we find millions of reasons to keep going every day. Right now we find ourselves every morning waking in a veritable Eden, as this season itself practically bombards us with positive affirmation of our presence here, from bird songs to green grass to rapidly growing transplants in the field. They all say YES YES YES!

To that end, let me close with words more profound and powerful than any I could muster about the experience of this spring. This poem is perhaps more appropriate than ever as Casey and I find ourselves moving farther into the land of wonder:

from Ninth Elegy
Rainer Maria Rilke

Earth, isn’t this
what you want:
rising up

inside us invisibly
once more?
Isn’t it your dream

to be invisible someday?
Earth! invisible!
What, is it

you urgently ask for
if not transformation?
Earth, my love,

I will do it.
Believe me,
your springtimes

are no longer needed
to win me—one
just one, is already

too much for my blood.
I have been yours
unable to say so

from the beginning.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

CSA member event dates have been set! Get these dates on your calendar now so that you can join us out here for two amazing events here on the farm. We will host a farm dinner on Saturday early evening, August 16; and we will have our annual pumpkin patch open house (with live music!) on Sunday afternoon, October 26! We can’t wait to host you out here for some super fun occasions!

~ ~ ~

Looking for a fun outing this weekend? La Casa Verde 2014 is an all-day event this Saturday, April 19th, celebrating community and sustainability with green building specialists, regional leaders in sustainability, educational opportunities, Earth Day 5k/10k run, children’s activities, local music, bee-keeping workshop, homebrew workshop, chicken-tractor races, and more! The event will culminate with the annual Wine Maker’s Dinner and Green Achievement Awards, honoring individuals and entities in our community who have exhibited excellence in sustainable practices. All of this is happening at the Granary District — the same place where we host our vegetable CSA pick-up! Check it out!

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Radishes — For us seasonal eaters in Oregon, radishes define this moment in spring — when we’ve had enough warm to allow us to slow and plants to grow, yet the heat of summer hasn’t crept onto the farm yet. Because radishes require exactly this combination to grow and be their most tender, sweet best. In fact, we’ve stopped trying to grow them any other time of year anymore (fall can just be too hot, and there are more pests about then too). Instead, we just enjoy them now — understanding that their hot tender flesh will be here just now. We may get a few harvests. In a mild spring, we may get several. But each one we appreciate as the last. We slice these red beauties onto our plates and eat them as is or sprinkle them on salads. They are spring gems to be savored.
  • Chard
  • Salad
  • Arugula rapini — Although it is most often treated as a salad green, arugula is in the radish/mustard family and puts out a beautiful tender shoot in the spring (just as cabbage and kale do too). So, we call this special spring crop arugula “rapini.” We forewarned, however, it is sweet and tender, but it also packs a bite! This may be some of the spiciest arugula you’ll ever eat! The adventurous can chop it and mix it with salad greens — we prefer to cook it. Sometimes we’ll add it to other cooked greens, but sometimes we enjoy featuring it on its own by roasting it in a single layer in a pan (much as you might do with asparagus). Add some olive oil, salt, and perhaps some green garlic, and roast until the rapini are tender inside and starting to get crispy on the leaf edges. It’s a savory sensation.
  • Turnip greens — Apparently spring brings spice to our plates, because this is another green that will be slightly spicy when raw (and yet still tender and sweet too — how does spring work these miracles?). Most often, I cook our turnip greens, throwing them into the pan toward the end of the cooking time of another green. They don’t require much heat to wilt at all.
  • Apples
  • Carrots
  • Green garlic — Oh, you special people. This is another one of those amazing spring treats (clearly we are the thick of the magical-but-quickly-passing spring foods). For the uninitiated, green garlic is simple garlic that has been harvested early in the spring before it has begun to dry down. In shape and function it is much like a leek or green onion, but the flavor is the deepest, most awesome garlicy-garlic-ness you’ll ever taste. Wash and chop up to the start of the leaves (the white bit is most tender, but the whole stalk is good too), then add to any dish — the smell of green garlic sautéing in butter is divine. Or roasted them whole (perhaps with your arugula rapini) to make them their own wonderful side-dish.
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Food rhythms

Products we make regularly in our house (from L to R): fromage blanc (fresh soft cheese), kefir (in progress here), and fermented veggies. Fun stuff!

I rejoice here regularly about the beautiful annual rhythms that shape our farming and food life here at Oakhill Organics. Oh, how I welcome each new turning in the season and the return of familiar and missed flavors to our plates. It is wondrous to feel myself rolling along through time, with that passage marked by each crop’s new arrival — the soft tender spring greens, the first tangy bite of an August tomato, the comfort of a roasted Delicata squash in fall … ah, for me seasonal eating is the foundation of life’s true pleasures.

But lately I have also been grateful for the smaller regular rhythms in our family’s food life — those daily and weekly routines we have shaped as we feed ourselves from this farm. When we hatched the Full Diet CSA scheme back in 2011, I don’t think we anticipated how much it would transform our diets as well as those of our customers. As we’ve added more farm fresh products into our diet, we’ve had to come up with ways to really integrate these whole foods into our routines. At first, it felt like extra work to eat more food from scratch (in an already quite “from scratch” diet by most standards!). But over the months, the process of eating most of our food from the farm has organically evolved into a series of weekly and daily routines that in of themselves have become pleasurable.

I have come to deeply love and appreciate the little tasks that Casey and I perform almost ritualistically in our kitchen. The food we prepare is very simple and yet the work we do transforms the raw ingredients into something profoundly satisfying and different. We float into the kitchen many times during the day to either prepare a meal directly or to tinker on an ongoing project for future eating.

In the morning, Casey begins his day with his first cup of coffee (not from the farm! but still one of our favorite food rituals!), then he prepares Rusty a simple breakfast of meat and yogurt (Rusty is hungry immediately upon waking so eats before the rest of us). Often while Rusty eats, Casey will tend to cheese or yogurt that he started culturing the night before — he strains it on the counter while preparing breakfast for the rest of us (almost always cooked greens, eggs, and kefir).

After breakfast, I put away the dry dishes we washed the night before and then check on any projects I have going on. Most often, I strain our kefir and get a new batch going. I stir the kefir and strain it in a colander to catch the grains and use again. The completed kefir goes in the fridge for drinking the next day, and I pour fresh milk over the grains. I love the ritual, and it’s a very easy task for me to complete in the brief windows of time I am “given” when the children actually settle into quiet play.

At the beginning of the day, one of us will also often get a big cut of meat cooking in the crock pot. This is how we cook almost all our meat these days, since we tend to favor roasts and such. We pop them in the crock pot without any liquid and let them cook all day. The juices flow out and self-baste the meat, and the results are superb — tender and moist. Since I usually incorporate the cooked meat into a veggie-loaded dish, one crock pot worth of meat will often last us many days. Once it is done cooking, we transfer it to a container and store it in the fridge for use in meals later.

Mid-morning, the kids I pause our activities for a snack, which is simple fare around here. This time of year, apple slices rule. Often I chop them for the kids, but a while back I bought them their own “safety” knives that they like to use for cutting little bites of apple too.

Later in the day, we prepare lunch — almost always leftovers from dinner the night before, often topped with a fried egg or fromage blanc (a fresh soft cheese that is simple to make). We often eat fermented veggies on the side. We are blessed to eat this lunch together as a family every day, and we enjoy the opportunity to check in mid-day even though we often rush away again quickly.

If we have a moment in the afternoon, Casey or I may do another food project too: starting a new batch of fermented veggies, straining bone broth that we’ve been simmering in the crock pot, starting a batch of kombucha … Our kitchen has a fairly constant flow of mason jars and strainers of all shapes and sizes that we use in making and storing these foods. I love seeing the jars loading our dish strainer each morning, knowing just how many awesome things they have held and will hold in the future for our family!

When Casey finishes work at the end of the day, I often jump back into the kitchen for a more focused cooking period. I bring a lot of veggies to the counter and chop, chop, chop. We don’t eat grains at all in our house, so veggies serve that filling purpose in our meals — our plates are usually loaded with lots of cooked greens and other veggies with some meat mixed in. I have several very large pans that I use to cook two or more meals at a time. I’ve found it doesn’t take me much more time to cook a bigger volume of food at once, and then future meals are much easier. Casey usually takes the kids outside to play while I cook, and I savor this rare alone time when I can catch up with my thoughts and listen to “my” music while I work (I do love Raffi with all my heart, but sometimes I need to hear something other than “Baby Beluga”).

Dinner is (ideally) our least rushed meal of the day. Before any meal, we take a moment to physically raise our plates and say “thank you” to the universe for feeding us and for bringing us together as a family. At the end of the day, this moment always feels more composed than earlier, since our tasks are behind us. No one has to leave the house again, and it is sweet to be together. Oh, yes, and sometimes Rusty complains about his food, and sometimes Dottie knocks over her water (on purpose!). There’s a lot of getting up and down for dropped forks and napkins and such. That’s mealtime in a real family!

After dinner, we put away leftovers. While I’m getting the kids to bed, Casey washes dishes and starts any cultured projects for incubating overnight — he usually makes two batches of fromage blanc and one batch of yogurt per week.

When all is quiet, still and put-back-together in our house, Casey and I enjoy a last calm half hour or so with a cup of unsweetened tea before bed. More and more, this tea comes from our farm as we’ve gotten into simple rhythms of harvesting herbs as we have a moment throughout the year: nettles, lavender, linden blossoms, and mint. We turn down the lights and sip our tea and read or talk quietly about the day before heading to bed early (by most people’s standards!).

Casey and I have the unique privilege of working at home, meaning that popping in and out of our kitchen for all these little tasks is easy. As you can see, for us, preparing all these simple farm foods has become part of our day’s work — almost like breathing and certainly as routine as getting dressed or other basic housework (ok, for full disclosure — some days all those things feel daunting, but some days are just like that). Our kitchen is open to the rest of our living spaces, and it is a simple way to be productive while being present with each other and/or the children. I can sing songs with the kids while straining kefir, or Casey and I can catch up on the day’s news while he heats milk for yogurt. The kids like to pull up chairs and stand next to me while I chop veggies to ferment (especially when they get to eat carrot sticks!).

Truly the large counter in our kitchen is like an anchor in our family’s food life — we come back here again and again to touch base with the source of our nourishment and each other. These daily rituals of preparing and eating food don’t happen in the fields, but they offer us a new, deeper understanding of the work we are doing outside just beyond the kitchen door. With our knives and strainers and jars and pots, we take the blessings of the fields and simply transform them into something familiar and appealing — a carrot becomes a carrot stick for snack; a bunch of kale becomes dinner; milk becomes kefir; herbs become tea … Little physical meditations on sustenance, reality and love. Thanks be. I am grateful to be nourished by this place and these hands.

Wishing you mindful appreciation of your own food habits this season. Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Kefir? Kombucha? Fermented vegetables? What?!?! Hey, did you read all those lovely prose up above and find yourself in unfamiliar territory? Welcome to the rapturous land of fermented foods — those of us who dwell here are pretty enthusiastic about the foods we make. Or, more accurately, the foods that helpful beneficial microbes make for us if we give them the chance. Here is a quick run-down on those three food items, followed by links to more information for learning about them (including all the amazing health benefits):

  • Kefir is a very simple to make fermented dairy beverage. It’s even easier to make than yogurt (which is probably the most familiar fermented food for most folks)! The resulting beverage is tangy like yogurt but drinkable. For us, it is a breakfast staple.
  • Kombucha is a fermented tea beverage. This one is a new one for our household and doesn’t really use any of the farm’s products, but I had the crazy idea recently that maybe I could drink kombucha instead of coffee. Actually now I am just drinking both. Ha! You can buy kombucha in the stores to get a sense of it’s qualities: it’s tangy, sweet and a bit effervescent (and mildly alcoholic, as is kefir). I like making it at home so I can control the sweetness (I like it less sweet), and to keep the cost down.
  • Fermented veggies are just that: fermented veggies! You are probably familiar with sauerkraut and “crock” pickles, which are the most common variants of these available in most stores (look for them in the refrigerator section for the real deal). We’ve always loved making a big batch of sauerkraut in the fall for eating all winter as a garnish — it’s a magical transformation to chop a cabbage, mix it with some salt, and then let it turn into sauerkraut over a week (followed by storage in the fridge). The texture of good “lacto-fermented” vegetables is unique — crisp and fresh. And the flavor is just simply the best: what a pickle should be. I recently branched out into making other kinds of fermented vegetables (beyond sauerkraut) after learning about the magic of air locks and culture starters. The batch in the photo above is carrots, apples, and green onions. Incidentally, all of those items are in the week’s share, so you could try making these unique pickles too!

And, some resources for learning/trying more:

  • Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz is the classic “go to” for information about fermenting. His website is chock full of info, including how/where to buy the book (also available in our library system).
  • Cultured Food for Life by Donna Schwenk is a more recently published book that I personally found a bit more “kitchen accessible.” It’s very straightforward and offers simple, easy-to-follow directions for loads of basic (and fancier) fermented foods, including the ones I’ve mentioned here. This was the book that led me to culture starters and air locks for my veggies, which have produced tremendously consistent and delicious results! Her website is chock full of information too (including a store for purchasing air locks and starters), and her book is available through the library system.
  • Yamhill Valley Heritage Project — we live in a wonderful community for learning about and celebrating all things food and fermentation! This Mac-based group sponsors awesome events throughout the year, including the annual Fermentation Celebration (usually in the fall), which is a day of workshops and classes and talks all about fermentation! Check out their Facebook page for updated info.
  • Home Grown Food Products — You can (and should!) make your own fermented veggies in your kitchen … but, if you just want to try some quality stuff without the work, check out this local business that makes lacto-fermented veggies! They buy vegetables regularly from our farm too! You can find more info on their website, including updated purchasing info. (If you attended our dinner last summer, these guys made the delicious beets that were on the tables!)
  • Kookoolan Farms World Meadery — Among other things, our multi-talented farmer friends in Yamhill make delicious kombucha, which you can find at Harvest Fresh. More on their website here.
  • New England Cheesemaking Supply Company — These folks aren’t local, but they’ve been in the culture business for years and years. We bought our very first cheesemaking kit from them back in 2003!!! (It didn’t turn out very well, by the way, but we weren’t using good farm milk like we are today!) We still buy our fromage blanc and yogurt cultures from them via their website.

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Salad mix
  • Mixed Asian greens — We have so many different kinds of tender Asian greens growing our greenhouse right now that Casey thought it’d be nice to make an “Asian” distinct braising mix. If you like hot greens, you can certainly eat these fresh (they are very tender but some are spicy when raw!), but they will also make a beautiful cooking green mix. When we cook these, we do so lightly (unlike the chard, kales, and rapinis, which we generally like to wilt a lot). A little fat plus some cooking time transforms these into a delicate cooked green that can be served on top of meat or fish or as a dish dish to anything!
  • Cabbage rapini — This is a favorite in our house right now. After a winter of eating so much actual cabbage, it is a treat to eat it into a different form. We prepare it very similarly to kale — chopped and sauteed with plenty of fat until wilted. Dottie’s favorite bit to eat are the cooked stems, which are tender and reminiscent of asparagus.
  • Apples
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Green onions
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Flying: our farm today and tomorrow

Farmer hands. Over-wintered sweet onions. Soon to bulb. Ah, spring.

I love to use these weekly newsletters to share specific stories and recent happenings here on the farm, but I realized that sometimes in all that specificity, folks may not always be up to date on the Big Picture of the farm out here at Oakhill Organics. So, this week, I want to write a Big Picture update on what’s going on out here right now and where we’re headed this season and beyond.

Twenty-two healthy lambs have been born to our ewes this spring.

Our farm today: finally flying

To backtrack just a bit in our farm’s recent history: in early 2011, we purchased the parcel adjacent to ours and agreed to rent the parcel adjacent to that — expanding our land base from 17 acres to 100+ acres. Since then we’ve been doing the hard work of diversifying our enterprises while managing that expanded land base and launching a new marketing venue: the Full Diet CSA (all while still doing our Vegetable CSA and selling to local restaurants and parenting and having a new baby!).

We visited another younger farm this weekend for a tour and farmer gathering, and one of the operators described “climbing the vertical ladder” of their farming learning curve. Hear hear — we understand. The last two years have been at least as challenging as starting the farm the first time, and there were many times along the way that I described the experience to listeners this way:

It feels as though we have jumped off an extremely tall cliff; and, we know we’re in the air right now, but we don’t know whether we’re still mid-fall on our way to a crash or actually flying.

Perhaps as of last week’s Big Decision, we are finally flying. More accurately, we’ve been flying the whole time, but perhaps awkwardly at times and with a lot more fear and uncertainty of it all. And, I’m sure there will still be occasional turbulence — we are farming after all — but we’re flying! We’re flying!

One of our first peach blossoms -- we just planted these trees two weeks ago.

So, today on the farm — a farm that is flying — it is early spring, and during a recent spell of warm dry weather we were able to plant (veggies and oats), making the subsequent very rainy weather welcome. Green is bursting everywhere, and we spend our days taking care of both crops and animals already here and planning for those to come this season. We have three people working out here besides Casey and me, and every day one of them tends primarily to our animals: milking our cows first thing, watering everyone, moving fences, etc. We just recently stopped feeding supplementary hay to our beef cows and sheep, who are now once again being moved quickly through our green fields. Our flock of hens is back in spring production and we hear their chorus of laying songs all day long. Sows and piglets run around, grunting and enjoying the sunshine.

This year we have been providing food to our customers year-round (with only a brief break for the Veggie CSA). After a winter of relying heavily on our storage crops, our harvest work is increasingly taking us to the field for fresh greens and other veggies — a welcome shift in the work and the foods on our plates. Each week, we have three main harvests we do: we focus our energy first on the Vegetable CSA, then on the local restaurants that we sell too, and finally on the Full Diet CSA. Our weekly rhythm turns on these harvests, and we fill in between with the other important work of the season: sowing seeds into flats, weeding the garlic, doing maintenance and repairs on farm vehicles.

Our designated theme of the winter and year has been “maintenance.” After those hard, sometimes topsy-turvy, years of starting up so many new projects, it seemed appropriate to focus our energy this year on loose ends and inefficiencies that are lingering from establishing so much new stuff. That theme has taken many forms — Casey has spent more time working with all our farm vehicles (an obvious kind of maintenance), but it has applied elsewhere as well. Everyone on the farm (and in our house) is simply aware and united in this goal of taking care of things well (not the least of which are bodies and souls). This is a perennial useful idea of course, but it is the focus of this year, and we hope it becomes a background value that inspires our rhythms and work into the future.

Vast planting of beautiful garlic. Oh. My. I love this field.

Already, we are seeing the results of this focus — this slowing down and catching up with everything we’ve got going out here. Many, many parts of the farm are looking tidier and more tended than they have in years, both around our infrastructure and in the fields. I’ve mentioned before how excited we are about this year’s garlic crop, which is growing beautifully right now. Very few weeds grew there this year, and it probably could have gone without any weeding at all and still be darn good. But we want to pay attention to everything, so part of the crew went out last week and hoed the whole thing, just to be sure. The plants are growing vigorously, with plenty of fertility and space, and we are just so excited about what is looking like it promises to be our best garlic crop yet.

Tomorrow: the farm later this season and beyond

But, perhaps even more exciting is looking at our garlic and thinking, “This is the season. This is how we operate. This is the foretaste of the feast to come.”

Because, thanks to the continued attention and efforts of everyone here, many parts of the farm are looking as abundant and well tended: raspberries, greenhouses, fruit trees, spring vegetables … and, the areas that have some challenges (such as pasture that has been consistently hammered by geese) have known solutions (start the fall with effective geese scare measures in place).

Our raspberries are leafing out. This should be our first significant harvest year from these.

In addition to hopefully keeping geese from landing here so regularly, we have other plans in the works to continually improve our farm and its offerings. Later this year, we plan to build another large hoophouse specifically to grow winter cooking greens. We want to provide kale, collards and chard to our many customers all through the winter, and the last two winters have proven that outdoor growing conditions are just too variable to rely upon consistently.

Later this year, we’ll start shifting into next year’s theme, which we’ve already decided will be “record keeping.” A wise mind would realize this is actually an extension of our “maintenance” theme but with a twist. Specifically, we want to bump up our record keeping habits with the thought of possibly becoming certified organic again! Yes! This is a question we must ponder this year, as all of our land is fully eligible as of this fall (I talked about the decision to drop our certification a few years ago here). For a farm as diverse as ours, getting certified organic is a Big Question indeed. Should we just certify the crops? Should we certify the livestock operations too? But a big question to answer first is: “why?” We need to sort through our goals for the farm to figure out what purpose certification would serve for us now and in the future, especially as our understanding of the process has complicated over the years. It’s complicated stuff, but it’s also exciting because it means we have the mental space and time to ponder the Big Questions that motivate our farming enterprise. Ultimately, having that mental space is critical for everything to thrive with our continued positive attention.

Season-by-season, year-by-year, we will slowly refine and work toward spreading our care to every inch of this 100+ acres. At first, it was so daunting — literally so big to be farming so much land! But now that we’ve worked on all the pieces, we can see how it is all fitting together — how we are flying gently through the air, soaring on the abundance of this magical place we call our farm home.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Quarterly payments due! Veggie CSA members paying quarterly — your next $270 payment is due this week! You can bring it to pick-up or mail to us: P.O. Bo 1698, McMinnville OR 97128. I emailed statements last week to folks who have a balance due, but if you have any other questions, please email me! farm (at) oakhillorganics (dot) org

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Turnip greens — These greens are cut from tiny baby turnips. They are similar to a mustard green but much milder and suitable for fresh eating as a slightly spicy salad or for quick cooking. We love these with eggs for breakfast!
  • Salad mix
  • Apples — Our apple trees have just begun to bloom in our orchards, and we are still eating apples from last season! The fruit trees that we planted years ago have been such a wonderful addition to the farm. Each harvest feels like a gift.
  • Chard — Chard is a very simple green to prepare. We’ve found that it can have two distinct “personalities” depending on how you cook it. I tend to favor cooking it in a pan with lots of fat (butter or oil), slowly letting it wilt and soften. This method produces a green with more substance (somewhat similar to cooked kale). Casey favors cooking it in a pan with some fat but also broth. He puts a lid on it, and the chard wilts down much quicker and takes on a cooked spinach consistency. We eat it both ways, but I wonder if your household might try one or the other to see if you prefer one over the other???
  • Beets — After a winter of beet abundance, our household still loves roasted beets. We eat them roasted at least once/week, the kids chowing down the beets before anything else on their plate. I think the key to delicious roasted beets is to cook them long enough. They take longer than carrots to be really cooked through. I roast them at 375° (usually using coconut oil). I stir a few times during the cooking and let them go until they are tender inside and crisp outside. After taking the out of the oven the final time, I stir a bit to get them coated in oil and then let them cook for a few minutes, allowing them to crisp up further. Yum yum!
  • Carrots
  • Green onions
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How we see the world

There's no ambiguity in THIS picture — healthy cow + green pasture = beautiful spring sight!

When I was growing up, I loved looking at books of optical illusions. I loved that experience of thinking I knew what I was looking at and then having it completely and fundamentally change into something different. A classic example is the old lady / young lady drawing. I’ve seen this one so many times that I can easily see either lady just by choosing to shift my focus. One moment she’s a young lady, the next an old lady. Just like that.

Can you see the two ladies?

Even though I know this illusion well and can see both ladies with ease, I can never see both at once. I know there are two, but I always see one. When I choose to see the young lady, everything around her shifts in that context — the old lady’s large nose morphs into a slender chin, her eye into an ear. The whole picture changes completely. That lady is the real lady in that moment.

Last week Casey and I had the experience of seeing, experiencing, believing two very different versions of our farm within just days of each other. The result could only be described as a spiritual crisis followed by revelation.

Here’s how it began: we sat down to rework our 2014 budget for the farm using the numbers from the first two months. Expenses were up a lot from our earlier estimates but income was not, and it was frightening to look at our new projected bottom line. Once that fear took hold, we began looking at everything about the farm from that vantage point. A feeling of scarcity set in and we found ourselves seeing shortages everywhere. Suddenly everything about the farm felt hard. We agonized over the pricing of our different CSA programs and enterprises. We wrung our hands. We fretted. Before too long, we’d worked ourselves practically into a panic that resulted in us making some sudden, unwarned changes to our Full Diet program. We temporarily felt at ease, thinking that by tinkering with pricing and such we would alleviate our feeling of scarcity.

But it persisted. Then we started worrying about other things. And before too long, we realized that our fearful way of looking at the farm was sucking all the joy out of something that we (and many other people) dearly love. By Saturday afternoon, a knot had formed in my chest so tight that I could barely breathe. The situation felt wrong.

So, we went for a walk with the kids. I barely saw the cottonwood forest as we walked through it, but I know that immersing myself in the spring sunlight and the scent of opening buds helped my soul discern what I was seeing — it opened the possibility of rethinking and radically re-seeing our situation.

As we sat by the river and the kids waded in the water, Casey and I started talking. I told him how I felt. I told him that I felt suffocated by this feeling of scarcity, that the joy was gone — I told him that I didn’t think it was necessary, that there was a different reality to be had. We just had to choose to see it, and then choose to trust and embrace that other vision — one so radically different than what we had been seeing. We had to trust that this other vision could also be just as real — perhaps more so, because it would be a vision that could actually sustain us, the farm, and our customers.

We talked. We soaked in the sunshine. And, then with tears in our eyes, we chose. We chose abundance. Gratitude. Plenty. Growth. Joy. We chose to look at our budget and realize that not all the data is in yet — to know that our farm is ever so much bigger and more amazing than we see by focusing our attention on these numbers on a page. We chose to reflect on the past eight seasons and see the pattern of abundance and trust that our farm can carry us through times when we can’t immediately see that next step. Even though the projections might not be where we want them to, there is a whole season of growth ahead of us. Every week, I manage to pay our bills, and we feed people. Week by week, we move forward into this season.

We went home and emailed the good news to the Full Diet CSA members — no cutbacks or changes in price after all. We embrace abundance and joy and the awesome experience of nature’s flowing gifts. And, now that we’ve made this decision, the farm looks different. The farm again looks like a place of plenty, where it feels impossible to think that we could ever worry about scarcity. Spring is here, and growth is all around us.

These are the things that happened in one week, but the decision to see abundance and trust our farm has a bigger significance. Over the last few years, Casey and I both have experienced a slipping in our optimism and spirit of generosity. At the river, we tried to remember when or why our outlook on life shifted, but perhaps it’s simply that we have been growing older. We started this farm with high hopes and optimism, but that feeling came more from lack of experience than from a spiritual grounding. We were optimistic because we simply had no reason to believe life would be anything other than awesome and pleasing. We naively assumed that everyone would always like us and that we would always get things right. Ha!

As we lived and farmed, we necessarily encountered “hard” things — crop failures, negative interactions with people, challenges to our bodily health … our optimism didn’t have any foundation for dealing with these parts of life. And so it slipped, along with our generosity in many areas of life. Trust of other people and the process of life was replaced by walls and a mean kind of analysis. I don’t know how to describe the experience well, except perhaps to simply say that life plus farm and kids hardened us a bit. The soft young bright eyed new farmers grew into more worried and less trusting adult farmers. And, as with the optical illusion above, we could see plenty of reasons why to feel that way — that was the context of the picture we were looking at. We could easily dwell on all those hard things and believe that there was no reason to trust, because gee look at all this sh*t that has happened. Life felt heavy. The farm felt heavy. I think this is not a unique story about growing older and taking on responsibility and experiences. When you see yourself as a separate person carrying your own load, it’s easy to slip into negative feelings of all kinds.

But, thank goodness, that’s not the end of the story for Casey and me. The universe has told us — through people, nature and books — that there is another possible way to view it all. A world where our farm’s ability to thrive isn’t just about the balance between our income and our expenses. A world where our bodily health isn’t just about blood pressure readings. A world where people are connected. A world of abundance and plenty.

Casey and I have seen hints of that beautiful world many times over the years. There’s no doubt that it’s the promise of that world that drew us away from any traditional path of success into farming. To connect people, the land, ourselves into an intricate interdependent web of goodness — oh yes. Pardon my swearing, but oh f*ing yes.

But we lost our way. The details clouded our vision. The bits we didn’t envision as young naive farmers — the bank statements, the inevitable conflicts, the draw to feeling greed (a danger for any business owner), the many many many failures and mistakes of all kinds. I mean, yes, it’s hard. Being a farmer is hard. Being a parent is hard. Really, being a person in the world is hard. But that’s not the whole story. Because also present in all of those experiences is the ridiculous beauty, love, wholeness, and inspiration.

So, now that we know how hard living/farming/parenting is, we are making a choice. To know that sh*t will continue to happen (sigh, yes it will) and to still trust in the beauty and abundance of it all. To not live or farm in fear. To see the picture of our life that changes the context of everything. To leave behind meanness and embrace generosity and gratitude.

Revisioning our life and the farm feels like good work to do at the beginning of spring. Certainly the world around us supports our vision in every vibrant growth-filled day! Even now when we look at that same 2014 budget, we see something different — more hope and breathing room than we felt late at night when our trials all began.

We’ve committed to supporting each other in this new/old/revised vision of the farm. Old patterns stick around for a while — negative reactions that are unnecessary, etc. But after struggling so much with the expansion of the farm over the last two years, we feel like a significant burden has lifted. We’ve chosen to no longer wonder whether we’ve chosen the right direction for our farm. We’ve just decided that yes this is what we are doing and yes it is beautiful and will produce abundant, wonderful food, happy people (and yes a suitable income). The picture of our farm is no longer wavering in our doubt.

There’s so much more I could say on this subject, including more elements of our inner life that probably cross the line into “way too personal” to share here. In fact, I wonder if all of this is too personal already, but for better or for worse, these farm newsletters have served as a documentation of both the farm and its farmers. Once upon a time, very very close to the start of our farm, I dreamed of a day when Casey and I would be so intricately connected to a piece of land so as to lose sight of the point of separation. Back in 2006, I closed my Master’s thesis with these words:

This is what I seek: a place to plant my roots, literally, as a farmer, a full-time tender and resident of a place … And so, with awareness of the mind of the colonies living inside me and the lives I am bound to by flesh, blood and love; I continue to seek the place that I hope is seeking me.

Eight years later, here we are: so intertwined with this farm of ours that crises of our spirit reverberate out through every aspect of the farm, and crises of the farm echo back into our spirit.

As much as we are deeply grateful to be moving into this season embracing trust and a positive vision of the farm, I am also grateful to have seen that other side of the picture for a few years. Just as with the optical illusion above, both pictures do exist in our life. And, it is only now, after truly seeing and experiencing those harder parts of the farm and life, that we can really choose. Our optimism today is no longer based on the naive belief that we can avoid hard sh*t; it’s based on the knowledge that hard sh*t will continue to happen but that life is beautiful and abundant nonetheless. Both pictures exist, just as with the ladies, and we choose to focus on one, changing the context of our experience (and the farm and all the ripples it creates out into the community and universe).

This post wouldn’t be right without closing with a Wendell Berry quote:

And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home.


Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your humble farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

P.S. I read voraciously and could list a million and one books that have contributed to a life of growth and change, but I couldn’t let this post go without a shout-out to the most recent influential book: The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know is Possible by Charles Eisenstein. The title is quite a mouthful, I know! I finished reading this book in the days between the low point of our scarcity mindset and our turn around, and it played a big role in helping me realize how far we had strayed from our foundation.

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Apples — A mix of different storage varieties of apples
  • Salad greens — Casey thinks this is an especially beautiful batch of salad mix. It’s very diverse with greens from the greenhouse and the field.
  • Radicchio — Casey harvested this radicchio with braising in mind rather than salad. Feel free to ask him more about this at pick-up!
  • Cabbage rapini — We said recently that we don’t have rapini this year. We were wrong! Some plants survived! Oh, hoorah!
  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Chives
  • Garlic
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | 7 Comments

Taking new members now!

Now that it’s spring and the growing season is upon us, we are adding more households to our farm’s innovative Full Diet CSA program! We are only going to add a few households now, so if you are interested we encourage you to act quickly. It’s been awesome so far this year. More info can be found on our Full Diet page here.

We are also adding new members to our classic popular Vegetable CSA program (now in its ninth season!). Again, we anticipate these spots to fill quickly, so sign up soon! You can find out more on our Vegetable CSA page here.

Let us know if you have any questions about our offerings! 2014 has been delicious so far, and the fun has only barely begun!!!!! Happy First Day of Spring!

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