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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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 | 1 Comment

Dribs and drabs

IMG_2443

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 | 2 Comments

A distracted day

Winter Density lettuce — a favorite of ours!

Winter Density lettuce — a long-time favorite of ours!

Hey there fine farm folks — I’ll be honest tonight. I’m a little more distracted than usual from my newsletter writing duties. Tomorrow (Thursday) morning, my mom will be undergoing unexpected urgent surgery. We only just found out a few days ago, so we’re reeling a bit in figuring out all the last minute details around the farm — who will take care of her chickens during recovery (my dad), who will take care of the kids on Thursdays (a friend) … those kinds of things.

Because of course she is such an integral part of all that happens out here on the farm, and so the recovery period will require some adjustments as we all pitch in. I will be at pick-up as usual for the first couple of hours and then I will probably miss those of you who come in the second half (as I will be headed to the hospital to visit my mom and be with family). Thank you for patience with Casey as he balances his usual CSA duties with mine in that time! We should be back to our normal routine next week (thanks to the help of our friend).

Whew! Sometimes life throws us curve balls, eh? I don’t think anyone on the farm was anticipating such a dramatic upheaval this spring. But of course, moments like this make us so deeply grateful to have each other. And to have our wider community of friends and family who offer positive thoughts, prayers, help, and more. We are grateful!

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Surprise items — We have two very new crops to share with you — both limited this week because they are just coming on. You’ll have to choose which one you want more (and rest assured, more of both will come in future weeks).
  • Apples
  • Salad turnips — The salad turnips are bigger than ever! We’ve started peeling the outside of the giant ones so we can more fully relish the tender inside. Remember that the greens are very delicious as well, and we take great measures to deliver them in good condition. They are tender enough to chop into a salad, or you can cook them. They cook down more than some other greens, so either prepare for them to be a smallish portion or cook them with other greens.
  • Lettuce OR purple broccoli Choose one between these two delicious spring crops (and please limit yourself to one total). More to come of both in future weeks, but we want to make sure that the folks who come at the end of pick-up get some too!
  • Winter squash — Choose from an assortment of winter squash.
  • Kale & kale rapini
  • Chard — A fun little fact about the chard from this over-wintered planting: we saved the seed from our plants last year!
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Green garlic — If you’re new to “green” garlic, let me introduce you a bit. This is a crop that looks a little like green onions, but it is actually young, immature (still “green”) garlic plants before they’ve bulbed and dried down. It’s like garlic, but different too — milder and fresher. Use it as you might any allium crop. I chop it and sauté it in butter before adding greens (or other veggies) to the pan. The smell is divine.
  • Leeks
  • Eggs! — ‘Tis the season when we put eggs in the veggie line-up! A half-dozen eggs is worth an “item,” and we ask that you only take one of your items as eggs (if you want to take home more than a half-dozen, you are welcome to buy them!).

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 lamb — $8/lb.
  • Ground beef — $8/lb
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

Big spring cleaning

Tractor implements moved and all lined up in a tidy row — a few there to prepare for selling. Note the newly worked up field in the background!

Tractor implements moved and all lined up in a tidy row — a few there to prepare for selling. Note the newly worked up field in the background!

The anniversary of our farm passed last month with only a minor tangential note in another newsletter. But here it is: as of March of this year, we’ve now been living and farming in Yamhill County for ten years!

I don’t think I could have ever pictured how much would happen in the first ten years of our farm — which could also be seen as the first ten years of our adult life as well (I’ll count the years in school and at Holden Village as our preparatory pre-lots-of-responsibility-plus-a-mortgage years). I also don’t think we could have anticipated how many different changes we would make on our farm, as we experimented with different enterprises and scale and marketing outlets.

A few things have stayed amazingly steady for us: the vegetable CSA, our home here on Grand Island, our commitment to selling only here in Yamhill County, our dedication to organic methods. But at the edges of those core values and goals, many different projects have been tried and many wonderful people have come and gone (off onto their own new adventures). It’s been a wild ride, folks.

This spring, perhaps timed with hitting our ten year mark, we’ve been feeling the “residues” of some of those come-and-gone-again projects and enterprises. Each little or big adventure on our farm has required an investment in infrastructure or equipment, and over the years those things have found their way into our farm spaces. I noted once in a farming article on infrastructure about the phenomenon of simply putting one innocuous item down on the ground, and how it will inevitably become a magnet for more detritus. In that article, I warned about choosing where you place those [inevitable] piles carefully so that they do not become eyesores for yourself, your neighbors or customers! These piles could include anything from old worn out starts flats (waiting to be taken to the plastic recycler), irrigation pipes needing fixing, tractor implements that simply haven’t been used in a few years, bits of fencing, t-posts, buckets, bits of greenhouse poly, and so much more. The contents will vary depending on the farm and its projects and people, of course! They do seem to be an inevitable part of the process, as it were.

But. At some point, they become clutter. And clutter can affect ability to function efficiently and have mental clarity about a space and its purposes. We have certainly tackled many such piles in the past, but at our ten year mark we were feeling a need to deal with more of these things — especially the items that were left-over from enterprises we’re no longer making the focus of our farm. A friend of mine recently spent several weeks camping with her family, and upon her “re-entry” to life on their rural homestead, she described feeling so many little psychic “strings” attaching her to different projects that need her attention on some level — this was in contrast to temporary life in a tent, which only offered immediate needs to be met and none of those bigger nagging kind of work to be done … eventually.

Her image of these “strings” stuck with me and helped me clarify what I was feeling a lot of this spring — certainly we had acquired a reasonable amount of actual physical stuff to deal with. But honestly the stuff itself was not so great — the mental nagging was more related to what it represented … little mental strings still linking us to projects that have passed or that no longer feel like they are consistent with our farm’s thriving present and future. Without a doubt, there is a lot of fun to be had during ten years of a farm’s growth and experimentation, but there are also a lot of leftover emotions from things that didn’t end up being a part of our farm’s long term plan. Pulling back from things can be hugely beneficial, but it can also be hard.

In the ten years that we’ve been operating our business in Yamhill County, we’ve actually seen many similar scaled businesses go through their own reinventions and experimentations with growing bigger — and then growing smaller again. I’m sure these models stand out to us because of their similarities to our own experience, but I think there is probably some natural course for a small family-operated business that involves initial success, followed by healthy growth until the business reaches a point of growth that stops feeling as beneficial — where the business stops feeling like it is the same beautiful sustainable scale that it began at. I imagine this represents a critical point for any business — to choose whether to listen to that message and how to respond.

At our “peak” of our scale, we were actively managing over 100 acres of land and employed half a dozen employees and were balancing many different enterprises (including a raw milk micro dairy, which is a huge enterprise in of itself!). In the last year, we’ve been pulling back from that scale significantly, returning to our “sweet” spot of what feels good for our family (and as a result good for our customers too!). I think part of what makes very small local businesses like ours is the attention the owners can put into their service or product. Now that we have no employees, I think it’s an understatement to say that we are very hands on with our vegetable production! In fact, we touch it all. With our hands. That kind of simple straight-forward business is what attracted us to this gig to begin with.

As we pulled back starting at the beginning of last year, we didn’t want to “swerve” our business too hard in a different direction by contracting too quickly — “over-correct” as one might say. We didn’t want to make too many changes too quickly, including giving up on equipment or land that had been useful to us in those larger manifestations of our farm. We have more distance now and feel more properly settled into the idea of scaling back. So I suppose that’s why it’s only this spring, we’re finally seeing all those “strings” we still have connected to parts of our former bigger and more complicated farm. It feels like the right time to start cutting those, dealing with the literal piles, finding closure in areas where it is needed, and providing ourselves more mental clarity to focus on what we are doing and what we are loving right now.

Also, if I’m honest, we also want to cut these old strings in order to allow ourselves the freedom to tinker a bit more in the future, because really we will always continue to tinker on the periphery of our farm. Casey especially loves the challenge of learning about new things and seeing what might become a long-term part of our farm — and many of his projects have integrated into our farm in delightful ways: our fruit orchards are one example of something he took on as a new enterprise many years ago. And, I’m not immune to the excitement of new projects either — I’ll hold up this year’s cookbook project as a prime example! All these possibilities are part of what keeps us engaged in this farming endeavor, but we also need to clean up old projects before taking on any new ones! As I might say to our kids, it’s useful to put away the toys you are no longer playing with before taking out new ones! Either way, it was time to cut all those strings that nagged on us.

So, this week we tackled our Big Spring Cleaning, which included literal cleaning and moving of Things as well as some Big Letting Go of no longer necessary commitments. Not surprisingly, the cleaning up of The Stuff ended up going very quickly. Once we were acting in something akin to the popular “Konmari” mindset of clearing out the clutter, it was easy to sort through things and figure out where it should go that is not on our property. Some items will be given away to other farmers, some sold, and others just really needed to be taken into town for scrap metal. As the piles started disappearing, I realized how physically small they really were. But they felt huge, because they represented Things We Just Didn’t Need Anymore. Having them sorted through and on their way off the farm feels like the most amazing purge of clutter.

But there were other Big Strings to attend to as well. Notably, this weekend we decided to no longer rent the 54 acre parcel we’ve been leasing since 2012, which made up over half of our former 100 acres. Letting go of that land felt like a hard decision … until we made it. And then it felt like a relief. Our major motivation for holding onto it at this point was simply love and attachment. It’s gorgeous, and we’ve experienced so many things over there. We feel proud that we were able to transition it out of conventional chemical production and into organic growing. It is a giant parcel of Potential, and when we stand there we feel that Potential. It is a palpable experience to stand in the middle of an alive, healthy piece of prime farmland. One just wants to be there, to find out what that Potential can be. But, we realized, it’s no longer our Potential. We don’t see ourselves expanding our land base again in the near future. And so we’ve let it go, with gratitude for what it was for us. We still have loose ends to tie up concerning that land (including the moving of some of our perennial crops this winter), but this summer another farmer will be taking over its management. Can you hear the giant string being cut? Clip clip.

We also own 31 acres on the other side of our creek that we will not be farming this year either. Another organic grower is renting that parcel from us. Clip clip.

Which leaves us with the land here on our side of Skeeter Creek — our “home farm” of 17.5 acres, plus a few acres of my parents’ land next door. Which is plenty. I look out my office window now and see the bulk of that land. I have to admit that when we were at our peak of diversity and acreage and labor management, this was my most frequent daydream — to return to farming just our home farm, allowing us to pay attention to everything ourselves. Here we are.

I can’t speak for Casey on his inner experience, but our Spring cleaning has definitely been emotional for me. I’ve been trying to put my finger on exactly what I am feeling, because it is complex. On one hand, there is so much relief and satisfaction coming from dealing with those strings. But with the relief comes a sense that I can only describe as space or emptiness. Emptiness sounds negative, which isn’t how it feels to me. Perhaps it’s the creation of space, both on the farm and in our mental management of it. Things that had been hanging out in my head for years and years are gone (or on their way to being gone). I am very aware of the absence right now. It feels very quiet.

I think the best comparable experience I can think of right now is the feelings I had upon graduating from high school and college. In both cases, there was a minor sense of nostalgia, but mostly I felt such a visceral sense of completion and openness in the future. There was this sense that I had worked very hard in the near past and that that work was finished for now.

But I would also compare how I am feeling to how I used to feel upon moving from one apartment to another — packing up our things and cleaning the old apartment and looking around with gratitude for what came, satisfaction in having our things dealt with, and anticipation for the next thing. I have always found that experience to be strange in how that old familiar place looked unfamiliar without its things, and yet beautiful too in its simplicity. The newly open spaces echo. I think in some ways our farm right now feels both like that old apartment that is being emptied and cleaned almost past the point of recognition and also like the new home, where one expects new dreams to grow and prosper.

Without a doubt, this spring feels like a passage. A transition. One of many in our life, to be sure. And one of many to come for the farm, to be sure. But, here we are, packing up old things and saying good-bye to what has been on the farm and is no more.

In other related news (and surely adding to the emotional experience), in our home life, we marked two important events this weekend. First, Casey finished a little bathroom remodel project that had been on our ‘to do’ list for about nine years. When we first built our house, we used some lower quality materials, and we almost immediately realized that our shower and bathroom fan were not going to work in the long-term for our house. Ultimately it didn’t take but the part of three weekends to replace the shower walls and fan (and fix drywall and paint), but marking it off our mental ‘to do’ list felt huge. Clip clip.

Also, this Sunday evening, an intimate group of friends and family joined us at our church for Rusty and Dottie’s baptisms. Casey and I spent many years of our farming life without a connection to a spiritual community, and it has been wonderful to revive that part of our life in the last year as we began attending Sunday services again at Lumen Christi here in McMinnville. Welcoming our children into that part of our life felt like a significant passage indeed, one filled with love and support.

So, we have had many opportunities for emotions and for feeling a sense of something “new” around here! I think it’s safe to say that Spring is sprung here on the farm — in our fields and orchards, and in our souls!

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

P.S. That greenhouse in our opening photo? You might just want to have a peek inside:

Aye! Thar be SNAP PEAS in that thar greenhouse!

Ar! Thar be bloomin’ SNAP PEAS in that thar greenhouse!

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Apples
  • Salad turnips
  • Fennel bulbs — A new flavor for your plates this week! We love fennel, but I have to admit that this is probably the #1 “stumping” vegetable we grow. By which I mean, it probably elicits the most questions along the line of, “So … what do you do with fennel bulbs?” Here’s what we do, and it’s quite simple. We just treat our fennel like we would any other vegetable in our kitchen. Which means that we chop it up and either throw it in the oven to roast with other items. Or throw it into a pan on the stovetop to sauté with leeks or other vegetables. Or, we chop it fine and toss it with a green salad. I think this is one of those vegetables that maybe just doesn’t really “make sense” until you are familiar with its texture and flavor. Once you are, it seems more obvious how to include it with other food. It brings a unique flavor to dishes that we love (and this is a time of year when new flavors are especially welcome!).
  • Head lettuce
  • Winter squash — We’ll have a mix available for you to choose from!
  • Leaf broccoli
  • Kale
  • Kale rapini — Enjoy the kale rapini while it lasts. This week’s unprecedented “early April heat wave” will be changing a lot of what is in our fields, including speeding up the flowering process on some of our over-wintered rapini crops. By next week, many of them will be much more mature, and it’s high likely many will no longer be tender enough to harvest for greens. We will see!
  • Chard
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Leeks

And this week’s extra goodies from the farm:

  • EggsWe have an abundance of eggs but a shortage of cartons! If you have a stack of cartons on your counter, this would be a great week for you to bring them to us! Having our members fill their own carton helps us keep our cost reasonable while still feeding our hens certified organic feed! $6/dozen
  • Bratwurst! — Artisan-made without any added nitrates or sugars. $12/package (one lb packages).
  • Pork — We have roasts and shanks for $8/lb.
  • Ground lamb — $8/lb.
  • Ground beef — $8/lb
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

Abloom

The view from here — so many cherries (and other trees) are in bloom all around our farm right now.

The view from here — so many cherries (and other trees) are in bloom on and all around our farm right now.

Right at this very moment, our farm is in the midst of an epic transformation. After so many days and weeks of wet late winter weather, the sun has come out. And the forecast is for a whole week of this glorious treat.

As I’ve mentioned in recent newsletters, it has felt as though much of the farm is on “pause,” just waiting for this turn of events. Buds were swollen but not yet open all around us. And, now, everything is abloom, and the sky is full of the sound of buzzing in cherry, apple, and maple tree blossoms.

We too are feeling the shift in our work. For weeks now, when folks have (inevitably) asked us, “Are things busy on the farm?” we’ve sort of shrugged our shoulders. Because, well, certainly we’ve kept ourselves plenty busy preparing for the big spring work, but mostly we’ve been limited to the prep work: the greenhouse work, the buried mainline, the continual harvest for the CSA.

But now we’re faced with the real deal of spring: grass to mow, ground to prep, seeds to sow (outside! in the ground!), starts to transplant …

It won’t all happen at once — it can’t! Nor is it all truly ready, but we can see it, like a massive wave rolling in toward us. Thankfully, this massive wave comes laden with sweet smelling blossoms and the promise of so much goodness to come.

We’ve been slowly weeding our outdoor strawberry planting in preparation for one kind of early summer sweetness, even as we work through the final bins of apples stored in the cooler and remaining winter squash in storage.

All ready for some outdoor adventures!

All ready for some sunny day outdoor adventures!

On the homefront, it’s also time to assess the next season of clothing for both kids — to check out what warm weather clothing is in storage (that still fits!) and what needs to be found and brought home. I’m also thinking about what our home learning will look like this summer. Until recently, I’d been feeling like we might as well keep on with what we’ve been doing, because our mornings spent doing school are truly delightful to us. But as the sun came out, my little farmers expressed a desire to be outside as much as possible. Rusty requested that we eat lunch outside today, and I don’t see this trend ending soon. So, I see that a new rhythm may be welcome for a spell, where we cut back on our time at the table and relish all that is around us outside on the farm and at the river (and move our reading time to the hammock on the porch!).

It’s funny how I still find myself surprised by each new rhythm — how I still can’t always anticipate the way my own inner desires will naturally shift with each new season. It seems to me that there is so much joy in this endless shifting. Even if we wanted to hold on to one moment in life, one season, we couldn’t. Better to savor it as it passes by.

May this week’s sun bring you outside as well. I do believe that these first sunny days of the year are truly some of the best — it seems that the whole world is amazed by the sun’s warmth and glow.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Interested in pork? In early May, the remainder of our hogs are going to the butcher! We still have some available for folks who want to reserve a half or whole hog to put in their freezer. 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!

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Apples
  • Head lettuce — There’s no better way to end a sunny day than with a salad at dinner time.
  • Salad turnips — This week’s turnips are even better than last week’s (same planting; they’ve just had another week of beautiful weather to grow!).
  • Butternut squash
  • Marina di Chioggia winter squash
  • Kale rapini
  • Turnip rapini
  • Leaf broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Chard
  • Kale
  • Potatoes
  • Leeks/onions

And this week’s extra goodies from the farm:

  • Eggs — Our spring supply is still going up! We will likely have them to the end of the end day, so plan for eggs! Yay for farm fresh eggs! $6/dozen
  • Bratwurst! — Artisan-made without any added nitrates or sugars. $12/package (one lb packages).
  • Pork — Roasts are $8/lb; pork chops are $12/lb.
  • Lamb — LAMBCHOP SALE CONTINUES! Lambchops only $8/lb! Ground lamb is $8/lb.
  • Ground beef — $8/lb
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

The process

The beginning! Friday afternoon, and Casey was digging a deep trench the fast way. Just LOOK at that SOIL -- that is why we are here.

The beginning! Friday afternoon, and Casey was digging a four-foot deep trench the fast way. Just LOOK at that SOIL — that is why we are here.

I hope no one wasted too much time worrying about our buried mainline project on Monday. We had been planning to work on it that day, but oh was it wet!

Thankfully we saw the forecasts and Casey and my dad got into action a little early so as to take advantage of the [relative brief] dry spell at the end of last week. Casey ran into town after his restaurant harvests on Friday and picked up the trencher and got to work. We weren’t sure how long the entire process would take, and we figured we should make good use of the time we had before the next rainstorm arrived.

You see — we’ve done a few projects around here. We know how these things go. We might make our plans (such as our original plan to do the work on Monday), but certain factors might require us to change our plans. It’s not uncommon for us to hatch a plan, set some deadlines and then set it in motion in advance of our original plans. Often we find that just making the plans concrete and real gets the ball rolling, and making use of that energy propels us forward in a way that wouldn’t happen if we just kept waiting.

And, it’s often good to start early, because there are inevitable unforeseen challenges that will arise. In fact, I wonder if I should call them “unforeseen,” because at this point we do expect the unexpected. Which feels very different than the early days when those inevitable “oops” seemed to stall and stymie us (and we’d often waste a lot of energy wondering why the challenges happened! Now we just know that they’re part of the process!). Some possible examples that we try to prepare for ahead of time as best as we can: running out of materials and supplies (oh, this one is so common!), having a tool or other critical part break during our use, or running into something so beyond the scope of what we could see ahead of time. This last one especially applies when doing a particular project for the first time.

This was our first time installing a buried mainline for irrigation, although Casey’s done plenty of other plumbing and irrigation projects before. As we prepared we knew a few things, including that we wanted/needed to have the right tools for the job. For many years, we did a lot of projects “making do” with tools that were never quite right. When planning to dig a 900-foot-long trench across one’s field, we could spend a lot of time working on the project without the right tool. Or, we could rent the appropriate trencher and get it done quick.

Our first unexpected blip in the project occurred overnight between when Casey started the trenching on Friday and picked it back up the next morning. A gopher found the new trench attractive and interesting and filled in a significant length of the trench with muddy dirt. When laying pipe there, Casey had to dig down with a shovel head that didn’t quite fit into the narrow trench to lift out very heavy dirt, slowing the pipe laying process down considerably at first.

Casey finished installing the final riser at the end of the line just as dinner was ready on Saturday night!

Casey finished installing the final riser at the end of the line just as dinner was ready on Saturday night!

Nonetheless, the trencher dug through our soil faster than we even expected, so that Casey and my dad had the digging finished by Saturday morning, which left them lots of time to glue together 45 20 ft pieces of 4″ pipe and install three risers. As they neared the end of the line, it became obvious that (no surprise!) we needed more pipe than originally anticipated. So Casey returned the trencher and picked up more pipe and finished installing the last section (which fit perfectly!) and riser just as dinner was finished on Saturday evening. The whole project completed in just over a day of work!

Except that it wasn’t … not quite yet! This is where our understanding of the “the process” becomes very important. We knew that until that line was charged and tested, the project was definitely not done. On Monday, Casey charged the line, with the plan to irrigate our lower greenhouses (part of why we’d installed the buried mainline to begin with, since they are 900 feet away from our well and at the end of the new line).

Alas, once the line was pressurized for several minutes, one of the fittings at a riser burst apart. It was a fitting Casey had worried about, as it is the one that landed on top of the gopher filled trench and as a result was not quite as level as the rest of the fittings, making the junction not as strong. And, so he ran back to the store again for more pipe and fittings, and he and my dad dug out a very large round hole around the broken spot, in order to fix the burst fitting and ensure that the new fix could be level.

In case you’re wondering, the fix took about half as long as the initial installation of the line.

A few years back, I think this math would have frustrated Casey and me to no end. We would have seen it as a huge waste of time to spend so many hours on a glitch in the initial installation. We would have wondered how we could have prevented the break in the first place? (Of course now we know, for the most part, so if we ever install a mainline again we’ll have that information. But at this point, it seems unlikely that we will!) After many years of building houses and greenhouses and other things, I think we have finally achieved some calm and can join the contractors in the world in knowing that such things really will happen. And then we’ll fix them. That’s how it goes.

We still need to backfill the trench, but there’s no rush at the moment. The rain has returned, and we’ll wait until our work won’t make a muddy mess.

The mud play begins at a muddy spot by our well.

The mud play begins at a muddy spot by our well.

But, speaking of muddy messes, some kids sure had some fun playing outside while trenches were being dug and pipes laid. They climbed in and out of the trench and made “nests” out of dirt and mud and had more utility sink “baths” than I could even keep count of.

Since Tuesday we’ve been back to our weekly rhythm of harvesting. I think one of the trickier aspects of managing a farm is balancing the ongoing work with the one-time “big picture” projects. They both have to happen, but at times one seems to take precedence. At times, it seems that our ongoing work makes it hard to see how we’d have time to tackle those long-term projects (even when they might offer us almost immediate time saving benefits, such as with this mainline). At other times, it feels as though we can get swept up in big picture changes or projects and feel stretched thin in our ongoing work. This week, the balance has felt good, but we’ve also put in a lot of hours!

But some of that may just be spring. Which arrived this week too, in case you hadn’t noticed. Welcome new season! We will certainly be putting in more hours in general over the coming months, especially once the dry weather does arrive and we get busy with ground prep, planting and weeding on top of everything else. But spring brings with it special renewed energy for completing these tasks too: longer days, nourishing food, inspiring sunny days.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Frittata! An easy spring food — Our flock’s egg production is going up, just in time to fill Easter baskets I suppose. This week we went a little crazy in our house with egg decorating, including a lot of blown eggs as well as hard-boiled. After I’d blown the contents out of the eggs, I decided that it was time to make the season’s first frittata! These easy baked omelettes are a perennial favorite farm food around these parts. They’re so simple, so versatile and so delicious.

Here’s our method: I begin by selecting some veggies to cook in a large-ish cast iron pan. What I choose for a frittata will inevitably vary a lot with the season. In the summer, sweet peppers are delicious, for example, but in the early spring we’ll choose sweet onions and leaf broccoli. Rusty and I chopped everything fine, and I sautéed the chopped onions first and then added the chopped greens once the onions were soft (using lots of butter). Meanwhile, Dottie beat nine eggs with some cream and a dash of salt. Rusty carefully poured the eggs into the pan and I worked it around to make sure the eggs were evenly distributed in the pan around the greens. I cooked the pan over medium heat until there were bubbles coming up and the sides were looking cooked (just started to pull away from the edges). At that point, I moved the pan to the oven, where I put it under the broiler until it was browned to perfection on top (spinning in once during broiler to ensure even cooking).

With reheated Marina di Chioggia slices served alongside, our frittata made a delicious lunch! Everyone ate seconds!

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Apples
  • Salad turnips — These brilliantly white, tender roots are a spring treat. We only grow them in this season, when the weather is just perfect for producing their mellow sweetness. Our favorite way to eat them is just RAW. I repeat — they are so good uncooked! We just slice them and serve them in a little bowl on the table for everyone to nibble on with the rest of their meal. The turnip greens are delicious cooked though. I rinse them again, chop them, and cook them with other greens.
  • Radishes
  • Marina di Chioggia winter squash
  • Butternut winter squash
  • Leaf broccoli
  • Collard rapini — More of our brassica plants are making rapini now! This week we’ve got bunches of nice leafy collard and kale rapini, which can be cooked just as you would the leaves or roasted in a pan until crispy.
  • Red Russian kale rapini
  • Chard
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Leeks

And this week’s extra goodies from the farm:

  • Eggs — Try a frittata this week! I, personally, also think that brown eggs are beautiful when dyed for the holidays. The colors come out more muted and earthy looking. $6/dozen
  • Bratwurst! — We just stocked the freezer with our second-to-last batch of pork, and it’s all Bratwurst! Artisan-made without any added nitrates or sugars. SO DELICIOUS. Stock up. $12/lb (one lb packages).
  • Pork — Roasts are $8/lb; pork chops are $12/lb.
  • Lamb — LAMBCHOP SALE CONTINUES! Lambchops only $8/lb! Ground lamb is $8/lb.
  • Ground beef — $8/lb
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

When the clouds part

The sun finally came back out this afternoon as we finished up the CSA harvest. Even the bolting mustard blossoms glowed with the glory of it all!

The sun finally came back out this afternoon as we finished up the CSA harvest. Even the bolting mustard blossoms glowed with the glory of it all!

What’s the big news on the farm this afternoon? I’m sure the same big news that is drawing all of you outside your homes and workplaces with a big smile on your face! The sun is out!

I wrote about the rain in last week’s newsletter, and I could write about it at length again this week. Because, well, it’s been wet. Build-an-ark kind-of-wet (or so it has felt, day in and day out with very little break).

Everywhere we go, people are talking about it. Complaining mostly. As though a very wet March is some kind of anomaly, which let me tell you: it isn’t. We’ve been gifted with some beautiful springs in recent years, including a 2015 when it felt like summer arrived in February (and it stayed that way!). But I can very keenly remember a different March, five years ago, when we were pacing and pacing, waiting for what felt like forever, before we could begin the spring work of tilling and planting.

We’re waiting for that now too, but with the advantage of a few more years of experience under our belts and four large greenhouses to grow in to boot. So, it feels different.

Not to say we aren’t welcoming this sun! Oh yes! Oh yes! Especially when we do have outdoor projects to work on. This Monday, we plan to dig a long trench and finally put in a simple buried mainline on the home farm. This is something we’ve been talking about for, well, ever. Having a few strategically placed risers around our fields will make irrigating our farther out fields (and greenhouses) much simpler — we won’t have to manually lay down above-ground pipes every time we want to irrigate something. Those above ground pipes are a pain for a few reason: they’re work to move around, they get in the way of vehicles (which can’t safely drive over them), they often leak at the junctions, and they make it hard to mow or keep fields weeded. We’re looking forward to needing less of them this season, so hopefully the weather will cooperate as we go to work!

We’re not the only ones who have been waiting for this glorious burst of sunshine either. Casey and I have been amazed at how the fruit tree buds that started swelling weeks ago have just hung out at that state during this recent spell of cooler, wet, stormy weather. The pear tree by our door has especially attracted my attention as I can see it easily every day as I wash dishes. The buds have been fat, ready to burst, for several weeks now.

Honey bee joy!

Honey bee joy!

I anticipate that we’ll see those white blossoms soon, if the weather holds. And we noted today that there are pollinators out too, to help make those buds fruitful after all. As Casey and I picked rapini, tall open blossoms were open all around us, and if we paused in our talking we could hear the buzz of honey bees visiting those blooms. One of the best sounds of spring — little creatures hard at work. I can’t help but attribute emotion to those sounds, as they remind me so much of a contented cat’s purr. I don’t think my connection there is too unfounded — if bees can feel emotion (and they can dance, so why not?), then surely these moments bring them joy as they bring back the first fresh pollen and nectar of the year to their hives.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

CSA payments due this week! Just another friendly reminder that your CSA payment is due tomorrow (Thursday, March 17). You can bring us a check or cash to pick-up. Please let me know if you have any questions.

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Apples — This week our Goldrush apples are back! These are the ones voted best overall apple by our CSA members last fall.
  • Salad mix — This week’s salad mix is a fun blend of lettuce, cabbage rapini, radicchio, endive, kale and kale rapini.
  • Radishes
  • Butternut squash
  • Marina di Chioggia winter squash
  • “Leaf” broccoli — What is leaf broccoli? It’s the tender leaves and stalks of winter-grown greenhouse broccoli. Think kale with more broccoli flavor. Delicious!
  • Rapini
  • Red Russian kale
  • Chard
  • Parsnips
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Spring onions

And this week’s extra goodies from the farm:

  • Eggs — $6/dozen
  • Pork — Roasts are $8/lb; pork chops are $12/lb. Remember that we are finishing up with pork this year! We’ll have two more batches coming through the storefront in the coming months (including another batch of Bratwurst), but then we’ll be done for the foreseeable future! Enjoy it while it lasts and stock up your freezer! (We will too!)
  • Lamb — LAMBCHOP SALE! For some reason our butcher cut all of our usual lamb roast cuts into chops. So we have a lot of lamb chops in the freezer right now, many of which would be delicious cooked as a chop or as slow cooked stew meat. We’re putting these chops on sale at our usual roast price: only $8/lb! Ground lamb is $8/lb.
  • Ground beef — $8/lb
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

Rainy rainy rain

Rainy afternoon Oakhill selfie (3 out of 4 of us pictured in our full rain gear).

Rainy afternoon Oakhill selfie (3 out of 4 of us pictured in our full rain gear).

Hey! It’s March! And, it’s rainy! This is how I think of March — lots and lots of gray and lots and lots of wet. We inevitably get a few beautiful spells too, but wow can the rain come down in this month in the Willamette Valley.

As I drove around this week, I was struck by how much the landscape is transformed by the rain — hilltops obscured by mist in the trees. It reminded me a lot of the persistent winter landscape of the Puget Sound, where I grew up.

But, on this rainy evening, I’d like to take a little break from story telling and just share some farm newsy stuff. We’ve got a few things coming up that I want to make sure you know about.

CSA payment due next week! Our second CSA payment of the season is due next Thursday, March 17. You can mail us a check (to P.O. Box 1698, McMinnville OR 97128) or bring cash/check to pick-up. I emailed out statements to folks earlier this week, so you should have your balance due in your inbox. If you have any questions, please email me or ask me to clarify at pick-up tomorrow!

Last chance for pork! On May 2, we are taking six hogs to the butcher — our last for now, as we’ve decided not to continue this part of our farm into the foreseeable future (for lots of reasons, but mostly it just comes down to wanting to simplify what we’ve got going on and having to choose where we spend our energy). If folks would like to buy a whole or half hog for their freezer, this is your chance! 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!

Farm events scheduled for 2016! And, finally, we took time to sit down with our calendar and schedule out this year’s farm events. We hope you can join us for at least one event this year. I’ll provide more details (and directions to the farm) in the newsletter before each event:

  • Potato planting & potluck ~ Sunday, April 30, 3 pm ~ We’ll plant potatoes (delightfully fun work suitable for families!) from 3 – 5 pm and then gather together for a potluck at our house. Bring your favorite dishes to share!
  • Ratatouille Rendezvous ~ Saturday, August 27, 5 pm ~ Join us for our favorite way to end the summer — with a big feast of ratatouille (a summer stew)! We’ll make a GIANT batch of ratatouille; you bring a bowl and a potluck side dish to share (salad, side, bread, cheese, desert, etc.).
  • Pumpkin Patch Open House ~ Sunday, October 23, 2 – 4 pm ~ Come out to pick your family’s pumpkins, tour the farm, and participate in a fun variety tasting (vegetable or fruit to be decided). We may even round up some live music again this year.

We’re excited about all of these events and look forward to hosting you on the farm!

That’s all the news for now. Before I sign off, I’ll share with you a few more fun photos from a very rainy afternoon on the farm:

Here's the fourth — ready for the rain too.

Here’s the fourth — ready for the rain too.

We finished our harvest in the greenhouse, where we picked armfuls of kale! Kale-o-rama!

We finished our harvest in the greenhouse, where we picked armfuls of kale! Kale-o-rama!

Happy rainy evening to you!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Apples
  • Radishes
  • Salad mix — This week’s mix: tender lettuce, endive, spinach, and escarole.
  • Rapini — A mix of turnip and kale rapinis to choose from.
  • Cabbage
  • Collard greens — I think of collards as being ideal in two opposite seasons — late winter and mid-summer. No need to tell you which of those seasons we’re in now! Our over-wintered collards plants are beginning to put up rapini, and their tender thick stalks are just covered with abundant new leaves. Picking these bunches was such fun — we just snapped off whole plants (leaves, stalk, rapini and all) and bunched them! You can prepare collards as you would kale, except that it often does require a little longer cooking time. Traditionally, people would boil their collards for an extended period in broth or salty water. We prefer cooking in a pan with butter. We do put in broth at first and cover the pan to help cook the greens (we do this with winter kale and cabbage too), then remove the cover and let the liquid boil off and the softer greens saute. I also sometimes enjoy chopping collards fine in a food processor and mixing with finely chopped carrots and other vegetables to make a chopped salad.
  • Chard
  • Red Russian kale — From the greenhouse! Long tender leaves.
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Leeks

And this week’s extra goodies from the farm:

  • Eggs — We’ve got more eggs this week! Still not a huge spring flush, but we look forward to selling more eggs to more people. They’re so good! $6/dozen
  • Pork — Roasts are $8/lb; pork chops and hams are $12/lb.
  • Lamb — Roasts and ground lamb are $8/lb; chops are $12/lb.
  • Ground beef — $8/lb
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

Farming & writing

A photo from the farm archive: me (Katie) writing in our first farm "office" -- a shed on the land we rented in 2006. I composed many an early blog post with that laptop propped on bins of seeds!

From the farm archive: me (Katie) writing in our first farm “office” — a shed on the land we rented in 2006. I composed many an early blog post with that laptop propped on plastic totes full of seeds!

In case you’ve wondered, this moment — RIGHT NOW — is a highlight of my week. The moment when I sit down with my laptop, upload a few photos from the week, and begin to turn our experiences into a little story or essay to share with our lovely community of eaters. I love the ritual of it — looking at Casey’s handwritten (ahem, scrawled) note of this week’s vegetables and pausing to ponder what tips folks might appreciate as they turn these freshly harvested items into their week’s meals.

At this point in my life, writing these weekly newsletters is the bulk of my regular writing experience. I’ve come to view it as a practice of the best sort — a dedicated routine that keeps me doing something I love but might otherwise let slip in the midst of life’s pressures and endless ‘to do’ lists.

As we pick up new CSA members each year, the genesis of our farm slips farther into the past, and many of the new crowd know Casey and me only as the 30-something-farmers-with-cute-kids we are today. But of course, we grew into these roles. Ten years ago this month, we were embarking on this adventure, leaving behind the life we’d had in Bellingham, Washington, where we had been students, teachers, and farm workers (as well as studio-apartment-dwellers, food-co-op-shoppers, and frequent-burrito-eaters).

Before we moved, we had the privilege of completing Master’s degrees, and mine was in creative nonfiction writing (Casey’s was in ecology). Having that degree under my belt doesn’t necessarily mean that I am a great writer, but it does mean that I once upon a time took my writing very seriously and spent a good amount of time getting better at it with the help of fabulous mentors! An experience for which I am grateful! In fact, my gratitude for that experience grows the more perspective I have. Those early years of adulthood were so packed with growth that it is really only now that I can begin to unpack all the lessons we were gifted in a few years of life.

Back then, the world seemed like our oyster, of course. I look back on who Casey and I were when we moved to Oregon, and I remember how the world seemed so open. We were scared, of course — terrified! We were seeking to settle down and commit to something — to a new way of life, to a new endeavor, to a new community — and it was thrilling to think of the potentials but also nerve-wracking to give up all the other possibilities we could have pursued at that point in our life. To commit to one thing requires giving up others — in our case: further graduate studies, other careers and places to live.

We haven’t spent much time dwelling on the “what ifs” since starting the farm. This life has been so consuming in its demands on our presence and attention, and it has been so fulfilling too. But, of course, who doesn’t sometimes wonder about all those other paths? Especially when there was true love and passion there too.

With starting the farm and having kids, writing has been something that I have definitely pushed to the back burner. I’ve chosen this worn out metaphor on purpose, because I think it’s very appropriate here. The back burner isn’t a place where things stop cooking — those pots aren’t removed from the stove and allowed to cool off completely, forgotten. The back burner is where we put soup that we want to let simmer for hours and hours before dinner so that their flavors will be improved as they only can through the slow work of time.

For a few years (mostly before we had kids, as if that isn’t so obvious), I did keep writing and publishing a little bit — mostly farming articles and essays. But, my primary writing in the last ten years has definitely been this newsletter, my 45 essays a year that get published with essentially no revision on our little blog, read by our immediate community. A satisfying practice to me, but certainly a different publishing road than the one I was trained for in graduate school.

In recent years, I started telling friends that I know no longer considered myself a “Writer,” and I really meant it. It wasn’t a defensive stance so much as a helpful way for me to let go of old ideas about what I “should” be writing and where or how I should publish. Letting go of that assigned role allowed me to better appreciate the very hard work and dedication others have put into prioritizing writing as their craft in ways I have chosen not to do. Letting go of that role also allowed me to whole heartedly embrace other ways of spending my time that have felt rejuvenating to my spirit as I try to balance the mother-farmer roles of my life with other creative pursuits. Specifically I found that singing with a women’s choir became a more important use of my free time than sitting alone in my office on my computer! For me, connecting in that way with a community of women was a better balance for the sometimes isolating parts of rural life.

But, in the meantime, that big pot of soup has been on the back burner, tended by me as I continue this still beloved weekly practice of writing the newsletter. I don’t exactly know what the destiny of that big pot of writerly soup will be, but I have faith that my patience will produce something delicious. Or, to borrow a metaphor I got from Oregon novelist Ursula LeGuin (who I believe picked it up from Gary Snyder?), the writing life can also be thought of as a compost pile — a big, beautiful compost pile that will eventually produce the fertility for a vibrant garden full of color and flavor. But first, it needs a lot of different materials (experiences) added and allowed to break down together over time. If I remember correctly, in sharing this metaphor, LeGuin was making a case for not expecting to write much of excellence before 40.

Incidentally, I heard LeGuin talk at the first ever McMinnville Terroir Writing Festival back in 2010. I listened to LeGuin while standing in the back, rocking a sleeping baby on my chest. Many years have gone by since then, and the festival is still going strong and will happen again this April (registration happening now!). I have only attended again once since that first year, but I love watching this festival from a distance and appreciating all the writers who dedicate their time to connecting and learning from each other (and producing fabulous poems, books, articles, and more for all of us to enjoy!).

And, perhaps to everyone’s culinary benefit (I hope anyway!), I did finally really truly get started on that Big Writing Project that has been simmering away for the better part of two years now. The cookbook is finally really in progress! I think I first mentioned this book at the end of 2014 as a possibility, but it has taken this long for me to really wrap my head around the details — the tone and scope of the project. If you’re wondering what it might be like, look no further than these newsletters. You’ll hear a lot of my voice in the cookbook, sharing my passion for cooking fresh veggies in simple ways, just as I’ve done almost every week for the last ten years!

We’ll see how much I can compel myself to sit alone with my computer (beyond this valued weekly occasion), but I feel excited about how it is going so far. Books are Big Things, even when they’re just CSA cookbooks written by a farmer! So, I know better than to make any guesses about finish dates or much more beyond announcing that I am excited to be writing it! It’s a book that I want to exist, which I think is one of the best motivators. And working on it is enjoyable — the second best motivator.

And, now it’s time for me to bring my weekly writing ritual to a close. After a mostly dry harvest day, the rain is pounding on the metal roof outside the window as the world grows darker and darker gray. Casey and the kids are downstairs finishing the day, cleaning up the living room, setting the table for dinner, looking at an atlas together (a favorite pastime around these parts). I am excited to join them and to taste the fruits of the day alongside family I cherish. Here we are in the life we chose a decade ago, in the house we built, eating food we’ve grown. And, lucky me, I get to write about it.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

P.S. You need at least one cute farm kid photo this week. How about kids grazing on extra pea plants starts in the hot house? They sure eat a lot of fresh veggies this way:

Yum!

Yum!

~ ~ ~

Next CSA payment is coming up on March 17! This coming week I will email everyone a statement and reminder of what you owe, so watch your inbox! Please let me know if you have any questions about your account balance or payment history.

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Apples
  • Radishes! — Many items from the greenhouses this week, including the first of the season’s radishes. These round, red gems used to be the mark of spring for us, since they are consistently the first item we can harvest from spring sown crops. This is because small red cherry radishes are ready to harvest about 22 days after sowing! That’s like instant food! (Ok, not really, but in crop times it is.) It’s definitely not spring yet, but the radishes have won the race again. These are mild flavored, but the heat does build up in your mouth if you sit and eat several plain and raw (as I did as a snack after lunch today). They make a beautiful salad topping, sliced into little circles and sprinkled over lettuce.
  • Bok choy — Bok choy is another on of those faster early season crops that does great in the early cool season but just can’t handle the hot summers (radishes are the same). This makes it a special item to enjoy in these early months. Bok choy is an Asian green, somewhat related to mustard greens and turnips. When it is tender, it can be chopped and dressed as a salad, but traditionally it was cooked — often stir fried with yummy sauces (think soy sauce, ginger, and sesame oil) or chopped and added to brothy soups.
  • Head lettuce
  • Marina di Chioggia winter squash
  • Butternut winter squash
  • Mustard rapini
  • Purple sprouting “broccoli” — These tiny broccoli florets have more in common with rapini than with what you might picture as big summer broccoli heads. But the flavor is all broccoli (with a purple tint!) and they’re delicious added to stir fries.
  • Kale rapini — Kale rapini is going to have a very similar flavor and texture to the purple broccoli. They would be delicious chopped and stir-fried. Try a combination of bok choy, kale rapini, and carrots!
  • Red Russian kale
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Leeks

And this week’s extra goodies from the farm:

  • Eggs — $6/dozen
  • Pork — Roasts are $8/lb; pork chops and hams are $12/lb.
  • Lamb — Roasts and ground lamb are $8/lb; chops are $12/lb.
  • Ground beef — $8/lb
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | 2 Comments

A wild(ish) winter’s walk

Heading out on a Saturday morning walk ...

Heading out on a Saturday morning walk …

This last Saturday morning, the sun came out and we all felt like going on an adventure together. Sometimes, our adventures take us far(ther) away from home, but we all wanted to explore our place on this day and decided to walk a circuit along the edge of our home field and out to a distant spot on our rented land where in previous seasons we’ve seen a red tail hawk nesting.

First stop on our walk: two of our four high tunnels, all closed up for maximum February warmth inside.

First stop on our walk: two of our four high tunnels, all closed up for maximum February warmth inside.

We began by visiting one of our high tunnels (which I talked about at length in last week’s newsletter). Late last week, Casey planted out the first of this year’s zucchini plants and wanted me to share in his excitement over a full and growing greenhouse.

Yes, it WAS exciting indeed.

Yes, it WAS exciting indeed.

So many rows of growing plants!

So many rows of growing plants!

Outside the greenhouse, I said hello to our farm cat Mokum, who was hanging out in one of our orchards.

A nine year old cat in a six year old orchard ... we've been here a while now!

A nine year old cat in a six year old orchard … we’ve been here a while now!

Mokum wanted a better view. After saying hello to all of us, he joined us for the rest of our very long walk.

Mokum wanted a better view. After saying hello to all of us, he joined us for the rest of our very long walk.

Next, we wandered down to the first orchard we planted (back in early 2009).

Along the way, Rusty spotted a deer track. We've seen tracks along the creek at the edge of our fields regularly lately.

Along the way, Rusty spotted a deer track. We’ve seen tracks along the creek at the edge of our fields regularly lately.

We also appreciated the green of our over-wintered cover crop. This field is where we plant the majority of this year's vegetables crops.

We also appreciated the green of our over-wintered oat cover crop. This field is where we plant the majority of this year’s vegetables crops.

At the orchard, we checked on the earliest plum blossoms. They were bulging and looking ready to burst open. By now, there’s lots of open white blossoms on these trees, but on Saturday they were just on the verge.

Just a day or two away from blooming!

Just a day or two away from blooming!

If we needed more signs of spring’s presence, we found it as we headed back around the corner to our land on the other side of the creek — we found some random daffodils growing in the hedge along the creek!

These felt like a special treasure to find!

These felt like a special treasure to find!

At our land next door, we found ourselves going deeper into that vibrant gray area between carefully cultivated fields and the wilderness. Those fields are farther away from any human homes and are rich with plant and animal lives who live at the edges or, in some cases, right in the middle.

We have often found frog eggs in these large puddles left by receding flood waters in the middle of our field. We didn't find any eggs here on this trip ...

We have often found frog eggs in these large puddles left by receding flood waters in the middle of our field. We didn’t find any eggs here on this trip …

... but we did find a frog. Frog eggs to be coming soon, I'm sure.

… but we did find a frog. Frog eggs to be coming soon, I’m sure.

Ever since we expanded our acreage, we’ve been on a journey to figure out exactly how to best steward 100 acres of land. Our ideas of how that goal fits into our farm’s business have evolved and are still evolving. But without a doubt, we love knowing that all of this land is now organic and that our farming practices have allowed more and more wildness to move into this space that is now free of chemicals and free from monoculture agriculture. Diversity teems.

Any single hour spent outside, three or four different kinds of raptors may fly overhead. Over the entire year our farm is visited regularly by Red Tail Hawks, Bald Eagles, Osprey, Kestrels, Harriers, Cooper’s Hawks, and Turkey Vultures (and many types of owls at night). All the smaller birds delight our ears with their calls all day long.

As we continued our walk, we saw two more signs of important land-bound animals that make our farm part of their bigger home.

Coyote tracks! Or so we assume, since we don't have a dog and we regularly hear coyote calling at night.

Coyote tracks! Or so we assume, since we don’t have a dog and we regularly hear coyote calling at night. Winter mud has been so great for seeing tracks on the farm.

And, as we looked up, we saw a deer running through the field far ahead of us, just below where we hoped to spot the Red Tail Hawk nest.

At this point, the wildness was starting to do its work on the kids, who waded deep into our search for frog eggs in puddles.

We did find a few amphibian eggs of some kind in these larger puddles, but they were in ones or twos rather than large masses — easy to miss in the sediment.

We did find a few amphibian eggs of some kind in these larger puddles, but they were in ones or twos rather than large masses — easy to miss in the sediment.

I found myself inspired too. Not to take off my shoes, but just to breathe deeper and more fully. How can I not feel inspired on a day such as this, surrounded by this beauty?

Breathtaking!

Breathtaking!

We’ve come to appreciate how essential these intersections are between agriculture and the wilderness. The scrubby areas at all the edges provide essential stable habitat, but our fields provide a dynamic kind of habitat for many smaller animals as well as food sources for insects, small mammals and all the larger life that feed on those. At times, we’re tempted to just let it all “go wild,” but ultimately I don’t think that’s the answer. Continuing to farm this space, with the wild in mind, can promote more life, more diversity. Always, those other lives and the vibrancy of the wider natural world are in the forefront of our mind as we choose how and where we farm on our land — how we work fields and when and to what extent. What we plant. What we [don’t] spray.

We spotted the nest, by the way. We didn’t get too close, because we want the hawk to stay, and we’re guessing that spot was chosen because of how far away it is from the likes of us. But we put out a picnic blanket and the kids ate a snack, surrounded by our open scraggly fields.

Winter is definitely a high point for wildness out here in the fields. Our presence as farmers is less obviously visible to the eye, even though we know how much of what we see has very much been shaped by our actions over recent seasons — the vast expanses of forage that we carefully seeded years ago and will be mowing and chopping this year. And, just a few hundred feet to the north of the nesting site, we reentered another more typical human landscape as we visited our third (and most recently planted) orchard. Here we found blossoms already open on our peaches.

Then we were hungry for lunch and headed back to our home, the kids still barefoot and enjoying every puddle along the way.

Puddles!

It’s only so long until our kids shed their shoes.

Our house greeted us with a hammock smile as we walked under the still leafless Black Walnut tree outside. Spring felt so present and even as we passed under those bare branches.

We've hardly touched our wood pile this mild winter, even though our woodstove is our only source of heat.

We’ve hardly touched our wood pile this mild winter, even though our woodstove is our only source of heat.

I made a mental note to refill our bird feeders by the house so we could enjoy more of our beloved wildness even closer to home.

What a place we live in! What joy our work is! On weeks such as this, when mild weather invites to truly savor our time outside we cannot imagine living anywhere else or doing anything else.

And, of course, it doesn’t end at the borders of our farm. Inspiring wildness abounds in our part of the world. Just this week, the kids and I went on a happy hike at Baskett Slough, and we spotted so many blooming trees in well tended yards and scrubby hedges all along the drive. We hope that you have been savoring all these late winter delights yourself — raptors and blooming trees and more.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Apples
  • Salad mix! — Casey made a salad mix for you all that is a mix of field grown over-wintered greens and tender greenhouse grown greens. It contains endive, spinach, and cabbage rapini. These greens all offer different flavors and textures from lettuce (but none of them are spicy or bitter). We love these winter salads. I recommend trying a creamy dressing and dress before serving up. Just pouring the dressing over the greens at the table won’t have quite the same effect as thoroughly coating all the leaves by tossing in a bowl. I usually use my [clean] hands to do this!
  • Butternut squash
  • Marina di Chioggia winter squash
  • Turnip & mustard rapini
  • Red Russian kale
  • Mustard greens
  • Chard
  • Rutabaga
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Leeks

And this week’s extra goodies from the farm:

  • Eggs — $6/dozen
  • Pork — Roasts and ground pork are $8/lb; pork chops and hams are $12/lb.
  • Lamb — Roasts and ground lamb are $8/lb; chops are $12/lb.
  • Ground beef — $8/lb
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | 2 Comments