Lately, as I tend our new sweet (quickly growing) baby Dottie, I often have the same thought on my mind: is our little farm family now complete? I realize that this is not really the time to decide such things, especially since we want Dottie to have her own long babyhood, full of lots of attention from Mama and family. But, it’s hard to not wonder as I nurse her to sleep whether this is the last time I will nurse a baby this small. And, since we are always making long term plans for the farm, it makes sense to wonder there too — what would be a good year for welcoming another round of sweet baby chaos into our farm life?
Dottie’s presence in our farm family has been such an unexpected joy. I’m sure that sounds a bit silly, because babies are of course amazing love-filled creatures. But last year, amidst all the stress, I mostly carried around fear with me. Fear of how things would change for our family; fear about Rusty’s upcoming transition to being a brother; fear about how a new baby would affect my ability to hold up my end of the farm; fear about money if we needed to transfer to the hospital (which of course we did) … I think the stress of the season made it hard for me to keep my thoughts positive, and so I often found myself in dark places when I thought about the baby growing in my belly. I often worried that birth and baby were like ticking time bombs in our life — everything would explode in chaos upon baby’s arrival.
And, they kind of did. For a while, anyway — between the hard birth, the challenge of an understaffed farm, and Casey’s melanoma and surgery, we had two very hard months. An old friend stayed with us this weekend, and we were reflecting on the unexpected death of a mutual friend last September. Casey and I learned of his passing in the midst of all our own difficulties, and it struck me extremely hard — why, why, why? Our visiting friend said that he felt as though there was a wave of chaos that passed over the universe last fall, affecting many people he knew (including himself). We heartily agreed.
Now that Dottie is getting bigger and so vibrant and wonderful, it makes me sad to think of the negativity that surrounded her growth in my belly and early days. There was so much sadness, worry, stress … And, yet, today she has so many smiles and is the most delightful creature! I am truly amazed that she came out as sweet and happy as she did — it seems that her spirit was much stronger than mine last year. Rather than being a “bomb” in our life, she has been a “balm,” bringing so much warmth, peace, and joy.
Even Rusty loves little Dottie, and as he and I play with her, it’s hard for me to not picture another little baby in the future. I have images of children tumbling over each other in our fields, racing up and down the paths of sugar snap peas in the spring, and piled on top of each other by the fire on these cold winter days.
When I have these daydreams and ponderings, I still get those twinges of fear of the unknown — fear of these big life changes that do radically shake everything about our life into new shapes and forms. Dottie’s birth confirmed how significant it is to bring a new life into the world. So, the fear lingers. But I also now know that hard things come whether we expect them or not. The things I feared during pregnancy didn’t come to pass exactly as I expected, and instead we dealt with some completely unanticipated challenges (namely Casey’s melanoma and surgery). The same has been true with the farm time and time again — the emergencies we prepare for are not the emergencies that come along. In 2008, when “Snowmaggeden” covered our fields with over a foot of icy snow, we worried about our greenhouses breaking under the weight and our crops freezing out. They both survived the snow, but then we lost our entire over-wintered cauliflower crops to hungry geese that found those tall plants first as the snow melted back down to the ground. And, then our field flooded.
More recently, our current batch of meat bird chicks have reminded us of the inherent unpredictability in everything. Two weeks ago (very soon after their arrival on our farm), the power cord to their brooder lamp was borrowed for another task and forgotten about. Casey neglected to check on the chicks before bed, and after a 30° night, about half the chicks died from the cold. We realized then that we needed a dedicated cord that never got moved, because it’s just too easy to forget such things. Then, over this weekend, the brooder lamp caught the bedding in the brooder on fire! We think it smoldered for several hours, and yet amazingly only three of the remaining chicks died (but the brooder house is toast). Apparently being too hot is less of a problem than being too cold. And, we are going to be building a new brooder here shortly.
We didn’t expect either of these occasions with the chicks, and yet in retrospect we learned a lot about how to avoid them happening again. (For the record, we’ve brooded lots of chicks without incident!) As hard as it is, we wouldn’t have the same understanding of what we need to do without having actually lived through these things.
So, as I grow older, I’m realizing that my worries take up a lot of energy without preventing much. The universe always has surprises for us, as individuals, a family, and a farm. As I mentioned in one of last fall’s newsletters, I have stopped praying to avoid such challenges, but instead pray for the strength to handle them.
And, fortunately, life delivers us challenges in seasons. Last year (and especially last fall) was a particularly hard season for us. These last few weeks are not without surprises (such as the fire in the brooder house!), but we are in a different season of our life. The tone of everything has shifted, and I can tell you with all honesty that our days contain infinitely more effortless laughter and fun — both in our house and on the farm as a whole. There are so many reasons for the change, and Dottie is certainly one of them.
Now that we have two children in our life and know the awesome, indescribable love of being parents, we kick ourselves for not starting our family earlier. But, of course, we were pretty busy in the first ten years of our marriage — finishing school, “finding ourselves,” starting the farm … knowing the joy of our life now does make us glad that we started the farm so young. How wonderful to have seven good seasons under our belts already — to have had all the energy and enthusiasm of youth propel us forward on this adventure! Many people wait and wait to live their dreams, only finally dabbling in them upon retirement. What a gift to be fully immersed in the world of farming now.
There’s no doubt that we’ve taken on a lot (especially recently), but our head dive into farming back in 2006 was the right choice. We have eaten the most amazing food, gotten to know our bodies, built community, worked under the sun in the fresh air, rooted ourselves in a place where our children can grow … along the way, fear of the unknown has always been a little fly buzzing in my ear — sometimes louder than others (such as last year). I suppose it’s the flip side of the analytical planning nature of being a farmer — we are always working seasons in advance, and so we ponder all the uncertainty of the future (more babies? inclement weather? Etc etc etc). But, I think, I hope, that I am learning to worry less and rejoice more.
At times such as this, I often turn to poet e. e. cummings, who was so good at capturing profound complex thoughts in the simplest few lines of verse:
“I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.”
Enjoy this week’s vegetables.
Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla
~ ~ ~
This week’s vegetables:
- Chickweed/radicchio salad — This has been our staple salad in our house this week. The green and red combination are gorgeous on the plate. We chop the radicchio up into fine strips and mix it with the chickweed (which is a tender green that grows wild in our fields this time of year). The chickweed is mild but the radicchio has a bitter flavor. We love that bitter, but some people find it strong. If so, we recommend tossing with a slightly sweet and/or creamy dressing and letting it sit for a few minutes before eating.
- Brussels sprouts
- Sunchokes — We do love sunchokes roasted, but lately we’ve been enjoying them most regularly in a “winter cole slaw” or sorts. We clean and chop the sunchokes into fine strips (julienne or chiffonade size) and then do the same with a kohlrabi. We toss the two together with a creamy dressing and eat it as a salad. If we want to make it more of a substantial dish, we sometimes add canned tuna, cheese or nuts as well.