- Our 100-acre farm is located on Grand Island, just south of Dayton, Oregon. We grow vegetables and much more. Thank you for visiting our website!
- All content © Oakhill Organics & Katie Kulla
Back before Rusty joined our life, it was just Casey and me who worked in our farm’s fields (with the occasional help of a friend). As we’d harvest for market or hand weed onions, we always had plenty of time to talk. Sometimes, during these extended conversations, we would play a game we called, “What-the-farm-will-do-when-the-sh*t-hits-the-fan” or “When-fuel-hits-$10/gallon.” We figured those two statements were about equivalent at the time, and we assumed that someday it was highly possible that our farm (along with every other business and household) would be faced with the challenge of energy scarcity.
It was always a lively conversation as we pondered the potential tweaks and noted our existing strengths (relatively close proximity to town) and weaknesses (tractor dependent).
A few years have passed since we had the time to give this topic as much attention as we used to, and in the meantime the farm has evolved quite a bit. If we were to revive the conversation, we would be working with some of the same factors (both those strengths and weaknesses above are still true) but with many new ones thrown in related to animals and scale of our operation.
In a general sense, our farm has five types of energy that contribute to its operation. The first is of course just basic fuel — the diesel, gas, and electricity that we require to operate tractors, vehicles, infrastructure, coolers, and our irrigation wells. When we sometimes have similar conversations with other folks, the inevitable answer they give is “biofuels.” At this point in our experience, we understand some economic principles well enough to know that any equivalent goods go up in price with the scarce ones. Petrol fuels go up? Biofuels will keep pace. So, the cost and availability will probably be equivalent. This point leads us to one conclusion: conservation is really the only answer to possible fuel scarcities — efficiency in all our moving parts.
Besides, we’ve recent had a wake-up to the efficacy of using biofuels. This year we’ve had to have the fuel injectors in both our tractor and our field vehicle rebuilt because of biodiesel use. All the mechanics we’ve ever worked with have cautioned us away from biofuels, but we were insistent, and have always run some kind of bioblend in our farm vehicles (the percentage in the blend varied with the temperature outside since cold weather makes biodiesel gum up). Our main tractor mechanic was very disturbed by the damage the biodiesel had done to our tractor when he looked at it earlier this year. Keeping our equipment in good shape is an important goal, so — alas — we have switched to petrol fuels.
The second form of energy on our farm is embodied energy – that is, the energy that it takes to make and get to us any tools, seeds, etc. that we use. Energy is used at every step of the process — extracting raw materials, refining them, manufacturing goods, shipping them to us (not to mention all the indirect energy used in the associated components of each industry — the lights in the office at the factory, etc). Presumably, as energy costs go up, the cost of goods will go up too. Again, for us, this would become a question of priorities and conservation. In this case, conservation also includes giving our current equipment the longest lifespan possible. Complicated pieces of equipment such as our tractor represent huge amounts of embodied energy, so it is worth it to us to keep them running well for decades and decades. Hence switching to petrol diesel.
The third form of energy on our farm is human labor. If you scanned the fields on our farm, it’d be easy to recognize the fuel-based needs of things like our tractor and machinery, but all those living, breathing people also represent enormous energy costs — just the fuel for the daily commute from town adds up quickly, not to mention all the other energy costs associated with each employee’s household. In an energy scarcity type of situation, I imagine that all households would require cut-backs, ours and our employees’ included. Perhaps more of our employees would live on the farm in very simple dwellings. Hard to know. Sometimes it’s easy to think that in a true energy scarcity scenario, we’d lean more heavily on human labor, but realistically it would take hundreds of people working full-time to replace the productive potential of one tractor operating part-time. The only way to make that scenario “pencil out” is slave labor (which is, of course, historically how many societies accomplished big feats of agriculture or building). Not an option in any sense. So, we imagine that our farm would always budget for some mechanized labor and continue to use human labor for the things that make sense (i.e. humans harvesting by hand, as we do now, but not turning the ground).
The fourth type of energy on our farm is animal power. Now wait, don’t get too excited. We don’t have draft horses on our farm. But, our animals do contribute work to the farm, specifically by grazing our fields for us — in place of or in conjunction with our tractor’s mower. They also help irrigate our pastures by moving water from their trough and distributing it all over the ground in the form of urine. These are not insignificant contributions, and the longer we have animals on the farm, the more we appreciate the role they play in keeping our systems healthy and strong. But, of course, they also take energy to manage too, mostly in the form of human labor. We move our animals to new ground daily, and doing so takes several hours of work every day. Overall, however, I’d say that most of our animals contribute more energy to the farm than they take, especially the grass eaters (sheep and cows) require no or very little other feed or supplements.
(As an aside, I should note that poultry is actually very energy intensive to produce for food at every point. Individual birds require more energy at every stage of life and death — heat lamps for brooding, daily rations of grain feed, and individual slaughtering. Even though we produce our own animal feed, we still consider chickens to be very “expensive” to produce, since their grain feed has to be combined, stored, and then milled. In contrast, our sheep and cows eat grass in place. Also, slaughtering birds is a time intensive project — recently, it took four of us four hours to process 44 meat chickens. Meanwhile, a sheep or pig can be slaughtered and butchered by one person in one hour and provides more overall meat and represents only one death. Interesting food for thought for us farmers and eaters.)
The last form of energy on our farm is the best — the source that is the origin of all life and all energy and is free and continual. The sun. The sun makes the grass grow to feed our animals. It makes the trees grow to produce our fruit. It makes the vegetables grow. And all other life flows from photosynthesis. In any conversation we have about our farm’s viability, resiliency, and profitability into the future, we always come back to the sun. How can make best — direct — use of this miracle? As I wrote about in a prior newsletter, grass is a big answer for us. We believe that grass can feed the world, and we are happy to have a large percentage of our 100+ acre farm in pasture to feed our animals.
All kinds of perennial plants can be powerful in this way — trees included. They capture that sunlight (along with free carbon in the atmosphere) and turn it into stored energy. Energy is stored in the tree’s parts — the leaves (which may fall to fertilize the ground), the fruit, the wood (which may eventually be used to heat a home or a necessary object) …
But even annual crops such as vegetables can be powerful users of the sun. I am amazed at the ability of a single tiny seed (the size of a pinhead) to grow into a ten lbs winter storage cabbage. With a bit of fertility, water, and human labor, that seed produces a true miracle of transformation. Of course, we need to be careful when growing annual crops to preserve the topsoil and keep green stuff growing (cover crops and such), or else any gains are lost when the wind blows away soil in the winter wind. Erosion is, of course, just one of the Big Problems of annual commodity crop production today (including the production of biofuels).
I imagine that these feats of the sun’s magic excite biofuel promoters as well. But, for me, efficiency is all about keeping the end product close to the source — the sun. So, perhaps biofuels (and solar power) will be part of a future solution to energy scarcity, but I wonder if all the smarties in the world are over-thinking and missing the existing solutions (plants as plants) and creating new problems (erosion). I don’t think we will find shortcuts to get around a energy scarcity — everything ultimately requires energy, and a scarcity will mean less. But life will continue, yes? I’m certainly no expert on these incredibly complex types of problems, but from our vantage point on the farm, we lean toward existing simple biological solutions to future challenges.
Grass and trees. They may not fuel our tractor, but they can certainly reduce our need to operate our tractor. And they can fill our bellies and heat our homes. I imagine that in that possible future scenario of scarcity, our simple needs will become our highest priorities. Perhaps they should be now too. And, perhaps, along with solving those puzzles of practical existence, we should consider what other forms of joy can be in our life — laughter derived from play as a means of joy rather than expensive consumerism. I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir here, but these are always useful reminders to our family as well. Even living way out here on our 100 acres of farmland, we can lose track of our grounding amidst the busyness of daily life. What is our center? What fuels our souls? These are the question of every generation and will continue to be. Hopefully any new era of energy will bring positive answers as we perhaps have to embrace an existence of less.
But, in the meantime, it is the season of more on the farm. Could we feed the world with zucchini? It certainly seems like it at times. Oh, how that summer sun makes things grow! Enjoy this week’s vegetables!
Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla
~ ~ ~
Meet this week’s vegetables:
- Red plums
- Cut lettuce mix
- Summer squash & zucchini
- Green onions
As each year passes in my life, annual patterns and rhythms reveal themselves to me in greater detail here on the farm. This year, I am realizing that there is a bit of a funk to August.
People talk about “lazy Summer days,” most often referring to this time of year. As my friend Sheila noted in her blog last week, that phrase doesn’t really apply to farm life. Here on our farm, we are as busy as ever with the weekly summer routines of harvest for our customers, tending (and irrigating) the fields, and caring for animals.
And yet, I think I can still relate to parts of that phrase. While we might not have the luxury to be lazy ourselves, the world around us seems to be paused in a way. The flies and yellow jackets may be buzzing in the hot air, but the birds are quieter than earlier in the year, done now with mating and seeking shade. And, the flowers are gone from the wild world, only to be found in gardens.
Most fields around us have already been harvested and are sitting dry, brown, and spent looking. Wild trees and plants that aren’t receiving the benefit of irrigation water have begun the slow process to dormancy — some leaves already turning, from drought rather than cold. Weeds that weren’t caught earlier in the season are maturing and sending forth their seeds into the air. I drive through the county and readily spot Canadian thistle down in many perennial fields — a sight to make any farmer cringe a bit, knowing just how much work those seeds represent for years to come.
This is the season of maturation rather than growth — plants have grown up and are now going through the phases of finishing their life, maturing fruit and setting seeds. Just as with humans in adolescence, it is awkward.
And, the dust. Some days, when the air is still and warm, and tractors work up fields for fall, the sky is tinged brown on top of the blue. There are days when it is so thick that I find myself slightly holding my own breath, joining in that feeling around me. It feels as though we are all waiting just right now — waiting for the seed to set, for the fall rains to arrive, for things to begin swinging into motion again. I have to remind myself to breathe deep, that this pause is too long for me to really hold on.
We’ve heard from other farmers that this is also the month when farmers and their employees can turn cranky. I suppose it’s only natural given all that I described above. And, in the rhythm of our year of work, this is also a pause — not entirely, given how busy we are with the regular work, but it is that inhalation just before another burst of new work: fall harvests. Novelty is always inspiring, even if it is just part of a cycle, and those harvests will certainly wake us up out of our heat and dust induced doldrums. New motions and tasks will enter our days again, making our ‘to do’ list longer and more interesting than right now. And, eventually, a few of those early refreshing rains will turn the world green again and bring some peace and restfulness to the schedule too.
But, August brings its joys too. Most notably, the joy that comes will all those fruits that are maturing on those gangly over-grown plants — the tomato planting itself may not be as pristine and perfect looking as earlier in the season, but the tomatoes on those plants are as delightful as jewels and as delicious as anything. I put up our first batch of tomato sauce last week and marveled at just how excited I am about eating it this winter. “What is it about tomatoes?” I wondered. How can a can of tomato sauce so radically transform any stew from normal to extraordinary? Especially as the rain falls in the dark sky in November or December.
I hope to get many more batches done before the tomatoes slow down in September. We can never put up enough, it seems, but this year I aim to try. We’ll see. (Of course, a kitchen made hot and steamy from canning is part of the challenge of August, but it is so worth it.)
So, yes, the food. Soon to follow the tomatoes will be the eggplant and peppers. The winter squash are maturing too. Tomorrow, we will harvest the onions for winter storage. Our fruit trees are full of sized up fruit that is now gathering its sweetness from the late summer sun. We picked our first pears and apples last week for storage. That shift to the excitement of harvest is here, just not yet in full force. Again, there is a sense of that holding of breath, just waiting for those carrots to size up for fall harvest, for those apples to sweeten, for the onions to dry …
This year, we unintentionally found a way to plow through the normal August doldrums by bringing some fun excitement (and extra work) to our farm life. Our family hosted CSA members on the farm this Saturday for a sit-down dinner of farm foods. We harvested the food and organized the dinner, and Jason and Laurie Furch from Red Fox took care of the cooking. It was a lovely evening that required us and all of our crew to snap out of any kind of lazy August haze we might have wanted to wallow in and really shake our buns, move, and have some fun. The result was pure magic and worth every moment of sweat and effort that went into. Thank you to everyone who joined us for a delicious dinner.
We know that in many people’s annual rhythms another big shift is coming up as well: the start of school is just around the corner for students and teachers. In these remaining days of summer life, we hope that you can enjoy the unique pleasures of this season — because as much as we may yearn for fall, the wet rainy season is long. This is it. Suck the marrow out of this summer so that you go into the next season warm all the way to your bones in a way that will carry you through to the next one. Perhaps some tomatoes in your pantry can help too.
Enjoy this week’s vegetables!
Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla
~ ~ ~
Meet this week’s vegetables:
- Red russian kale
- Summer squash
This weekend, I spent some time making a fall meal rotation for our household. I’ve tried to do this before and quickly stopped following along, because our diet just didn’t fit a rotation format (or so I thought). It was too seasonal, changing all the time, and there were pieces that just didn’t make sense in that format. But in the last year, our eating habits have simplified a lot. We have a few “formulas” for meals that we mix up by changing the kind of vegetables, meat, and flavorings.
I thought I’d share some of our standard “formulas” since we eat a lot of vegetables in our house, and folks are always look for ideas. By the way, by “a lot,” I mean heaps and loads. The main task when I prepare dinner is chopping. All those vegetables. Chopping chopping chopping. Stir stir stir. Chop some more.
Our diet may also be of interest because we don’t eat what some call a “Standard American Diet.” To be specific, we don’t eat any grains, few carbohydrates (aside from veggies and a bit of fruit), sugar, or processed foods (which we would say include things like vegetable oils, except for olive oil). Also, we flaunt current conventional wisdom by eating a lot of fat — we aim to have fat and carbohydrates from vegetables make up our bodies’ fuel sources (rather than carbohydrates from grains and sugars, as is the case in the Standard American Diet — you can read more about this difference here and here). Our basic combination at any meal is fat (butter, lard, etc.), heaps of vegetables (TONS!), and an animal protein (some kind of meat, wild caught fish, or eggs). It’s been fun to shift more of our diet to farm grown foods along with our Full Diet CSA members, and our diet helps us feature those items on our plates. Seriously, we feel like we are eating the best parts of our old diet (which had a lot of grains as filler). It’s awesome.
So, here’s how we eat, for those interested in the culinary lives of two farmers and their kids (who eat a variant on our food).
Breakfast: Eggs with cooked greens. Casey makes this meal and he mixes up how he cooks the eggs and what kind of greens. So, one day we might have fried eggs on cooked chard and the next scrambled eggs on cooked kale. We also drink coffee that is half very dark coffee and half heavy cream.
Snacks: Casey and I rarely snack anymore, but the kids do. Snacks around here usually consist of seasonal fruit, often eaten as we pick it. Nuts are a hit too. And yogurt.
Lunch: My goal is to have lunch consist entirely of leftovers, so something reheated from dinner the night before, plus leftover salad (see below for more info on bulk salad). Since this is time when I’m usually with the kids by myself, it’s just too hard to cook an elaborate meal from scratch (which is how we like to eat), so leftovers are awesome. Many of our meals taste better a day later anyway.
Dinner: Like I said above, our meals consist of fat, veggies, and animal protein. I try to have a cooked stew-like thing (usually with cooked greens again) and a raw salad or roasted vegetable. For our rotation, I have eight meals that we switch through for our dinners (making enough for leftovers). I have them listed with basic ingredients, which gives me a starting point, and then the day before, I start thinking about specifics — are we going to eat lamb or pork? What kind of vegetables do we have leftover from the CSA? Etc.
- Tuna/chard/coconut milk/curry + seasonal salad
- Fish or quick cooking meat + seasonal salad + roasted veggies
- Meat/kale/tomatoes/corn/chili powder + seasonal salad
- Meat/kale/butter + roasted veggies
- Seasonal vegetable stew with meat (no greens) + seasonal salad
- Paleo spaghetti (meat/cabbage) + roasted veggies
- Meat/greens/ginger/sesame/soy + seasonal salad
- Liver burgers + seasonal salad or roasted veggies
Usually we garnish these dishes with fresh soft cheese that Casey makes or some other kind of seasonal dressing (like pesto with lots of olive oil). In the winter, we like to garnish with sauerkraut too.
There are a few items here worth describing further, because they are staples in our diet.
Cooked greens: Neither of us grew up eating cooked greens, and it’s something that took time to love. Now these make up the base of our diet. Seriously, if we travel away from home, we can often find meat and other things to eat that we like, but we miss our greens! It’s the first thing we want to eat when we return! Many of our meals start with cooked greens, to which we may add other seasonal vegetables for fun. We feel like we’ve perfected greens (for our tastes and preferences). I’ve described this before, but it’s worth describing again for those who may have missed it:
We start by putting one stick of butter in a pan. If we’re going to make enough for leftovers, we might put two sticks of butter. (Or equivalent of other sources of fat, like lard or coconut oil.) Next, we add chopped greens. For one meal, we might eat two bunches of greens. For a meal plus leftovers, I might cook three or four (or more!) bunches of greens. Depends on the green and how much it cooks down, plus the bunch size. I have a big stainless steel sauté pan I use (5.5 quart) for this. I stir the greens and then add some bone broth. The way we cook our meats often leaves us with good drippings and broth, and this has become an almost miraculous addition to our greens cooking. We used to just sauté them in oil or butter, but now we’re able to really wilt them, plus we get to eat all the good stuff that is in bone broth. Also, the flavor. Oh, the flavor. By cooking with broth at almost every meal, we have finally mastered umami. Between the butter and the broth, our meals are as savory and satisfying as any restaurant meal we’ve ever eaten (which often get their flavor from broths and stocks and fat).
But, back to the greens. I’ll put the lid on to let the greens start to wilt, and then I leave it off for the remainder of cooking. I generally cook on medium-high, stirring frequently and keeping a close eye on everything to make sure the stock doesn’t boil off without me noticing. The goal is to evaporate most of the stock, leaving behind all that flavor and goodness in the greens. The butter helps keep the greens from burning at the end. I vary how dry I let it get depending on my goal — a little more liquid, and I may call it a stew (especially if I’ve added liquid-rich veggies like summer squash and tomatoes). Less liquid and the greens (especially cabbage and onions) will caramelize a bit at the end and be super delicious! Watch it at the end though and take the pan off heat or turn it way down!!!
So, we eat a lot of this stuff. Rapini in the spring, kale and chard in the summer, cabbage in the fall, chopped Brussels sprouts in the winter. We mix it up, and it is awesome.
Seasonal salads: This is a new addition to our repertoire. We’ve never been huge salad eaters, in part because they take longer to eat and are generally less filling and we’re always rushed (either by work or children). Don’t get the wrong idea, we are extremely blessed that our family eats three sit-down meals made from scratch every day together. These meals are important times for us to connect before scattering in the morning, reconnect mid-day, and then reconnect again at the end of the day. We consider them sacred times. But reality check: they are sacred times that often have a child complaining about the food or another one dumping water on the floor — we try! So, we can’t linger over our meals for an hour like the French apparently do. We gather; we eat; we quickly commune; we get going again. So, salads that take longer to eat and leave us hungry aren’t as useful. I’m an especially slow eater and have a small mouth, making leaves hard for me to eat quickly!
But, lately I have started making what I call “seasonal salads.” They’re really just “chopped” salads — everything that goes in the bowl is first run through our food processor and chopped pretty fine. Then I make a dressing with our immersion blender and stir it all up with my hands. I find these salads to be incredibly satisfying. They are easier for me to eat and can store in the fridge for a few days (and get better as things continue to wilt and flavors blend). I make a habit of making a big batch at once, which we can eat for three or four meals alongside our warm food. Of course, super tender greens like lettuce don’t work here, but many other vegetables and fruits do. Here are some ingredients that can go into a chopped seasonal salad:
- Russian kale
- Dino kale
- Zucchini (dry flesh types)
- Tomatoes (chopped)
To add more protein and make it a meal, you could also stir in some leftover chicken or canned salmon or chopped cheese. We’ve done this for meals we eat away from home.
I can vary the flavor through the dressings too by using different oils or vinegars or adding other flavors. For example, I might blend olive oil with red wine vinegar and just add salt and pepper. For another salad I might use walnut oil with apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper and garlic (blended together).
Roasted vegetables: We don’t eat salads every day. It’s nice to mix it up! Plus, we love love love roasted vegetables of all kinds (the kids especially love this preparation method), so we eat these at dinner a few days per week too. We rarely have enough for leftovers though, because we can easily eat an entire pan of veggies at one meal. Roasting vegetables is one of the easier ways to prepare them, but it takes a bit of planning because it takes longer than some methods. We chop our vegetables in even sized pieces (I like them small so there are more edges to get crispy), spread them on a pan with a good lip, put an entire stick of butter (or equivalent coconut oil) on the pan, salt it all liberally and stick it in a 425° oven. After a few minutes, I stir everything so that vegetables are all coated. Sometimes I turn the oven down halfway through cooking (to 375°), but sometimes I don’t. The vegetables are done when they can be easily pierced with a knife and are starting to turn golden (you can’t always tell color though, such as with beets). I pull them out and set the pan on the counter then stir them again, leaving them in an even layer to cool. The exposure to air will help those crispy edges get real crispy, so it’s nice to have a few minutes before pulling them out and serving up (it helps cool things off for kids too). Our favorite vegetables to roast: beets, broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots. Green beans are good too but turn out differently — I don’t like them as soft. I like to toss them lightly with vinegar after cooking — with some chopped tomatoes and basil, it makes a great salad. In the winter, parsnips and butternut are great too.
How we eat meat: I should also point out that when meat is on the menu, it’s not usually on its own. We most often precook our meat by slow cooking (boiling, braising, roasting) — which is how we get all that stock (we also save bones from roasted meat to boil for stock). Then I chop the meat up and stir it into our greens or veggies as they are cooking on the stovetop.
Dessert? In case you’re wondering, our household does partake of what we call “treats” occasionally. But we try to keep it simple and from the farm. So, we may very rarely bake something with almond or coconut flour, but we’re more likely to chop strawberries and top them liberally with whipped cream or make blackberry ice cream with farm cream and eggs. We eat something like this about once a week on average, except during strawberry season, when we ate strawberries with cream almost every day (how could we not?). Casey and I also enjoy bites of very dark chocolate (85%).
Oh, yeah …
Liver burgers? Really? I thought I should explain this one too, since it sounds weird to most people. We have discovered the absolute delight of burgers made with about 2/3 ground meat and 1/3 ground liver (and other organs). Add a bit of ketchup, lots of seasonings, form patties, and fry gently with lots of fat (they stick more than other burgers). Our family devours these. You can make a meatloaf version too, and I think it tastes like what meatloaf was meant to taste like: extra savory and delicious. Plus, we get to enjoy the massive benefits of eating liver, one of the most nutrient dense foods around (Wonder how to get kids to eat vegetables in order to get those vitamins? Just feed them a liver burger once/week, and you’ve got it covered!)
There’s no question our diet is … different. But, have I mentioned that we eat buttloads of vegetables? Seriously, so many. I don’t think we could afford not to be farmers. : ) (We also have big appetites, thanks to me nursing and Casey working hard.)
Perhaps there’s some inspiration in here for your household, whether you want to join us on the Low Carb High Fat bandwagon or not (it seems more people are willing to embrace low carb than high fat, but a diet of just protein will leave you hungry and tired! Fat tastes good too!). We really don’t mean to proselytize about our diet, but we are very enthusiastic about it, because we enjoy it so much. For dinner tonight I made seasonal vegetable stew (tomatoes, summer squash, onions, and beans) with pork belly. Yum.
Next week I’ll get back to more farm-y news. There’s always stuff happening on the farm to talk about, but it’s also fun to explore some of the other dimensions of our farm life. Since we produce food for a living, what we eat seems to often be of interest to others!
Summer feels like it is winding down, is it not? Make yourself a chopped seasonal salad with extra protein in it and take it on a field trip to enjoy these last weeks before school starts or wetter weather returns (which is still a ways out). And, enjoy this week’s vegetables!
Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla
~ ~ ~
Meet this week’s vegetables:
- Yellow plums — These are from a giant, prolific tree next door at my parents’ place. Since the tree has been there forever, we don’t know the variety name and have never been able to accurately identify it. So, Rusty named them “Mimi’s golden yellow plums.” Not just golden, not just yellow — “golden yellow.”
- Tomatoes — They’re here!!!! We grow out tomatoes outside under the sun (instead of in a greenhouse), so we’re usually not quite the first farmers around to have them available. But we grow them abundantly and like to feast on them in their season.
- Basil — A quick easy salad that we do love in our house: tomato slices, topped with chopped basil, and drizzled with good olive oil, crumbled cheese, balsamic vinegar, and salt. Oh my.
- Red Russian kale — Maybe this is the week to try our greens cooking method? Kale will take a bit more liquid or more time to cook down than chard (although this Red Russian is quite tender!).
- Beet greens or chard — Chard and beet greens, on the hand, will cook down quite quickly with liquid, so I usually use a bit less so they don’t just turn into mush. Unless I want mush (such as in a stew), which sometimes I do.
- Carrots — A common side dish for our kids to eat a meal: butter carrots (i.e. chopped carrots sautéed slowly in liberal amounts of butter until they are caramelized. It’s really like candy, but oh well.)
- Summer squash & zucchini
As the mother of two young children, I have thought a lot about the notion of play. I think about this concept in terms of our children’s development, knowing that what adults may dismiss as “just play” is actually one of the most vital activities in our kids’ lives.
I love watching my kids play. In part, these are moments when I can breathe and just be for a moment (rather than putting on shoes, changing diapers, negotiating space, fixing food, etc etc etc). But, even more than giving me a break, watching them play is inspiring, because in their play they are learning how to be in the world.
As a baby, Dottie’s play is almost all sensory and exploratory. “What happens if I bang this stick on this pole?” “Can I fit this block into this basket?” “What happens when I swing the hose back and forth?” She can play and explore for extended periods of time, especially if I help her out by offering new “toys” (i.e. any unbreakable object) periodically.
At three and a half years old, Rusty’s play is almost all narrative based. He literally narrates as he plays, telling stories about the objects (most often dinosaur related). “A juvenile tyrannosaur was resting by the stream. Suddenly, BOOM, a large ultrasaurus appears at the edge of the forest …” I love how stories are already such a huge part of his world, fueled I’m sure by his love of reading books with us. As a former English student, I still believe that we best make sense of our world through stories, so to me his play seems quite powerful in every way.
For us parents, our children’s play is also a daily reminder of our own need to explore the world through fun. Even though they are growing and learning through their play, it is never laborious. It is delightful and stimulating and engrossing. I never have to remind Rusty to play, because it is its own reward. And, in the end, they are renewed and energized by their activities.
There is a way in which our work of farming is play. A big part of kids’ play is seeing their influence and power in the world — “If I push the sand in this direction, what happens?” For us farmers, we can also readily experience the joy and power of our influence — “If I use a chisel plow before the disc when working up ground, what happens?” I think that this is a big part of what keeps us in love with our work. It is endlessly interesting to see how our efforts create tangible effects, and ultimately delicious food. The positive feedback loop is inspiring.
But, unlike our kids’ play, our work can also feel like work. Because, as adults, our efforts do need to take the shape of discipline. This is how we contribute to the world, by moving irrigation pipes whether we feel like it or not. Ultimately, it is this marriage between passion and discipline that makes the world go round — all those opera singers who commit themselves to practicing daily, the surgeons who fine tune their hands’ abilities, the accountants who apply their love of order and numbers to mundane tasks for others …
We feel fortunate to have found work that we are passionate about. We couldn’t have gotten through the hard work of starting up the farm without that joy of tinkering and seeing the awesome fruits of our labor.
But, now, in our eighth season, our children are here to remind us that we also need play. Play that is just play. That means having joy in our life that is bigger than the farm. Joy that doesn’t necessarily require us to make lists or be disciplined. Joy that exists for joy’s sake. In other words: life/work balance.
Children are so good at forcing this balance. Before we had kids, and it was just Casey and me on the farm, it was easy to feel fulfilled by our life of farm work. We were together through it all, and that was a great start. But, I think that even then it wasn’t enough. And, now that we’re in our 30s and have kids in our life, there’s no question that for the health of our relationships, minds, souls, and bodies, we need to have fun. We need balance. The farm is not enough. It is necessary — yes — but it is not, and cannot, be everything.
And, so, Casey and I are slowly relearning how to play in ways other than just farming. We learn from our children. How can we bring more sensory exploration back into our lives? How can we bring more stories back into our lives?
These things weren’t entirely gone, of course, but they certainly were moved to the back burner for many years as we focused our attention on the farm. Slowly, but surely, we’re moving them back toward the center, especially as we can enjoy them with our children, growing in our relationship as a family through play.
All this to say that our trip to the beach was a huge success. As I noted in last week’s newsletter, getting on the road was a lot of work, but it was all worth it. Casey was able to revisit one of his favorite forms of renewal from his earlier life: surfing (joined by farmer Andre Jaillet of Growing Wild Farm — a rare treat for two farming families to get away and play in the waves!). Rusty and Dottie played and played on the beach. Dottie practiced walking on the sand (have I mentioned that she started walking three weeks ago?). Rusty ran in and out of the waves, pretending to be a juvenile Baryonyx catching its first fish.
There’s no question that the farm will always be the focus of our lives — this is our home, our work, our source of food … in so many ways, the farm is the foundation of everything. But it is good to get away sometimes, whether it is to the Oregon beach or just down the road to the river (where we had fun this weekend) or just outside our door to the sandbox. Even here on the farm, we can create space for fun amidst the ‘to do’ lists.
Now that we’ve turned our calendars to August, we can feel that summer is winding down. There is still plenty of time for fun outdoor play, but as Casey and I noted this morning, August is definitely the beginning of the end of summer and the growing season. This is the season of maturation, when the summer fruits ripen and we begin to think about fall harvests (not yet, but soon — the onions will come first). It is a time for play and also a time for work — time to put up food for the winter and prepare for fall’s arrival. Both are important, to be sure. Again, balance. All play and no work would be just as challenging — an ungrounded existence in which play loses its renewing power. So, on summer weekends we play hard, and on summer weekdays we work hard. The two together create a life of deep fulfillment. We are grateful.
Enjoy this week’s vegetables!
Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla
~ ~ ~
Meet this week’s vegetables:
- Beet greens
- Cut lettuce
- Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage
- Summer squash
- Sweet onions
I’m posting this week’s newsletter early because in a few hours our family is heading to South Beach for a two night get away (yurt camping, surfing, friends — oh yeah!). The Veggie CSA is on as usual; our great crew of folks will be holding down the fort and harvesting and such. It’s likely that we’ll actually be back in time for Casey to work at least the second half of CSA pick-up, so it may feel like everything is exactly as normal (aside from this early newsletter posting).
I must say, getting ready to go camping feels more than a bit crazy-making. We always wonder at this point in a trip whether we are insane to try to take our family away from our home EVER since it feels as though we have to pack up the whole house and do a ton of extra farmwork ahead and afterward. I’ve been cooking and packing almost non-stop for the last 24 hours (except for a brief break to attend a wonderfully fun wedding last night), and Casey is moving irrigation pipe with Dottie on his back as I type this.
Certainly, being both farmers and parents of young children makes vacationing a challenge. But we will leave eventually. And, I’m sure that when Casey hits that first wave, and I stick my feet in the sand, it will all be worth it. (I also know that at bedtime tonight and tomorrow, I will once again wonder if we are crazy — but that moment will also pass).
I hope you all too are enjoying some summer fun! Enjoy this week’s vegetables!
Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla
~ ~ ~
Meet this week’s veggies:
- Fennel bulbs
- Beet greens — These are tender enough for a salad but also make great cooked greens (similar to spinach or chard).
- Green beans
- Summer squash & zucchini
- Sweet onions