Welcome!

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The farm family in 2016

Welcome 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! 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! Our 2020 CSA program is now full — please email us to be added to our waiting list. We may add more members mid-season.

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

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August-tide

Sunflowers in Dottie’s garden

Here we are at the beginning of August, facing another turn in the season. In the fields, the majority of the action turns from leafing and flowering to fruiting and maturation. Our planting and sowing work is almost over, and from here on out, we’ll be mostly focused on harvest, harvest, harvest.

Fittingly, we started putting a few items in the freezer for the winter this weekend. We’ve had some years when we spend a lot of energy on “putting up” food, but since we farm year-round and grow lots of storage crops (cabbage, apples, etc.), there’s really not much pressure to do much preserving or putting up anymore. Either way, as long as we keep up with our farming work, we’ll have food to eat. But it certainly is special to bake with blackberries in January or add corn to chili in February, so this year we’re at least putting a few items in the freezer for later.

A friend and I were discussing August’s energy today at length. It feels like a poignant time to me, tinged with the golden light that makes beautiful moments feel touched by nostalgia even while they are happening. There’s an awareness that the summer will end and in not that long. Even as harvests pick up, there’s a lazy feel in the air and a desire to soak in the activities that can only happen in this warm part of the year — notably, swimming in the river. We hear crickets now at dusk, and the swallows come out by the hundreds at the same time. All harbingers of changes to come. Not yet, but not too far away either. It’s time to prepare, for sure.

August’s glow can also turn harsh at times too — when there is dust or wildfire smoke in the air and the heat bears down on people and the landscape. I felt some of that (the dust especially) over this last week. They are reminders that if we kept on this trajectory, we would shrivel and dry up before too long. We need that return to the wet and dark in order to recharge the aquifers and keep the forests alive.

Also, in August the flavors and colors on our plates intensify with all the fruits of the late summer season. We hope you enjoyed the sampling of the first tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant of the year — what we anticipated as being a small item ended up being plentiful indeed! August can surprise us that way with its gifts of abundance!

Ratatouille …

One of our favorite ways to appreciate the flavors of August is by making a simple ratatouille dish. This is a classic seasonal stew that exists, in my mind, to honor and highlight the flavors that only exist in late summer.

My method of making it is very simple. Gather the appropriate summer ingredients: onions, garlic, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers. The ratios don’t matter much, because this is a fresh seasonal food intended to reflect the garden’s offerings. To keep it simple, I don’t even peel the tomatoes.

Chop everything. I always start by melting butter or olive oil in a large pan. Then I sauté the onions, garlic and peppers until soft, then I add the tomatoes and let them start to stew. Finally, I add the zucchini and eggplant and let the whole thing stew until the flavors are melded and the vegetables are soft. It’s a stew, so I like to cook things until they’re pretty mushy, but I’ve eaten ratatouille where the vegetables are firmer, and it’s delicious too!

Honestly, this simple dish is excellent because it starts with excellent ingredients. Your main job as cook is to not burn it (a good pan is key here, along with stir) and let the ingredients go through an alchemical transformation in your pan. Salt to taste and serve with cheese or bread or salad or steak (or all four!). It’s also delicious served over pasta, rice, or potatoes. Leftovers are yummy too.

To even further enhance the August-eating experience, I recommend eating it outside. Just watch out for yellow-jackets, because they are part of August too! I’ll be making ratatouille this August — how about you?

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

P.S. We also had our annual organic inspection this last week, and it went well! It always feels good to have that particular hoop behind us for the year.

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Meet this week’s vegetables: The hardest part of this week’s CSA experience is going to be choosing your vegetables! August is abundant in options! New this week: summer cabbage! These summer cabbage varieties are much less dense than winter storage cabbage, making them especially well suited to cole slaw. Our salad supplies are limited at the moment, so we encourage you to consider slaw for this week’s menu!

Also, carrots are back!

Place your order:

Please select the vegetable items you'd like to receive this week, to total to your share size. If you order 2 (or 3) of something, it counts as 2 (or 3) items. Some items are limited, as marked.

 

Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

So, you might homeschool this year …

What paths will the children walk this year?

Longtime readers of the newsletters will know that we homeschool our two children, Rusty and Dottie, and have been doing so for their entire education so far. I guess by today’s standards, my six years of home education experience would make me a “homeschooling veteran.” Homeschooling has been a very positive choice for our family (and one that pairs well with our farming lifestyle), but in recent years we’ve watched as our kids’ peers and their families have slowly made the decision to send their kids to school, shrinking our group of fellow home educators.

However, this next year is going to shift that tide dramatically, as we are hearing that many families (for various reasons) are choosing to homeschool this year rather than send their kids to school or participate in some of the hybrid programs being proposed. I want to be up front and say that I have mixed feelings about this! While our family has thrived with our choices, we are also supporters of all kinds of education and strongly support the public school system and want to see it thrive over the long-term as well. We support families’ choices to do what feels best in this tumultuous year, and we are also actively wishing the best for all the teachers and students in the school system.

That being said, there are now a lot of parents who are making this choice who are wondering how to make best use of a potential year of homeschooling their children. A lot of these parents have never considered homeschooling before and don’t even really know what it looks like in practice. I’ve been there myself! Homeschooling is inherently very different in form and function than classroom-based education — there are pros and cons to both forms of learning, and the key is to identify the strengths of being at home and work with those.

I’ve actually already written an essay for new homeschooling parents on my other website (JustLivingBooks.com — an unfinished side project that always needs more attention than it gets from me), but that essay was directed at parents intentionally choosing these lifestyle for the long-term future. I feel like parents who are doing this as a survival choice during the pandemic have a different set of needs and I wanted to write out some tips here to share with any of our CSA members who might be in this boat or who might know someone who could use some help starting down this path.

Caveats: I’m not an expert or a professional consultant. While I have read plenty on the topic of home education for my own benefit, I only have the direct experience of my own students, the oldest of whom will be entering 5th grade this year. What works for our family won’t work exactly the same for any other family, so while I will mention a few of our Favorite Things (all secular programs), this newsletter is intended to provide more general ways of thinking about how to approach learning at home. In writing it, I am assuming a family who is charting their own course, but there are many variations of how to proceed, including participating in online-based homeschooling programs or hybrid programs. Obviously every family will need to carefully weigh their own needs as they go down this new path this year. Which leads me to my first piece of advice:

Determine your homeschooling goals. I encourage all new homeschooling families to be intentional about setting goals. Even if your ultimate goal is to keep an immunocompromised family member healthy, I recommend coming up with a positive framing of what you want to accomplish in your home education this year.

Do you simply want to keep your student at grade level? Do you want to help a student with dyslexia catch up with reading skills? Do you want to build special family memories? Take some time to dream here. Even if it feels overwhelming at first, a year of home learning is also an opportunity to be intentional about this stage of your student’s education.

Rethink what education looks like. This is always my biggest piece of advice to any new homeschooler. Few of us parent-teachers were homeschooled ourselves and so the classroom-based model is our primary example of how education works. I encourage you to let go of a lot of what you know from that model. A closer model to how home education actually works is one-on-one tutoring, which you may or may not have experience with but perhaps can imagine. In a context where there is one teacher for one or a small number of children, it is much easier to gauge a student’s progress without needing them to “make” a lot of things (worksheets, tests, quizzes, etc.). These systems work well for gauging student progress and keeping students engaged in a bigger group, but they can be exhausting to do at home. Likewise, neither you or your student would probably enjoy lectures in this context!

This point is one reason why I am personally very cautious about many online or school district-based homeschool charter programs. They often pack a lot more “deliverables” into a week than I think is really doable for most students and home teachers. They often do this because they are trying to replicate what might have happened at school but at home. The online and distance charter programs have the advantage of being free and convenient, which can totally make participating worth it. But remember that your job as the parent-teacher is to ensure your child is learning, which is ultimately a very different thing that ensuring your student is completing every worksheet, quiz, and checkbox. Don’t let the program’s expectations kill your family’s joy in learning.

So, whichever options you select, I would strongly urge you to always remember that the curriculum exists to serve your student — not the other way around. There are ways to learn without exhausting “busy work.” And of course some students love the progress they feel from doing a good workbook — every student is different! But a lot of students and teachers find it hard to keep up the same pace of classroom-style “deliverables” at home that is normal and expected in school. It just feels very different. If you choose a charter or online program, ask up front how much leeway you have for skipping assignments or tests.

Our family’s home education experience has been very light on classroom-style “deliverables.” We do a lot of reading together from quality “living” books (as opposed to textbooks). These are books on our subjects that are written with literary quality and are often suitable to being read aloud. We discuss what we’ve read or I have the children “narrate” or “tell back” what they read as a way to demonstrate comprehension and synthesis. Since Rusty is older, he’ll often respond to readings in writing to practice his writing skills as well. Much of this work happens cuddled on the couch or sitting at the kitchen table. Kids read on their own curled up in any place of their choosing.

Prioritize key subjects. If you are only planning to homeschool for the duration of the pandemic, then it probably doesn’t make sense for you as the one teacher to try to tackle every single subject they might have learned in school (at least, not in the same ways!). For example, science experiments at home can be challenging — it’s certainly not impossible and many homeschooling parents do incorporate lab-like science at home. Likewise, if you don’t speak a second language, teaching one can be difficult. But honestly if you’re homeschooling as a survival choice, I would recommend keeping your focus on the continued development of the more sequential learning skills that will help your student jump right back into their school-based education again.

So, to me that would be focusing on math, reading and writing skills. There are many excellent math programs out there specifically written for use at home (or that work well in that context). We personally use RightStart math, which has a very hands-on, interactive, game-based approach to building mathematical thinking skills. As the teacher, I love it because it’s entirely scripted, making it easy for me to use. This is an important element of keeping things prioritized and focused! The teacher can easily get burnt out trying to do too much as well! Other programs people seem to love in the homeschooling world are Math-U-See, Saxon, and Singapore. All of these meet common core standards. Ultimately much of STEM success comes down to basic grounding in math, so even if you can’t teach your child engineering or lab-based chemistry this year, if you can improve their math skills, they’ll be well equipped to jump back into any kind of science or technology course in the future. (Have the time and energy to do full-on science at home this year? Pandia Press has great offerings in their REAL Science Odyssey series for elementary and middle school.)

(EDIT — I forgot to mention another great easy-to-do-at-home science resource for Oregon kids grades 3rd-6th: Ellie’s Log and subsequent books introduce students to different Oregon ecosystems, concepts of ecological sciences, and nature notebooking. They’re SUPER sweet illustrated books that share the information through stories told from a child’s perspective. You can order all three from the book’s website as well as find useful supportive educational materials.)

For learning to read, our family has great success with the phonics-based program All About Reading. Even for students who can already read independently, I would recommend doing a combination of reading aloud to your student regularly and asking them to read on their own regularly. I still read aloud to my students every day even though they are excellent readers, because it allows me to expose them to language and ideas that are perhaps more advanced than what they might be able to tackle on their own. This keeps their language skills growing ahead of their current reading abilities. (Audio books can help with this too!) For an excellent evidence-based explanation of the power of reading aloud, I highly recommend The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. It also contains a wonderful collection of book recommendations for all ages and on many subjects. Really, if I were forced to give only one reading recommendation to every homeschooling parent-teacher, it would be this book. I really love the seventh edition but apparently the newer eighth edition has been updated with more contemporary book recommendations.

I would also recommend reading a combination of quality fiction and non-fiction. Again, there are good recommendations in the Trelease’s book, but there are good book lists on the internet everywhere. You can search by age or reading level or grade. I also sometimes use Amazon algorithms to find new books based on books we’ve enjoyed. I go to that book and scroll down to the spot where it shares what people who viewed this book also viewed. I’ve found some great books there (that I then check out from the library!).

Reading is also a way to incorporate more subjects into your learning, especially topical subjects such as history and science. While it may feel daunting to tackle science experiments, it’s easy (and wonderful!) to read books about science or technology. There are many wonderful biographies about famous scientists written for many age levels, and these can be a simple way to incorporate history and science into a year. For example, Jane Goodall has a wonderful autobiography written for younger readers. Joy Hakim has a two-part history of science written for middle school and up (we also love her American history series, History of US). For high schoolers, I’d recommend going straight for the plethora of excellent science books written for adult lay readers (for example, Andrea Wulf’s award-winning biography of Humboldt: The Invention of Nature; or Carl Safina’s ground-breaking book on animal emotions: Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel). Being immersed in quality texts is an amazing brain-builder, so if you can just read to your student and get them to read every day, they will grow academically.

Personally, I love planning our reading selections for each year based on the topics and historical eras I want to cover. However, choosing books does require some level of understanding of your student’s reading level, interests and ability. That’s definitely simpler when you’ve already been homeschooling. There are several excellent curricula for homeschoolers that take some of the guesswork out of the process. I have not used any of these personally, but I regularly see these programs highly recommended: Build Your Library (available for K-12), Blossom and Root (K-4), and Torchlight (K-4). All of these secular programs provide a structure around using quality books that you would buy independently from your local bookstore or even just borrow from the library. They’re very much “curl-up-on-the-couch” kind of programs. All offer a wide scope of ideas and learning opportunities in each level. Pair one of these with a good math program, and you’d have a solid year of learning.

But, again, remember that choosing the “perfect” curriculum or reading plan is not the most important part of home learning — it’s more important to be consistent with whatever you use and get your student engaging with quality texts every day. Those book don’t need to be from any particular planned curriculum in order to get the benefits! I just offer examples in case it’s a helpful way to plan your year. These programs also provide great examples of age-appropriate quality literature and non-fiction books, and you can see their lists on their websites to get more ideas.

Incorporating writing can be as simple or as complicated as seems appropriate to your student and their age. For folks who are only planning to homeschool for the pandemic, I would probably recommend thinking about writing more holistically rather than focusing on academic writing. For the youngest students, doing a page in a handwriting notebook (Handwriting Without Tears is a good program), a phonics lesson, and then narrating a text orally is probably sufficient daily Language Arts work. For the older elementary student, adding in a pen pal relationship, doing written narrations, or starting to write short stories can be a great way to expand skills. We haven’t used it, but many homeschoolers enjoy the Brave Writer program for extending writing practice. For students wanting to dive deep into academic writing from home, I’ve heard good things about the Institute for Excellence in Writing.

Develop a simple daily rhythm. Once you know the basic scope of your year, it’s time to think about how you want your day to flow. Again, this is an area where it’s important to think about sustainability, both for teacher and student. It’s also important to think about balancing inside sitting-still time with active outside time.

I find that starting our day works best if it doesn’t feel hard — it needs to feel organic and natural to begin our learning process each day or we will all stall starting in the morning … Also, as I said earlier, home education in the tutor-style is very different from classroom-based learning. It’s significantly more efficient, so most homeschoolers spend many fewer hours “doing school” each week than the hours students spend in the traditional classroom. But I find it’s still important to have a plan for how/when we make our more directed of learning happen (obviously, learning can occur during play or free-reading or anytime!).

In our family, this has worked out to a rhythm of doing school four mornings a week. This frees our afternoons up for other activities (music lessons, hikes) and following our individual interests (playing outside, reading graphic novels, doing puzzles, etc.). So far, that has been enough time each week for us to complete our educational goals over a 36-week school year. Typically we start each day reading together on the couch. Each week, I organize our readings in a basket in the living room, and all I have to do is say, “Reading time!” and the kids each choose a book before we all tumble on to the couch. It’s a very sweet, simple way for us to start our learning day.

After that, the kids each take turns with me at the kitchen table working on math and any other one-on-one subject work we need to do (for example when we were doing phonics or spelling instruction). The other student usually uses this time to take a “brain break” by playing outside, working on their independent reading projects, or practicing music. Finally, we come together for a little online Spanish practice. I try to make sure that each of them has an opportunity to take breaks but also remembers to return to focus. While we only spend a few hours four days a week on school, I want to make sure we’re all fairly focused in that time. While I encourage brain breaks, I also equally encourage staying focused when actually doing work. To that end …

Share your expectations. As you and your student(s) embark on this new adventure, be explicit about sharing your expectations of them (in an age-appropriate way). I like to actually draw up a daily rhythm for all of us at the beginning of each new school year so everyone knows exactly how the day will go and what my expectations are for their engagement. This seems like an obvious step, but it’s actually really easy to miss in the teaching relationship. And your student is as new to this as you are. They may literally need you to tell them that you expect them to sit at the table for ten minutes with you and pay attention for math.

It also behooves you to be realistic about your expectations. I’ve always tried to tailor our work sessions to my children’s natural attention spans, ending just before their minds start to wander. For young kids, this can mean lessons as short as ten or fifteen minutes! But if those minutes are focused and you do it every day, you can make a lot of progress over a school year.

It will take time to establish rhythms and expectations, so be patient and persistent and reasonable. This is a reason to keep things as simple as possible!

Be present for your student. On a similar note, in my experience many homeschooling teachers fail to realize ahead of time how present they might need to be for their students. Wouldn’t it be convenient if we could just hand off a math worksheet and walk away to wash the dishes? However, in my experience, that’s rarely how students work best. I still sit with my students for the entirety of their math lessons, even when they are working independently on a problem set. Being present and holding the space for our students’ learning is incredibly simple, very powerful and yes somewhat exhausting and boring at times. But I want to emphasize how powerful it is at helping students stay focused and accomplish quite a lot in a short amount of time. Paradoxically, if you can invest the time to really being present when needed, it can free up more time for other activities for both of you later. For parents who need to also work at home, it can be hard to invest that focused time with a student, but it’s really important if you can make it work.

I also think it’s super helpful to know how normal this is so as to avoid becoming annoyed or aggravated with our students (and be present might even be necessary for older students in certain subjects too!). Rather than “disciplining” them for not meeting our expectations, we can simply remember that they still need our help in this area and provide it as needed. This is really one of the biggest keys to making home education work — understanding the basic developmental levels of our students and helping to scaffold their learning. Being realistic about their abilities also helps us to …

Prioritize relationships. Ideally, your year of homeschooling will benefit and improve your relationship with your students! There really is much potential for positive intimacy and growth between a parent-teacher and student-child in the home education experience. If you can keep those education interactions positive, then it can be a really beautiful shared experience. My students and I have so many shared inside jokes based on books we’ve read together and we have all enjoyed having me be learning right along with them much of the time!

But it’s really important to keep the relationship in mind and step back if things get tense. Certainly, it’s important to share your [reasonable] expectations and help scaffold the learning so that student can meet those shared goals … and, some days even that simple concept might feel really hard. For whatever reason, some lessons will be trickier or some books not really well loved or some days just go funky. The learning progress happens over a whole year, so don’t get bogged down by days when it feels slow or hard. Remember: your ultimate goals are positive learning and positive relationships. Don’t let a curriculum’s goals overtake yours!

When things start to feel really strained, here’s my recipe for resetting the relationship and everyone’s moods: stop and go outside. Go play together or go on a walk or a bike ride or hike. Then, come back inside and curl up on the couch with a read aloud book that’s being read just for the joy of it. Start again with school goals the next day.

Follow the joy. As you plan your year, don’t forget that as home educators you can really do anything you love to do! Does your family have a particular passion or interest? Or something that you’ve always wanted to learn more about but haven’t had time? Do you want to learn something new? An instrument? A language? Does your family love to hike and want to schedule an entire day each week for exploring local trails and learning about native flora and fauna? Do you love playing board games? Does you child have an interest in primitive skills or learning to cook recipes from different cuisine traditions?

There are so many ways to learn and so many subjects that are rarely included in the traditional classroom curriculum. If you were to imagine a dreamy fun learning experience for your family, what would it look like? Give yourself permission to get creative and invest more time in the activities and subjects that really bring you delight. I always use my own joy as a big indicator as to whether we’re pursuing quality materials. The kids and I all really love history and music, so we read a lot of history and play music together. For another family, maybe painting every afternoon would bring joy and growth. What would help you and your student find delight in this unexpected adventure? Give yourself permission to emphasize those joys in your year!

Okay, I think that’s enough of a brain dump for now! I hope this is helpful rather than overwhelming at this point. Home education can be a wonderful adventure, and I really hope that everyone choosing that path can grow in positive ways this year. I am available for questions if anyone has specific quandaries that I might be able to help find answers to! Happy planning!

And, if you are a CSA member who is not homeschooling and you skipped to the end of the newsletter, here’s my usual wish for your week: Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

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Meet this week’s vegetables: Fun new items today! We’re going to take a break from kale as this kind of heat isn’t great for its texture. But we have the first of the year’s apples, a sampling of summer fruits (much more to come!), and new potatoes! Also, sunflowers — just for the joy of it.

Place your order:

Please select the vegetable items you'd like to receive this week, to total to your share size. If you order 2 (or 3) of something, it counts as 2 (or 3) items. Some items are limited, as marked.
Posted in Home learning, Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

Looking up

The farm sky by day …

Have you seen the comet yet? We have all seen it, some of us multiple times. For the kiddos, staying up past dark and waiting was a challenge, but we all agree that it was worth the tiredness to see something so cool and unique hanging there in night sky.

I’m hardly even what you would call an amateur astronomer … more like an astronomy appreciator I suppose. But I get so excited when there are these kinds of astronomical events that get everyone, all around the world, looking up at the sky. On one hand, these kinds of unique events remind us all of how small we are in the scope of the universe. Looking up into the night sky, we can see past the limits of earth and into the evidence of other solar systems and other galaxies. The vastness is humbling and awe-inspiring.

I find that looking up, in general, gives me a feel of transcendence. As humans, we spent the vast majority of our time looking straight ahead or down (at our phones, at our work, at the uneven ground as we walk). I find that looking up pulls me out of my norm and shifts my perspective in ways that allow me to step back from the mundane experience and really feel present in a unique way. I’m not alone in this, and there’s a reason why cathedral ceilings were so high and painted to draw the eye up — toward heaven, but also physically toward a new sense of being. Some of my most profoundly present experiences have been when walking at night and looking up to see tree branches passing overhead. Something about that experience has always made the world feel more real than it usually does — more three-dimensional in a mysterious way. I can’t help but be sucked right out of whatever dreamy or distracted headspace I’d been in and be very present in my body, right there, seeing the trees pass over me in the darkness. I find that watching raptors soar overhead or even just flying a kite can give me a similar feeling — a blissful temporary pause in the endless chatter of my brain as I look up.

But astronomical events, like the comet or the 2017 full solar eclipse, also give us easy common ground with the whole planet (in a more positive way than, say, a global pandemic). I love that right now, in the midst of a tumultuous year full of uncertainties and anxieties and fears, this summer we all have the treat of a comet to search for in the night. It feels like a real gift, to have this shared news that isn’t confusing or overwhelming or scary in any way. It’s just this cosmic visitor we get to glimpse together.

While we were out in in our driveway looking at the comet through binoculars in the dark, our neighbors drove by and pulled over to ask if we’d seen “it” yet. Clearly, they knew what we were doing, and we understood exactly what they meant by “it.” They actually hadn’t found it in the sky yet, so we helped guide them to seeing the comet as well, and we all had a little moment there on the quiet country road in the night. Soon after, my dad (who lives next door) also popped out with his binoculars, and there was a real community feel happening at 10:15 pm here on Grand Island. (We also saw a baby skunk while we were all out there too!)

We were just a handful of the hundreds of millions of people probably doing the same thing that very night — standing in their driveways, looking up. I am grateful for that connection we shared, with our neighbors near and far.

It feels like we live in a world more interested in finding divisions than common ground right now. I believe much of this focus is fabricated by larger political forces, but it plays out amongst individuals, especially in the some of the only forums we have for communication right now: namely, social media. Does anybody feel benefited by such high levels of division? I certainly don’t see any benefits, except to manipulate people into fear of others. I’ve personally been staying away from most social media as a way to try and recalibrate and regain a sense of the shared human experience. But during a pandemic, staying away from social media can feel lonely too. These are hard times in many ways.

Which is why I felt especially grateful for this little comet. Thank you NEOWISE for giving us something to talk about beyond our fears of sickness or politics or other people. Thank you for reminding us that we all share this one beautiful earth home and that each of our unique stories make up the bigger story of life here. Thank you for reminding us to look up.

Also, by the way, it’s finally hot out! I’m personally loving this dry heat, and I think the vegetables are too. Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

P.S. Wondering about tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers? The very first fruits have matured (and gone into our tummies), and more will be on their way soon! Especially with this kind of summer-y weather!

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Meditation on this year’s system: We’re just about halfway through the 2020 CSA season now, the first (and hopefully only or one of only) season that we’ve used the online ordering system for filling shares. Overall, we’ve found that the system seems to be working fairly well for making sure everyone gets the vegetables they’d like with extremely minimal contact between all of us. We’ve also appreciated that we have less leftover. In a year of so much uncertainty, it feels good to be more streamlined (what is left over still gets donated to YCAP or eaten by us). In that way, we consider the system a huge success and are incredibly grateful that we have this option this year.

However, it’s definitely not something we want to stick with once it’s safe to go back to a warm and inviting and social pick-up. In addition to missing the actual human contact with all of you lovely people, we miss you being able to see ahead of time what you’re getting with each item. From week to week, the same vegetable item might look slightly different in terms of volume or maturity, and we think it’s best when you can SEE what we’re offering at our storefront display and then choose what will work best for you that week. We also like that in our usual system, you don’t need to do as much homework — just remember to show up and that’s it! Finally, as some of you have experienced, it is also trickier sometimes for us farmers to gauge how much we’ll have of something several days before we actually harvest. Thank you to everyone for your flexibility when we end up having more orders than a harvestable item. This has only happened a handful of times, and we’re getting better at estimating, but it’s definitely a quirk of the process.

So, eventually we plan to return to the tried-and-true system, but for now, we’re very glad to have a system that provides veggies and keeps everyone safe! Please let us know if you have any additional thoughts or feedback on the year so far.

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Meet this week’s vegetables:

Place your order:

Please select the vegetable items you'd like to receive this week, to total to your share size. If you order 2 (or 3) of something, it counts as 2 (or 3) items. Some items are limited, as marked.

 

Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

This glorious place

We were so happy to be on the beach this morning!

What is summer without vacations? I know that many people have had trips cancelled this summer. I know we have cancelled many ourselves, including a planned week-long trip of my own to a choir festival in Minneapolis that was supposed to happen last week. Travel far from home isn’t feeling like a wise or safe choice at this point, with outbreaks of Covid increasing almost everywhere.

However, I know that many people are still getting away, albeit in different forms than expected. Much closer to home, in some cases. More primitively in others (i.e. primitive camping). Less frequently. Shorter stays. Accommodations all around, but still some attempt to get that summer feel of “ahhhhhhh, we’re away.”

As farmers, summer has never been peak travel time for us anyway. On the occasions when we’ve left the farm for a week-long trip, it’s been in the winter months when the farm work is less urgent. However, like many people in the Willamette Valley, we usually take advantage of the incredible proximity of both the beach and the mountains for day trips or quick weekend get-aways. How lucky are we to live so close to both of these glorious places?

Since Casey grew up at the beach in Lincoln City, we head most often to the west, to visit the ocean and his family at the same time. Our kids have grown up associating Christmas gatherings with cold-weather beach play with cousins, which is just about the next best thing to Christmas snow (but a lot less inconvenient for driving). But we also try to make it into the Cascades at least once or twice a year too.

It’s pained us this year to think of not touching base with these special places. We love this river valley we call home (and the river itself), but part of what makes Oregon amazing is all the different places and biomes in one state: coastlines, coast ranges, river valleys, mountains, and even multiple kinds of deserts!!!! Each place featuring its own unique flora and fauna and geology. It’s a naturalist’s dream.

But we did make it to the beach today. Casey has been over a few times in the last week to help his parents a bit — supporting family when help is needed is more complicated during a pandemic, but it’s important all the same. Today the kids and I joined him for a very brief visit. The beach was as amazing as ever. We saw pelicans and seals and jellyfish. The kids collected treasures and shells. We took deep breaths and walked barefoot in the sand. We sat and soaked in the sun. (Why does it feel so different on the beach than in the valley?) It’s astounding what even a quick half-day trip to a totally different place can do for resetting our perspective, helping us remember the world is bigger than our immediate daily surroundings.

It helps when the place we travel to is drop-dead gorgeous.

I know most of us have been staying close to home. That’s good. But if you need a reminder: Oregon is glorious. May we all remember how fortunate we are to live in this abundant, beautiful place. And may our gratitude increase our dedication to tending this landscape with care and in building a sense of unity among its people as we continue to build a better world for ourselves, our children, and all the living things that share our home.

I hope that you have been finding safe ways to connect with far-flung family and beloved places so that you too can appreciate the beautiful “reset” experience that is often an important part of summer.

Enjoy this week’s summer vegetables too!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

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Important note about the traffic flow at pick-up: At the beginning of the season, when we were very much in the thick of the intense Covid shut-downs, we suggested that people drive up to the storefront and we would put bags of vegetables in cars. However, as downtown has picked up business again, the parking lot is not nearly the quiet place it was in April and May.

Since we share this public parking lot with many other businesses, I’m not sure it makes sense anymore to expect that everyone will be able to pull up and wait in front of the storefront for veggies. If there are no other cars present, this might be reasonable to do, but if we tell you we need to fill your order quickly or if there is already one car lined up, it’s probably a safer idea for you to find a parking spot and walk to the storefront. We can hand you your bag from a distance or place it on the bench for you to pick up.

We’d like to avoid creating parking lot traffic jams! Thank you for your flexibility and awareness of how the space has changed and is being used by many people again!

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables: New this week: beets and fennel bulbs!

Place your order:

Please select the vegetable items you'd like to receive this week, to total to your share size. If you order 2 (or 3) of something, it counts as 2 (or 3) items. Some items are limited, as marked.
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Reinventing everything

Ready for our first annual (and maybe only) 4th of July bike ride.

I love traditions. This has been true ever since I was a child, and I’ve enjoyed creating a yearly rhythm for our family and community that is full of traditions, large or small. To me, there’s something very special and comforting about weaving the years together with these touchstones. Our traditions mirror the rhythms we see in the seasonal changes through the year, and our personal little celebrations or festivities help us weave the years together.

Traditions are a way of reminding us of the years that have gone before and the years that are still to come. They feel like ways to mark time with specialness, as so many of them incorporate feasting or fanciful decorating or merry-making, usually paired with gathering with friends or family (or even just an intentional gathering of our own little family of four).

For middle school, I attended an all-girls Catholic school in the Seattle area with a rich history of very old traditions, some unique to our school and some shared by other schools in the Sacred Heart network. I loved it. Events were marked with song, unexpected frivolity lightening up our studious days, and ties to the past. I think everyone’s favorite tradition was the unexpected surprise of Congé days (Congé is French for ‘leave taking’ or farewell). These are special (unannounced) days when the usual work of school is set aside in place of celebration. At the school I attended, we always had two per year — one organized by the senior class and one by the student body officers. The announcement of a Congé was part of the fun — usually coming in an intentional and creative way.

I remember one year when our day started with what we all thought was a fire drill. As the student body assembled in the parking lot as normal, fire trucks pulled up, and we thought, “Oh, no! Maybe this isn’t a drill.” The fire trucks pulled up in front of the students, and one of the fire fighters got out, stood on the truck, and shouted through a bullhorn: “Congé!” And the crowd went WILD! That particular congé, if I remember correctly, was an all-day field trip to the Seattle Center. That was a particularly grand congé, but they were always a thrill and aimed for a day of amusement. I have to say that 25 years later, I can still feel the electric thrill of that magical congé moment. We always knew congés were coming, but never when.

Our family’s accumulated traditions are always slightly changing and never quite as big and bold as an entire school having an unexpected party. But they serve the same purpose of bringing a little bit of expected or unexpected magic into our days. They offer opportunities for us to more fully appreciate our relationships with each other and build some of the lovely anticipation that comes from things like birthdays or holidays (the unexpected surprise is fun but so is the juicy joy of anticipation!). They’ve grown organically over the years, the best ones sticking around season-to-season as things that are fun and doable by us (because, of course, I don’t have the same human resources as an entire school!). Most of our traditions are very simple: singing a special “someone’s birthday is coming soon” song in the days leading up to a family birthday (for example, Casey’s birthday this Sunday); marking the first day of each new season in some way (the actual activities vary, but we all know we’ll do something special, even if it’s just making a seasonal bouquet or reading a seasonal book or having a fire outside in the fire ring); inviting friends over for a big batch of ratatouille (summer stew) toward the end of the summer …

I love old traditions, and thankfully I also love thinking of new ones. Because, a lot of our traditions involve gathering with people in ways that are going to be less doable or even impossible this year. I imagine that many of you are finding this to be true as well. We weren’t able to have an Easter egg hunt with the cousins this spring, and I know that each holiday and occasion may come with some level of disappointment about missed traditions along with missed people. Birthday parties need to look very different. And, of course, I think everyone had to reinvent how they celebrated the 4th of July this last weekend. It’s not to say that BBQ’s and parades and fireworks and camping were completely off-the-table, but the larger versions of all of these certainly were.

Our family had a homespun celebration by participating in a very small “parade” of neighbors here on the island that we were invited to at the last minute. The “parade” consisted of a few tractors, ATVs, firetrucks from Heiser’s, some pick-up trucks with flags, and us on our bikes with paper flags tied to our backs (made at the last minute). The residents who weren’t in the parade set up chairs in the yards, and we zipped around the loop on the island. It didn’t have the grandeur of a professional fireworks display, but it also didn’t have the health risks of crowds, and it was sweet to mark the day with neighbors we’d never even met before (and we didn’t even really meet now, given that we gathered quickly and set off with lots of distance between us). But, we marked the day and reminded ourselves that there was something different about that day — something to remember in our own way.

Likewise, people are reinventing birthday parties and so much more these days. When Casey’s grandmother turned 97 this April, the family paraded by her house in cars honking, singing from their windows and waving signs, as she stood on her front porch laughing and taking it all in. Make-shift parades and drive-by birthday parties and graduations are probably not traditions we are likely to want to keep alive year-after-year, but in their own way they mark the milestones and holidays of this pandemic year in a distinctive way that will stand out in our mind forever. The reinvented celebrations are almost like an anti-tradition, unique in their form to make this time separate.

We have more of them to come. More “distance” walks with friends; “porch” chats with neighbors; Zoom parties and game nights; “bring-your-own-food” small gatherings; masked, turned-face hugs … If you had mentioned any of these to me a year ago, I would have been so confused. But in ten years, we’ll all have this shared experience of a strange, strange time when we stepped away from the traditions that bound us and were instead linked by the new, bizarre safe ways we all need to observe occasions in this unexpected pandemic reality.

Will our family go on another 4th of July bike ride next year? I have no idea, but if it’s possible to return to something more normal, I imagine we will jump at the opportunity to do so, leaving behind most or all of these reinventions. They are not the kind of reinvention likely to last beyond their absolute necessity. But humans are creative, and it is heart-warming to see the ways we are pulling on the old to create some new and temporary that allows us to continue to celebrate and connect and mark our days and milestones.

To me, every celebration comes with a shadow side, reminding me of what we’re missing, but I’m realizing that this is also simply part of aging. So much of what I loved and knew about life is passing away, and that is inevitable — pandemic or not. So, now the markers of time have a different feel that they did when I was young. The electric thrill is replaced by a sweet, longing nostalgia as I remember the wonderful people and times that have passed. That is part of life too, but we are all bound up in an accelerated kind of collective grief now, as we all wonder whether the lives we loved will come back. It seems unlikely that life will ever be quite the same. There will be before and after. This year (and maybe next too), we are in the pause between old and new, still marking time, still getting older, still celebrating passages — but in a way particular to this “time outside of time.”

That being said, I do hope that you and your loved ones find your way to true joy this summer. Summer is sunshine and outdoor play and we can still appreciate so much of what is wonderful about this season. We got good doses of all of it this weekend, leaving me feeling filled with gratitude. If nothing else, this pandemic is teaching all of us to not take our lives for granted. The smallest (outdoors, at a distance) interactions fill me with sweetness and remind me to live every single day with gratitude for life and love.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables: More summer fruits coming on every week! New this week: cucumbers and the very first of this year’s new potatoes! We’re building up slowly to what we consider full summer mode (in our mind that comes once we also have tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants — all of which are coming in future weeks). Some very good stuff here … Thank you for placing your order by Tuesday evening!

Place your order:

Please select the vegetable items you'd like to receive this week, to total to your share size. If you order 2 (or 3) of something, it counts as 2 (or 3) items. Some items are limited, as marked.
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

If the apron fits …

Apron on and ready to cook some VEGETABLES for dinner!

A few people have commented on my new CSA pick-up look — the old green Roslyn Café* apron that I’ve been wearing to protect my nice “town” clothes while I pack bags at the storefront on Thursdays. (* shout out to my Washington peeps and Northern Exposure fans!)

I’ve worn aprons in various context for years. When I was growing up, my mom almost always wore an apron while cooking. This image of her is somewhat incongruous with everything else I knew about her. My dad started medical school when I was one, and my mom worked in banking the whole time he was in school and residency. This is the career she started as a teller in college and continued until she was a VP of lending of a small bank in the Seattle area. I have many memories of hanging out in the banks on the weekends or listening while she mentored her younger colleagues after work — especially other women. They’d discuss the ups and downs of being professionals in a world that wasn’t always easy to be in.

Suffice to say, it was a man’s world, and my mom worked hard to prove her place in it. Carving out her own space often meant adopting signifiers of masculinity, and my mom (like many second-wave feminists) reinvented what it meant to be a woman in the second half of the 20th century. She went by the short gender-neutral version of her name (“Kris” rather than “Kristine”), stood tall in her professional suits, sometimes even smoked cigars, and kept our apartment free of anything “frilly.” I was raised wearing gender neutral colors and given “boy” toys along with dolls. She always wanted me to to be free of the confines of societal expectations of traditional femininity.

And yet, I also remember the weekends when she and I would be home alone, and we’d both don our aprons, pull out the Silver Palate cookbook, put Joan Baez or Kate Bush on the stereo, and bake the best chocolate chip cookies ever. Even when she was stretched thin by balancing her own demanding career while parenting me and supporting my dad’s big career change, she’d make time to cook real food because she loved good food and she loved sharing it with us.

Later, when my dad was finally in practice doctor and she slowly let go of her own career so our family life could be more relaxed, that cooking took on bigger and bigger proportions. She experimented with different kinds of cooking traditions, diving deep into the Scandinavian foods from her family’s background but also learning more about the diverse cultural traditions that co-existed in the Puget Sound region. One summer, she and I took cooking classes together at Uwajimaya, learning how to steam homemade hum bao dumplings in bamboo trays on our stovetop. Midweek meals would often be more simple, but still prepared with love and always with that important apron in place to protect her clothes.

My mom and I also later expanded our interests by taking black and white photography classes together at the local community college. Again, we wore our aprons, now protecting our clothing from the staining chemicals we used to develop our photos in the darkroom. I actually went on to major in photography in college — I think I may be one of the last generations of photography students who studied darkroom photography because that was still the best we had! Digital photography quickly caught up in quality soon after I graduated, but I spent many hours and days in the red light with my apron on, gently agitating water bath trays.

During and after college, I had the joy of working in the large, joyful, always busy kitchen at Holden Village, a remote retreat center in the North Cascade mountains. There, every shift in the kitchen started the same — the donning of a clean apron from the apron drawer (all of which were sewn by volunteers with the most bright, colorful patterns they could find). With five to ten people all scurrying around to prepare three meals a day for upwards of 400 people, we were a lively aproned crew — chopping vegetables, kneading bread, stirring literal cauldrons of soup, and often singing along to music while we did it all. Those were very good times. If fun is a nutrient, our food must have been deeply nourishing.

So, aprons are a positive thing to me. I don’t see a lot of my peers wearing aprons today — it seems so old fashioned and weird, I guess? Or, maybe people were just never introduced to the utility of it. It feels so normal and comfortable to me, but I’ve definitely had friends raise eyebrows or make surprised comments when they see me cooking with an apron on. How could something modeled by my awesome mom not still be awesome and relevant today? In my friends’ presence though, I have felt like I might as well be wearing a bonnet or corset!

But, old fashioned or not, I still wear an apron every time I cook at home — an old authentic Kingdome vendor apron (another shout out to my fellow Washingtonians!) that I found free in the “give away” shelf of our college apartment building. Here’s the deal with wearing an apron — I feel like I can cook (or work in the darkroom) more freely. I don’t even have to think about splattering my clothes, and I guess I’m kind of a messy cook! (I also really relish when I get to wear stain-free clothes after all the years of babies and toddlers wiping their noses and hands all over me.)

I feel the same way about wearing gloves when I work in the fields. I can weed with so much less hesitation when I have that layer of protection. I can weed with more vigor and speed knowing that my nails won’t jam against small rocks in the soil. I love the feeling of being properly outfitted for my task. It’s both physical and psychological. When I pull on my gloves, my sun hat, and my boots, my whole body and mind are ready for farm work. Likewise, when I put on my apron to cook dinner, my whole body and mind are ready to cook. It helps me focus, as well as helping protect my clothes from stains as I stand over a pan frying onions and butter (best smell ever!). And, at the end of the day or mealtime, when I take off my gloves or my apron, then I’m also saying: “And now I’m done.”

I have deep appreciation for these kind of physical routines and signals that help me create boundaries between tasks and keep focus. As more and more of the world’s work goes to computers — which can be used for work, recreation, socializing, and more — I think many of us experience more bleeding between different kinds of tasks and modes. Some people call this “time contamination.” Checking work emails at home, for example, blurs the line between work and home quite a lot and can make it hard for us to ever feel like we are done with work.

Of course, now so many of us are working at home … all the time. In our own household, we’ve been talking about how we can create boundaries around our work and home life even though so much of our work happens at home. The outfits we wear and the way we spend our time are a big one. I’m reminded of wonderful Mr. Rogers, who started every episode of his show by changing his clothes — in this demonstration he showed us that now it was time to be with us.

My apron is one way I do this with one household task, as well as the CSA pick-up. Gloves and work clothes are another way. For Casey, I can always tell when he’s officially done with farm work in the summer when he takes a dunk in the pallet bin we fill with cold water in the summer. That’s his way of literally cleansing off the dirt and dust and sweat of the field to be done for the day.

I’ve also observed how we have a new physical reminder and tool in our routines these days: the donning of masks to go into town and public spaces. This is a new one for me, and to begin with, it definitely felt and looked weird — I suppose a bit like when people see me wearing my apron while cooking at home. I can’t say I’m fully adjusted just yet — I still definitely notice masks when I go into town, but I have gotten accustomed to remembering to pack and wear my own. Like an apron or a pair of gloves, it’s a simple but powerful tool of protection. By wearing a cloth mask, apparently I can help prevent the spread of my germs to others. When faced with a virus that can spread even from asymptomatic, unwitting carriers, this simple bit of fabric can become a lifesaver — that’s even more important than preventing stains on my shirts or stubbed fingers!

And, much like aprons, masks offer the potential for some self-expression in their colors and shapes and patterns. I’ve chosen to wear simple, solid color masks, but Casey loves the farm-themed tractor mask a CSA member made for him. I love seeing what other people wear, and I also just love seeing masks. I mean, I don’t like that we’re in a pandemic and basic human connection has become so complicated. But I love that by wearing a mask in public, we can all visually express our care for each other. When I put on my mask, I am physically reminding myself that I love other people — that I even love strangers.

On a more pragmatic level, putting on a mask is also a reminder that I am not at home and I should be more cautious with my personal hygiene — using hand sanitizer, not touching my face, etc. While this isn’t the happiest message, it’s an important reminder to stay alert and remember that we are still living through a global pandemic.

It’s all very poignant and mixed for me. I often find my trips to town to be sad because they remind me of the people and places and routines I miss deeply. But I am grateful that my mask allows me to see people and do basic errands while keeping others safe. I put on that mask, and it feels like a kind of physical love in a time when I can’t hug my friends.

This week I invite you to do two things: first, consider how you build boundaries and routines into your life to help you focus on what you are doing (am I working? am I with my family?). For me, putting on an apron or gloves help me focus on my work; taking them off helps me relax and be with my family. What might that look like for you? Second, I also invite you to reconsider that pesky face mask and see it in a new light — as a physical reminder to be careful, but also as a physical symbol of your love for the world. Because that’s the underlying positive message of all these hard pandemic restrictions and changes — we’re all making hard sacrifices because we value people.

Apron or no apron, have fun in your kitchen this week, and enjoy this week’s vegetables too!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables: So many good summer flavors to enjoy this week. Remember to place your order by the end of Tuesday! It’s really important for us to have orders on time so that we can harvest adequate amounts of everything! Thank you!

Place your order:

Please select the vegetable items you'd like to receive this week, to total to your share size. If you order 2 (or 3) of something, it counts as 2 (or 3) items. Some items are limited, as marked.
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

Summer’s gifts

We welcomed summer with a fire in our outdoor rock ring.

Summer is here! Hoorah! Saturday marked the solstice — the longest day of the year and the peak of the sun’s photosynthetic potential.

Ever since the kids were little, we’ve dedicated the top of a little bookshelf in our living space to be a “nature table,” the place where we put our found trinkets and treasures as well as small ornaments to mark the season. I like to keep a bouquet of seasonal flowers (or foliage, depending on the season), as well as an art card depicting kids outside doing seasonal things.

Hiding the messy contents of bookshelf itself (games, school supplies, etc.), I’ve hung a curtain. Years ago, I sewed four different solid-colored curtains for this bookshelf, a different color for each season. This weekend I took down the bright green we use for spring and hung up the muted yellow that we use for summer.

And, already I can see this same change taking place outside in our fields. The spring rains had turned our fields such a vibrant, alive green, and even with the June wetness, already that color has shifted as grasses set their seed heads or go dormant. There is still quite a lot of green in the scene, but I can see the shift. Spring is about growth; summer is a time of maturity. Grains fill out and are harvested; summer annuals put out flowers and fruit; potatoes secretly size up underground. Spring is potential; summer is fruition.

While this summer feels like another beautiful turning in that endless reliable wheel, it feels different too. As I’ve noted before, this entire year feels like a step outside of time. Even though I can see the same ancient patterns at work in the natural world, in our human world it feels as though the future is unpredictable. What will next year bring? What will the next season bring? What will the next month or even week bring? We’re living amidst a global pandemic as well as global awakening. It’s a major election year to boot. My oh my, there is much to ponder these days.

And even as this time feels unprecedented, I feel a slight reprieve from all the unknowns as we go into the reliable dry season of summer. After months of avoiding All The People and All The Places, it feels as though summer could provide the opportunity to see some people in the safer context of distance outside. Our family certainly isn’t about to host any potlucks or sit close to friends, singing by our outdoor fire like we used to. But. It does feel as though we can connect outside one-on-one in ways that are mindful of maintaining distance. Hiking. Kayaking. Sitting across a fire from a friend. These are activities that would feel normal in any summer, and finally something normal is also (reasonably) safe. I, for one, am SO grateful for this renewed ability to connect in some measured ways.

I don’t know what fall will bring, and if I think about it too hard, I have to admit I get scared and anxious. Most days can feel reasonably normal, but at night before I fall asleep, the weight of what has changed and remains uncertain bears down on me in the dark. A good friend reminded me that this experience is grief.

At the very beginning of the quarantine, I happened to read Julia Butterfly Hill’s memoir of her two years living the tree she called Luna. I had purchased it months before out of curiosity. Reading The Overstory made me want to learn more about the real story that inspired much of that novel, but the book sat on my shelf for a long time, perhaps just waiting for the right moment to plop into my lap.

If you’re unfamiliar with her story, Julia Butterfly Hill lived for two full years (1997-1999) in a redwood tree in California in order to raise awareness of the clear-cutting that was destroying the last of these ancient forests. She did not touch the ground at all for two years. She lived and slept on a tiny plywood platform high up in the tree with only tarps for shelter. When storms blew through the forest, she had to hold on to branches and learn to move with them to keep from falling to her death. When it snowed, she woke up covered in snow. Flying squirrels crawled over her in the night. It was an intense experience, to say the least.

What I didn’t know at the time was that she started this process with no intention of remaining so long. She was very new to activism at all and went up the tree based on a gut instinct. The situation evolved over time, and she never knew how long it would last. The days simply added up and as she gained more and more media attention, her resolve to stay increased. She makes it clear in her memoir that she never would have had the fortitude to plan on a two-year stay. Would Hill ever have climbed into Luna if she had known? Unlikely. But as she stayed, she learned how to live in her unique new environment. She couldn’t have prepared beforehand; she learned how to survive from the tree and the experience itself. She literally developed new muscles from climbing and living in Luna, but she also developed inner strength and patience as well.

I keep thinking about her experience as we go deeper into this pandemic. None of us were really prepared for this or knew it was coming. We still don’t know how long it will last, and it’s probably for the best, as like Hill we will continue to develop our stamina and patience and necessary innovations as we go. Hill missed a lot of life squatting in that tree; she missed celebrating birthdays and milestones with friends and she missed years of potential college education or career building. We are missing much of the same down here on the ground now. But her experience reminds me of how deeply resilient and innovative we are as humans. It reminds me of how we can endure and find ways to grow in unusual circumstances. Hill kept her body healthy by climbing rather than walking; she connected with a large network of fellow activists to keep her stocked with necessary supplies; she read at length about forests and trees and the politics of the timber industry while camped out on her platform.

We too have this unexpected opportunity. I never want to sugarcoat this pandemic experience. I would never choose this for myself, for my children, or for the world. But, here we are, working our way through this global crisis together. We have a much bigger world than Hill’s tiny platform and tree, and we too can innovate and grow in unexpected ways. We will all be marked by this, but I hold on to the hope that we will learn things about ourselves and humanity that we truly never anticipated. It is my hope that, like Hill, we learn to pay better attention to the world around us, learning to appreciate the natural world and other people in deeper ways. For sure, we have already learned how real the connections are between all of us. We can no longer pretend to be isolated creatures now that we see that the air I breathe is literally the air you breathe and vice versa. This is a profound lesson that could have profound impacts on how we all live our lives going forward, not to mention how we choose to run businesses and operate governments and communities. That gives me hope. It is still all very painful, but I feel hope in these potential lessons.

And hope in the summer’s coming gifts as well. I can see the pregnant world before me, ready to burst with so many fruits and glories. Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

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Payment reminder! (This is only relevant for CSA members who started in April! If you just started in June, please disregard …) Goodness me, the second scheduled payment date came and went without me even noticing! Oops! I’m going to blame this on “Covid-brain,” which I think is a real thing. Either way, second payments were originally scheduled to be due last Thursday, but because I dropped the ball I’m going to send out statements this week and it’d be wonderful if folks could deliver payment by the end of the month. Watch your email for a statement — if you don’t receive one, it probably means that you don’t owe any money! You are always welcome to email (farm at oakhillorganics dot com) or call me if you have questions about your balance due!

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables: It was fun to have the number of orders for the “humbler” veggies go up last week! I especially loved every time I put those gigantic bunches of chard or kale into bags. It was very satisfying, and I hope you all enjoyed them! This week’s exciting news for the week is the first of the summer carrots (woo hoooooooo!) and the start of the Lambert cherry season. These old fashioned cherries (dark red, very sweet, big) are the bulk of the trees in the small cherry orchard on my parents’ property (next door to ours). We’ll pick plenty of these as long as they are in good shape — the season length usually depends on weather, so we’ll enjoy them while they last. (Next up will by the first of our plums!)

Also, we have the first of our fresh bulbing onions this week. There’s nothing like the smell in the house when we cook with good onions. Yum!

And, of course, all those humble green vegetables are still in amazing, plentiful shape: kale, chard, parsley, fava beans … and, in case we weren’t certain that summer has arrived, the zucchini are ON. Today’s midweek picking yielded eight bins. Wowza! Summer!

Place your order:

Please select the vegetable items you'd like to receive this week, to total to your share size. If you order 2 (or 3) of something, it counts as 2 (or 3) items. Some items are limited, as marked.
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

June’s gloom

Also in June: the giant linden tree on our property blooms and fills the air with its fragrance!

This is actually the third newsletter I’ve ever published that has some combination of the words “June” and “gloom” in its title. Because, well, this is A Thing — this rainy, gray weather in June, before summer really sets in for good.

It actually feels like it’s been awhile since we’ve experienced the “June gloom” — to the extent that both kids are marveling at it in wonder. It has been extra rainy indeed. Knowing that seemingly endless dry hot days are ahead of us, we’ve all been savoring the coziness of being inside during downpours. But we did get caught outside in at least one drenching rainstorm last week when we were biking (Casey and the kids) and hiking (me) at Spring Valley. We were soaked through, but thankfully we were close to home. It was a two-coffee day for me, for sure.

The regular happening of June gloom is a seasonal marker for Casey and me — it’s often the time when we have finished quite a lot of our planting but then have to pause on field work. It’s just too wet to hoe or hand weed on days like this, so it provides a perfect window of time for thinning our apple trees. Every year, we individually touch every apple cluster, removing all but one apple to grow big and mature. It’s a simple, meditative (and time-consuming!) task that makes an enormous different in the quality of our apples. We finished this year’s thinning this weekend. Then we did some weeding in the high tunnels, where the ground is still workable. And today Casey and I both caught up on lots of farm paperwork while more rain poured down outside.

Really, the June gloom is wonderfully timed in all these ways, providing us a breather before we jump back into the active pace of the main growing season. But we do hope that it lets up soon so that the cherries won’t split and we can start weeding all the plantings in the field too. Even though the season is progressing along nicely, and even though the June gloom is pretty normal, if we step back and look at the season as a whole so far, it’s been rather slow and late in many regards. At least, compared to some recent years. It’s so easy for us to recalibrate our expectations based on the last year or two rather than really remembering the wider scope of averages. Even now, in the midst of a pandemic, it’s almost hard to remember what “normal” felt like or believe that we’ll ever get back to it.

But time passes. Seasons come, and seasons go. And here we are, still poised at the top of a wave of the growing season, ready to take the plunge into abundance once the summer decides to come out and stay out. The summer solstice is on Saturday, marking the peak photosynthetic potential of the year. Even with so much other uncertainty around us, we can rely on this — the seasons will turn. The sun will shine!

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables: Each week, Casey and I can always predict which vegetables will the most popular. We think of these as the “sexy” options — usually it’s something new, or a perennial favorite. More often the “sexy” items are sweet, colorful, and often fruits (peas, green beans, cherries). Meanwhile, there are other beautiful, humble vegetables that maybe don’t stand out in the list with quite the same level of bright lights shouting “ORDER ME!” and so they get fewer orders.

One definite downside to the ‘order ahead’ system is that it’s hard for you to appreciate the beauty in some of our humble, steadily available vegetables. If you don’t order them, you’ll never see them! So, this week I thought I would share with you that some of these humbler vegetables have been outstandingly gorgeous lately — I mean, really really really at their peak beauty, flavor, and texture. They’re abundant too, making for large share amounts. Which humble items am I speaking of? Kale! Chard! Fava beans! Parsley! If you really want to pack some WOW (and volume) in your bag this week, I recommend ordering any or all of these.

This isn’t to say that the other items on the list aren’t excellent right now too … it’s just that I don’t think maybe people need to be reminded that cherries and strawberries are awesome. Everyone knows cherries.are.awesome. Deeply so. But remember the humble green things too as you build your share this week!

P.S. A note about strawberries — we are between plantings this year, really needing to replant (which we will for next year). So the strawberries aren’t nearly in the abundance we prefer, but don’t worry — as long as they don’t split, we have cherries galore. Which will be followed by plums and more tasty fruits. We love the “sexy” items too!

Now, onto the list … REMEMBER TO INCLUDE YOUR NAME!

Place your order:

Please select the vegetable items you'd like to receive this week, to total to your share size. If you order 2 (or 3) of something, it counts as 2 (or 3) items. Some items are limited, as marked.
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

A constantly moving train

A well weeded planting is so satisfying! This was a couple of weeks ago and everything is MUCH larger now already.

When we first started the farm in 2006, I feel like I spent a fair amount of time in our newsletters documenting (and educating our eaters about) the trials and tribulations of farming. We “learned” something new almost every day … by which I mean, we made mistakes and then learned from them in useful ways for the next time we grew that crop or the next season.

At some point, I stopped writing so much about how hard it all was because … well, it sort of wasn’t as hard anymore. At least, not in such a profound, gut-wrenching every.single.day kind of way.

Over those early years, we really truly did learn a lot. Every event that felt predictably stressful became a trigger for changing something in our systems. This is especially true in our approach to the “shoulder” seasons — i.e. anytime that isn’t in the main growing summer season. We built more high tunnels to help us get a jump start on the spring season, and we built more conditioned storage space for successfully storing different crops after harvest. These two changes in particular eased a lot of the stress we experienced, but there were countless tweaks and fine-tuning of our growing methods — selecting the best varieties for our growing conditions, buying good tools and learning how to use them, figuring out what scale of operation works best for us.

Along the way, we’ve found that we’ve internalized so much of the annual process that we have what can only be called a “gut level” sense of what to do and when in the season. The rhythm of it feels intuitive after so many years of practice.

That being said, I’ve been marveling lately at the complexity involved in growing fresh market vegetables for direct-marketing — and especially for a CSA where there’s a goal of having a reasonably stable amount of produce of an approximately stable number of different types over a set number of months.

For example, right now we’re supplying about 60 households with vegetables every week — working out to about 300 “items.” We aim to have about 9-12 options for people to pick from, and the numbers don’t work out evenly as people have different share sizes and different preferences. Over the years, we’ve learned which items will be more popular than others, so we can somewhat predict ahead of time our planting amounts, but we do have to predict and estimate.

But the really amazing — and challenging — part of planning, planting and harvesting for a CSA is that the vegetables are constantly growing and changing. And, to complicate the planning even further, the rate at which the vegetables grow and change also changes through the season (following much the same curve as the sun in the sky and day length). So, for example, lettuce planted in March will mature more slowly than lettuce planted in May or June. But, nonetheless, we need a certain amount of lettuce per week, so we need to account for the slower earlier growth in our planting.

Lettuce, actually, is a fairly simple crop simply because it can be harvested at almost any stage of its growth — as small baby leaves or full, mature heads. Other crops that involve the  maturation of a fruit are much more finicky. The window of time for picking a yummy sugar snap pea pod, for example, is small — each pod is in the ideal stage of maturity for only about a week, depending on weather (warmer weather will speed up the maturity and vice versa for cool weather). Zucchini need to be picked at least twice a week to prevent the fruit from becoming bigger than most people want to eat. Either way, most crops will only “hang out” in a harvestable state for so long, and we need to stay constantly aware of how everything is maturing and whether it is past its prime. Even classic storage crops need attention in storage, although they are much more stable than quickly growing crops in the field. The farm is a constantly moving train.

None of this time equation takes into account the other expected vagaries of growing: the pest and weed pressure, the unexpected weather, the low germination rate of a packet of seeds. We are constantly tinkering and adjusting as we move through every season — planting another planting of corn because the starlings picked off the first, sowing more cucumbers because the first one failed to thrive. These are the reality of growing, and we’ve gotten to where we hardly even notice the “failures” because we have come to expect that not every thing we plant will thrive every time. We know that sometimes you just need to till a few beds in and start over. Honestly, that’s just part of the game.

I’m still amazed at how much there is to learn — really learn — about all these different crops we grow. We learn by paying attention to them, year after year, understanding how they grow differently under different conditions and different care. Suffice to say, there are a lot of moving parts involved in a fresh market vegetable farm. To have the right amount of produce in the right number of types at the right time … even after all these years, each week’s CSA share still feels like a minor miracle.

Which, of course, it is! The gifts of the earth are a miracle — sunlight transformed through photosynthesis into energy that the plant can use, and then that we can also use. It really is a miracle — all life as know it starts with the sun and those tiny amazing chlorophyll cells. Casey and I just get to be partners in the process — as do you, as conscious grateful eaters.

Even amidst all the uncertainties of this weird year, the sun does still shine (albeit through a layer of clouds today), and the plants are growing. Let us rejoice in these gifts! Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

P.S. Did you know that I also post little bits mid-week on Instagram and Facebook? You can find us @oakhillorganics. Usually I just post extra photos from the fields that I think our customers would enjoy. Occasionally something related to homeschooling.

But this last week we participated in a larger effort on the part of white social media users to mute our own content and “amplify” the voices of people of color as part of the current #blacklivesmatter movement. I shared something each day related to the cause: for example a poem by lucille clifton and a list of children’s books about race in America.

It was definitely different than my normal content on there, but I don’t see it as profoundly different from what Casey and I have always aimed to do by being farmers. We started our farm out of a desire to make positive change in the world, and in our mid-20s sustainable food and farming seemed like The Issue. We saw farming as a way to physically manifest many of our ideals about the world — we could practice what we preached about organic agriculture AND connect our community. I see now that our ability to follow through on our goal of moving to a rural area, buying land and starting a farm business was an incredibly privileged act. While we certainly came up against plenty of obstacles to surmount, none of them were because of our skin color.

I learned today that farming is the second “most white” occupation in America (second only to veterinary medicine, which is also closely linked to agriculture). 95.8% of farmers and ranchers in America are white. (Source)

In the last few years, I’ve been doing a lot of self-education about how race functions in America. I’ve immersed myself in the voices of people of color who speak directly to their experience of race in America. I’ve read the most amazing books, many of which were uncomfortable at times, because they had hard stories to tell. Stories in which I was unknowingly complicit.

Anyhow, I didn’t intend this post-script to become it’s own newsletter of sorts, but I did want to direct people to our social media presence if they hadn’t connected with us there yet and also somehow mark the end of my week of muting our “normal” content. But I don’t see this last week as an aberration of our goals with the farm — to me it felt like a particular distillation of what we’ve wanted to do as people who work for justice and positive change in the world. We will always be striving toward those goals.

We too are a moving train in our way, as Casey and I continue to grow and learn and listen. We listen to our land and to the plants here, and we also try our best to also listen beyond the borders of our lived experience. We hope you do too. To that end, to accompany the list of children’s books I posted on social media this week, I wanted to share a list of recommended books for adults who might be realizing they have a lot more to learn about race in America too:

  • White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo
  • Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson
  • The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
  • How To Be An Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  • Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama

Happy reading!

P.P.S. In super mundane news, have all our new members paid your first payment? If not yet, thanks for doing so this week!

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables: In the continued theme of “the farm is a moving train,” we have many fun new summer-y options this week, but not yet in overly plentiful supply. You’ll lots of new items in the week, many of them limited to one. But given the number of options, I don’t think that will be a problem. More likely, you’ll have a hard time choosing what you want!

Please remember to include your name when placing your order! Last week we had several orders without names attached. Thanks for placing your order by Tuesday evening!

Place your order:

Please select the vegetable items you'd like to receive this week, to total to your share size. If you order 2 (or 3) of something, it counts as 2 (or 3) items. Some items are limited, as marked.

 

Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

Farm animals

Farm cat Mokum ”visited“ me while I planted more potatoes this weekend.

On a week when it feels as if the world is possibly about to fall apart (or, more hopefully, about to be reborn into a new understanding of justice — who can tell from our vantage point today, mid-stride in an historical moment?), I have been taking comfort in the ongoing miraculous non-human life that surrounds us every day on the farm. I can find myself overwhelmed by anxiety (mixed with hope) on these tumultuous days, and it helps me feel grounded to pay attention to the ongoing work and growth and beauty just outside my door.

Specifically, I’ve been paying close attention to the animals on our farm. We haven’t kept any livestock for years now, but our world still teems with animal life, and I never seem to tire of watching and interacting with the creatures that share our home. We have two adored farm cats, whom we brought home from the McMinnville Farmers’ Market back in 2007. A customer walked into our booth with a kitten in her arms and then told me his brother was in the car — we adopted both on the spot! They were both white with orange ears and tails, and we named them Mokum and Nelson after two of our favorite carrot varieties (in homage of their orange tails).

Cats are always special pets, but these two surprise me all the time with how they have integrated themselves into our family and our life here. Mokum especially joins us as we work or play outside, often situating himself nearby for a nap or sometimes jumping right into our space as we, for example, try to plant potatoes. In the photo above, Mokum had been walking in front of me as I laid out potato seeds and then finally planted himself in my bin of cut potato seeds and stayed there, letting me carry him along with the bin. He also joins us on walks around the field and comes running if one of the kids injures themselves and cries. He comes up and licks their faces to make sure they feel better. He also greets all our visitors and is a favorite among our friends.

But, from a farming standpoint, Mokum’s most amazing skill is his ability to hunt and kill gophers. We’ve always had a lot of gophers in our fields. In the early years, we would lose massive chunks of plantings to their damage and even reached out to other farmers asking for advice. Many suggested particular dog breeds, which wasn’t the answer I was expecting! But, without me really noticing, over the years our gopher pressure has lessened — not to the point of disappearing, but certainly reduced from the early years. In the same time, we’ve witnessed Mokum carrying many a gopher up to the yard from the field. Friends, do you know how big gophers are? They are large rodents. And Mokum is not an exceptionally large cat. But, he is an impressive one and clearly a good, patient hunter if he is able to catch these elusive under-ground rodents.

Mokum’s brother Nelson shares many of these attributes but he is more shy and has some health problems that make him a quieter, but still sweet, presence on the farm.

But this last week I’ve especially marveled at how the wildlife that shares our farm has also come to feel like friends and neighbors. I put out a bird bath by our house earlier this spring, which so far has mostly served as a very large, awkward cat water bowl; but last week a western scrub jay also started visiting to drink. The same jay has been hanging out in our yard in general, looking at us from the branch of a maple tree while we eat dinner at the picnic table below. It cocks its head in the funniest ways as it watches us, making it look as though it is trying hard to comprehend us and our activities. We’ve named it “Scrubbie” for short and once we named it, we became even more aware of its constant presence in our yard and near our house. This bird has apparently decided this is home for the summer. Even now, I am sitting outside typing, and Scrubbie is visiting one of our bird feeders in the walnut tree.

While Scrubbie seems to the most active “watcher” of us I’ve seen in a while, over the years, we’ve had other occasions to identify individual birds and form mutual watching relationships with them — kestrels that perch on the same wire day after day, a turkey vulture with a particular notch in its wing that returns year-after-year, a family of sparrows that builds a nest in a box on our house, a heron that visits our fields to hunt … There are also the innumerable birds whom we don’t see as individuals because there are so many that visit: the hummingbirds that daily visit my garden (which I specifically planted beneath our windows to provide food for hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies), the bald eagles that soar over head, the cedar waxwings eating berries in my parents’ service berry tree, the dancing swallows swooping over the fields.

There are more animals that share this space as well, some of which we only see through the signs and tracks they leave behind. Deer walk along the edge of our fields every night it seems, based on the tracks and trails we see. Thankfully, they must have plenty of forage on the island to not become too interested in our fields. We know there are raccoons living in trees here — sometimes we see one checking the cat food bowl in the evening and occasionally we see babies scampering in trees during the day. We’ve seen beavers in our fields many times, and last winter the kids and I watched a nutria slump its way across our field to nibble in our greenhouses multiple days in a row. I was a little worried at first about what a rodent of that size could do to our winter crops, but it stopped the habit after a few days — perhaps it realized it was too exposed that far from the brush. And, of course, at dusk, we love to watch the bats come out, visible mostly by their dark silhouettes against the purple sky. Soon after, we inevitably hear the not-so-distant cries of the island coyotes — a haunting nighttime sound. And, then, finally the owls, hoo-ing in the dark.

Casey and I have always loved the alive “wildness” of our farm. This year things are looking “tidier” than in recent years thanks to staying home more, but our farm is never perfectly weeded. Nor do we strive to exclude other animals from our farm — even while we are glad to have less gopher-pressure on our crops, we still appreciate the role gophers and other burrowing animals play in soil health and the larger ecosystem! For me, thinking about the way we share our home with all these other creatures and plants is so humbling and inspiring

Friends, I want so badly for positive change in our human world. I want to live in a world that really truly cherishes all human life (#BlackLivesMatter!!!!!!), and even sees and acknowledges the inherent value of non-human life too! Can’t people see the miracles all around them? How we can take any living person or thing for granted, when all are a miracle. The beauty of the world — all of it, the human and non-human — overwhelms me.

I’m so grateful for all the people who show up for the hard work of justice day-in and day-out. I’m humbled by them too, especially in a strange pandemic era when it feels so hard for me to reach out and really be present to this important work. I want to be there for all of this, witnessing the human story just as I witness the non-human story every day on our farm. I want to sing justice on with my choir sisters.

And yet. Here I am, on the farm instead. It is a strange time. I don’t always know whether I’m making the right choices — to stay put and be safe; or to reach out and help others. I want to connect … how? But, I’m here on the farm, still paying attention. As Mary Oliver famously wrote, “I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention.”

So, I’m paying attention as well as I can this summer to what I can. And learning what I can. I am reminded again and again that our presence here on this farm is a small moment in time compared to the larger ongoing cycles of life. Our presence here is small compared to the vast number of generations of Kalapuya who lived here and their ancestors before them. Our presence is small compared to the eons the Willamette River has spent meandering across the valley, shaping habitats for the ancestors of the animals living here now.

These animals humble me today and everyday with their presence. Even funny little head-cocked Scrubbie.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Welcome new CSA members! A cohort of new CSA members is starting the program this week. With the increased interest in CSA programs right now, we have experienced increased demand but waited to add more members until we could plant for them! We’re definitely in the growing season now, about to start riding the big wave that is summer (we can see it forming! Almost here!). We’re excited to have more folks with us to experience the goodness of it all.

As a reminder of how the system works this year: at the end of this newsletter you’ll find our weekly availability list and order form. Please fill out this form by the end of Tuesday. On Wednesday we’ll harvest for everyone based on the orders, and then on Thursday we’ll meet you at our storefront between 3 and 6 pm to pack your orders and deliver them to you! We are still asking people to stay outside the storefront; we’ll bring packed orders out to you.

Let us know if you have any questions along the way!

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

The star of this week is, of course, still the sugar snap peas. So yummy and easy to eat! These are peas that have an edible pod, so all you need to do is snap off the string (if you want) and pop them in your mouth! Pair them with hummus or other dips to make a filling snack or appetizer. Or chop onto a big salad with lots of other toppings to turn into a meal!

We also have a new Asian cooking green to offer you: Yukina savoy. In flavor and texture, Yukina is somewhat like a cross between bok choy and spinach (although not related to spinach at all). It has a darker green color and softer texture. It cooks up quickly and makes a great stir fry green, but it is also tender enough to chop and add to a salad.

We also have parsley this week and the first of the zucchini! New flavors! And, much more summer to come …

Place your order:

Please select the vegetable items you'd like to receive this week, to total to your share size. If you order 2 (or 3) of something, it counts as 2 (or 3) items. Some items are limited, as marked.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment