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! We sell primarily through our unique 45-week long Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, which offers customizable share sizes and contents. You can find out more information about what and how we grow by following the links above; or, scroll down to read our latest farm news on our blog!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

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What’s on our minds

What’s on our mind this week? A smattering of random things … summer plans for all (swimming lessons, mornings at the river, day camps, hikes) … all the plants that we need to transplant in the coming week (onions! summer annuals!) … addition math facts … spring cleaning … continued gratitude for our place and our work …

Like many people, we’re also keeping one eye and ear tuned in to what’s happening on the federal level right now. Although we are managing to maintain peace here in our home and our hearts, I do think that we are living through what will go down in history as a period of profound turmoil for our country. Tonight, more breaking news that may or may not prove to be very significant. It would probably be more interesting to watch if we knew the end to the story already, but as it is the news coming from Washington can be unsettling.

Over the months since the election, Casey and I have sought to better understand many aspects of our nation’s current state and history (as well as other historical conflicts and shifts around the world). So, in that part of our mind, there’s a lot more that we’re thinking and wondering about too … the history of racism in Oregon, for example (which is a history that we now realize complicates any simple romantic narrative about our back-to-the-land impulse) … the political histories of many other countries and the outcomes of different kinds of dissent … how to better engage in fruitful, loving conversation with people who are different than us (I am currently reading this book thanks to a CSA member’s recommendation) … what we can do to make a difference as we personally witness increases in homelessness … what the future of healthcare will look like for us and our children … how our faith informs our understanding of all of these things …

I don’t think we are alone in wrestling with these bigger questions these days. It does not feel like a time when anyone can just sit back and ignore the challenges facing us, both here locally, nationally and internationally. Casual conversations seem to quickly and easily move to Big Topics these days. We went camping on Sunday night with our homeschooling co-op friends, and the adults spent most of the time gathered around the fire, deep in discussion about these things and more. We enjoyed plenty of laughter amidst all the seriousness, and the children roamed the woods looking for cougars (that weren’t there!), built “sanctuaries” for snails, played UNO, threw sticks into the fire, and joined us for meals and a hike. I don’t know that we adults came up with any novel solutions that will Fix All The Things, but I do know that it felt good to engage in that deep space with other thoughtful, diverse adults — to know that we are not alone in observing and pondering these challenges right now. Being in the woods helped, of course, too. Being in the woods always helps everything. (That’s a piece of advice, my friends. If you need help with anything, try visiting the woods for a spell.)

Now we are back and going back and forth between these two sets of mental lists — the immediate, mundane, agricultural and familial daily existence; and the more profound wrestling with the Big Questions. It’s not always easy. Emotional and mental “wrestling” can, by its very nature, be painful, and we have been learning so many hard things about our country. But we feel buoyed by our community, each other, our faith, our family. I, for one, feel like I am in a refining fire of sorts as I increase my own awareness of so many things.

It is a time to take care of ourselves too. Given how frequently these conversations come up, I do think that many people are wrestling with Big Thoughts. Remember to step back. To visit the woods (there I go again with this advice! Seriously — go to the woods!). To eat well. To laugh with children. To look forward to summer and swimming at the river. These are the things that we do all the wrestling for. Be sure to enjoy them every day.

And, enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Apples
  • Sugar snap peas — The first of the year! Woo hoooooooo! Thankfully we already decided several years ago that we like growing sugar snap peas in our high tunnels. It took us years to get to that point, because we really felt like they are a crop that should be grown outside for some reason. I think we thought this because they do grow in cool weather. But it is always tricky getting the ground prep done early enough for planting them in order to take advantage of that early cool growing weather. Inevitably, when we’d grow them outside, they’d go in late enough that they’d be ready more in early summer than late spring, sometimes even bumping up against our green bean harvests (because beans are faster to produce!). That always felt silly, like we were missing out on peas in the season we most want them, so we committed space for them in our high tunnels, where they have performed beautifully the last two years. And this is a year when we are as grateful as ever, because even with growing in a high tunnel our harvests are fully a month behind last year’s! But, it has begun, and it will continue. The pea trellises are loaded with blooms and immature peas. This week’s share represents just the very first harvest, and as always that means it is LIMITED!!!!!!! This is so that everyone can have a taste of these first fruits!
  • Strawberries — Likewise, we now grow strawberries exclusively in our high tunnels (for all the same reasons — these earlier season crops just really benefit from all the high tunnels have to offer). And, likewise, this week’s offering is the first of the first and therefore LIMITED!!!! We want everyone to enjoy strawberries this week. Oh, and if you’re wondering, YES they are Hoods! Only the best for our CSA!
  • Carrots — More carrots! Because we want this first planting to go as far as possible, these are also LIMITED this week! Yes, this is the season for limited veggies. Thank you for rolling with this seasonal phenomenon — we are at what we call the “pinch point” in the season, when the over-wintered and storage crops are running out and the spring-planted crops are just beginning. It happens every year, often in May. These are weeks when we are often giddy just to have vegetables and fruits to fill our shares!!! A farmer friend of ours who also runs a year-round CSA actually takes May completely off in order to avoid the pinch point (also it gives her more time for the May planting push). We’ve never felt that was necessary for us, but we always appreciate how our CSA members have learned to really savor the food we have available in this season, which is so different in tone than later months.
  • Lettuce — Also LIMITED still this week! All the same reasons apply as with the carrots! We want everyone to be able to take home some of these items!
  • Kale
  • Stir fry mix — This will be a mix of several yummy greens from our greenhouses suitable for quick cooking: kale rapini, bok choy, mizuna (another Asian green), and mustard greens. Would be delicious cooked with green garlic, a little ginger, sesame oil, and a splash of soy sauce! Serve over rice! (Or do something else delicious — that was just one idea of complementary flavors. And, speaking of complementary flavors, check out this very cool website’s graphic charts of ideas for pairing foods, including all kinds of vegetables.)
  • Cabbage
  • Sunchokes
  • Green garlic
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Spring work

We planted potatoes on Saturday!

We planted potatoes on Saturday!

Spring is bursting with activity here on the farm! Now that the warm, dry weather has begun, we’ve been scurrying around making up for all the lost time from earlier spring. On this week’s list: more ground prep of various kinds and planting!

As planned, we planted all of our potatoes on Saturday — 24 200′-long rows of potatoes! It ended up just being our family out here, but it was a glorious day and we were happy to be out in it. The children helped plant a part of a row each.

The children planting!

The children planting!

But 200′ is a long row for a kid, and after some diligent work they were both ready to play instead. They took turns hiding sticks for the other one to find in the field, then the retreated to the expansive shade at the edge of our willow hedge. (I still marvel at the shade produced by trees we planted so many years ago! It makes me feel old and grateful for this work!)

Casey and I kept working at a steady but leisurely pace. I was awash with memories of our earlier farm years when it was just the two of us doing all the work every day — before children or employees came along. We had fun back then and we had fun on Saturday too.

Casey has kept planting since then. On today’s list to plant was: sweet corn, sunflowers, bok choy, chard, dino kale, cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce, cabbage. The kids wandered out to help him (and to play in the mud made by our sprinklers). I stayed inside to continue working on my big spring project this week: spring cleaning!

Our cozy (and well loved) reading nook!

Our cozy (and well loved) reading nook!

We’ve lived in our house now for a decade, which is certainly the longest I’ve ever lived in one place (Casey’s parents are still living in the same house they lived in when he was born however!). We observed our ten year-anniversary of moving into our house on Earth Day this year, and the occasion has brought gratitude to the forefront of my mind. After all these years, we do so love our funky little house that we built ourselves (with the help of friends and family).

There are certainly choices we might make differently were we starting from scratch today, but to be honest I’m so grateful that we’re not starting from scratch with building a house! It was a big, exhausting, stressful project, to say the least. Because we were new to house building and had a very limited budget, we moved fast and often made decisions based on what was easiest to do and cost the least (while still maintaining our goals of a sturdy house made out of real materials). The result is a small house with a lot of soft wood in its interior, and it feels a lot like a cozy cabin in the woods. Our cozy farm cabin!

We also spend a lot of time gathered here.

We also spend a lot of time gathered here.

I love it even more when I make the time to keep it sparkling clean, and it was certainly time for a deep clean. We spend a lot of time in our house, cooking from scratch and coming and going from our dirty work and play. Today, for instance, I scrubbed our entire kitchen ceiling!

I suppose these things do need to happen over a lifetime of living in one house, but I still find myself surprised by what it really means to dwell somewhere for the long-term. Surprises like finding that the willow hedge we planted from cuttings now has deep shade for sitting in. Or, in this case, finding that our ceiling just really does need to be cleaned!

I have written so much about time in these newsletters, because cycles of time are such a vivid part of our life here. Time exists here like a nesting doll, cycles nestling inside cycles. Our daily rhythm of breaking our fast together, then working, then coming back together for a quiet evening. Our weekly rhythm of harvest and field work, followed by rest on the weekends. Our yearly rhythms of planting, harvest, sowing cover crops, and finding rest in late fall and winter.

And as an undercurrent of it all is this continuous sense of moving forward too — not forward with any destination in mind. In fact, we’re about as ambitionless as perhaps we’ve ever been, as we have achieved many of our goals and are savoring this moment of life when our children are young and at home with us. But, nonetheless, time moves, and we see this marked in our very familiar landscape, again in those nesting cycles: the sun’s rising and setting; the moon’s waxing and waning; the day’s lengthening and shortening again. And, always our landscape changing to indicate where we are in those cycles too. Just in the last week the farmscape has shifted dramatically as our remaining over-wintered crops have all gone to flower and fields have turned from green cover crops to rich brown turned soil. New birds have arrived in our yard, bringing with them their spring songs — Evening Grosbeaks, Goldfinches, and Western Tanagers.

The view of the fields from our picture window is always changing and always beautiful.

The view of the fields from our picture window is always changing and always beautiful.

When we decided to live our life this way — rooted in a place — I looked forward to the sensory experience of the world constantly shifting around me. I wanted the familiarity that would allow me to see those minute, day-to-day changes in a landscape. If I were constantly moving, would I notice whether birds had arrived? How would I even know the order of what blooms when and notice when something is later than usual? (Such as this year’s Hawthorns, which by the way are in full bloom everywhere right now and gorgeous!)

For me, it has been such a gift to get to live this kind of life, the one Casey and I set our hearts on so many years ago. So much about it is simple and not very flashy or exciting. Often our life involves work. In many ways, it is a marriage and brings to our life all the same highs and lows one might expect from a committed lifelong relationship. But, like the best marriages, we are infinitely blessed by our intimacy with this place. And, spring is, of course, one of the easiest times to feel those blessings, as we rejoice in the golden sunlight and all the promises of the season to come.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables: We have several new items this week! As always, the first of a new harvest is small, and so we have to put limits on several items this week (one item of each of these new things for each share). But there are plenty of the staples to fill out your share, and more of the good spring things coming in future weeks!

  • Apples
  • Baby head lettuce — LETTUCE! Limited for this week! You’ll get to watch over the next few weeks as these lettuces grow and get bigger!
  • Baby carrots — DEFINITELY LIMITED this week! These are “Mokum” carrots, a variety that produces quickly and is tender and flavorful. It’s also the namesake of our cat, Mokum, whom we named after the carrots almost ten years ago after we brought him (and his brother Nelson, also a carrot variety name) home from the farmers’ market.
  • Kale
  • Chard
  • Cabbage
  • Sunchokes
  • Torpedo onions — Also limited this week. Torpedo onions are a special type of red sweet onion that has a long “torpedo” shape. They have exceptional flavor that is strong without being spicy. They are delicious eaten raw (slice them on a sandwich!) or cooked. Because these are fresh, you can use all parts of the onion — the bulb and the green tops both.
  • Green garlic
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Warmth for today at least!

In the foreground: worked up ground. In the background: Casey working up more ground!

In the foreground: worked up ground. In the background: Casey working up more ground!

It’s happening! The sun is out! The high on our porch today hit 84° — the highest temperature we’ve had out here by far this year, breaking yesterday’s record-setting (at that point) 73°.

The plants aren’t sure how to respond. Have you ever seen thistles wilt? They are wilting in our fields at this very moment. Knowing how tenacious they are, we have no doubt that they’ll bounce back overnight. We’re assuming the same will happen for all our cultivated plants that are suddenly being thrown into a very different climate than the one they’ve grown accustomed to over the last seven months of mild-to-cold weather.

They’ll adjust, but the shift today is very sudden, and the plants just don’t have the hardness yet to weather it without showing some affects.

We humans are also adjusting. I always joke that in Oregon, our talk of the weather often goes something like this: “Too wet. Too wet. Too wet. Too wet … TOO HOT!” But I’d say that our family and friends all seem to be taking the shift in stride. That’s an understatement — folks around here are downright giddy (as well as a bit sweaty and sunburned). We had to dig out all our sunhats today, and it’s time to pull out the stored kids’ clothes from under the bed to see what still fits from last year’s warm-weather gear and what we can pull out anew. Even though I’d normally do this much earlier, I’d been waiting for the weather to make it truly needed.

What a relief to have it truly needed now.

We hope that the weather holds long enough for us to keep working on all our tillage and planting goals. Casey has been on the tractor a lot during the recent mostly-dry spells, and now he has most of our ground for the year in some stage of being worked up. Hoorah! He planted yesterday in the ground that was the most ready, but we have plenty still to get in the ground.

This Saturday we are going to plant our potatoes for the year, and we’d like to invite folks to join us if you are interested! The past three years, we’ve made a real event out of the planting, but this year we just hadn’t felt like we could reliably schedule anything like that until the weather shifted. Now that we know we can plant, we’re going to focus all our energy on Saturday on planting. So it will be a very casual — “your-help-is-welcome” — kind of gathering. This year, the work should be pretty easy — just dropping bits of potato into trenches, which Casey will cover up with the tractor. If you’d like to join us, come out anytime between 2 and 4 pm. We’ll have a shade canopy set up, some water, and apples for snacks. If you plan to come out, please let us know at pick-up or via email (farm at oakhillorganics dot com) so that we can expect you (and if you need directions, we’ll send those your way too). Work is always more fun with more people!

I imagine that you too are catching up with sunny weather tasks. Or, perhaps even just starting them now that the sun might finally trigger those thoughts of: “I should buy veggie starts!” or “I should wash my car!” or “The garden shed needs some spring cleaning!” I know I’m having many such thoughts these days; we’ll see how many I get around to in the coming weeks. Either way, I will aim to approach all that I do with joy and gratitude for these days and the opportunity to live in this beautiful season of life.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

P.S. If you haven’t caught on yet, some of the late spring vegetables that all love are later than usual because of the wet/cold spring. Thanks for continuing to enjoy the delightful things that are available this year. But, changes are on the horizon. Right now there’s a race going on between two crops to see which one can be ready first: the sugar snap peas and the strawberries. We’ll see which one wins in a not-too-distant week!

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Rhubarb
  • Apples
  • Seasonal salad mix
  • Radishes & turnips
  • Kale
  • Chard
  • Rapini & purple sprouting broccoli
  • Potatoes
  • Sunchokes
  • Leeks
  • Green garlic
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More on the topic of rain

Most of the interesting action on our farm these days is still centered in our high tunnels. We are so grateful for them this year!

Most of the interesting action on our farm these days is still centered in our high tunnels. We are so grateful for them this year!

In regards to last week’s newsletter about the incessant rain, I have some numbers to share with you this week. I learned in this article that today marks the 146th rainy day in the Portland area since October 1. This is a record, by the way, for the most rainy days (the prior record was 142 for the period of October – April – set back in 1999). And, hey, we still have another few days of April in which to keep smashing that wet record into pieces!

In case you want a better mathematical break down, there have been 209 days since October 1, meaning that the rainy days represent almost 70% of the total days in that period. Which may be how many non-Northwesterners picture our region, but it’s just not our normal reality. We missed most of our normal beautiful golden fall days, and now we’re missing many of our normal beautiful golden spring days.

And those 146 days are just the days that qualified for rainfall. I’d bet that there were other days that were plenty misty (or at least very, very, very dark and gray) but perhaps didn’t register for more than a trace of rain. I’m just betting. My guts and bones are telling me this — that we really haven’t seen very much of the sun in months.

If you want more statistics, this article reports that the Portland airport has received 45.5 inches of rainfall since October 1, making this the second-wettest winter in the 75 year history of records.

Apple blossom! And a brief "sun break" moment on the weekend.

Apple blossom!

Needless to say, since last week, not a whole lot has changed out here on the farm. Casey weeded the garlic (which is growing in a high tunnel). The apple blossoms have opened on some varieties of apples. Casey managed to mow some of the quickly growing grass around the farm but had to do it in the rain (not usually something that’s advisable). Discussions continue to thrive at a high rate on our farmer listserv (this week’s topics include people’s boot choices for summer — seems most everyone wants to chime in about their personal footwear choices). Casey has had time to call our representatives to voice his concern about current issues. The kids and I have read a lot. You know, we have had lots of time to do things other than work up ground and plant. Which is of course what we want to be doing (and what we’ve come to expect of spring!).

But the weather forecast is beginning to show some signs of a shift over the weekend. Our forecast says “slight chance of showers” more than just plain old “rain,” and I’m going to take hope where I can get it! Isn’t it interesting how our standards for “nice” weather have shifted this year? I hear people rejoicing simply over lighter rain or a dry spell in the day (often paired with the perpetual gray). And, oh boy, does everyone get giddy now when the sun really shines. It’s glorious, isn’t it? It’s good to be have our appreciation reset a bit — much like how I often rejoice in my normal healthy body so much after recovering from a lingering illness. This is a season that we will remember for a long time, as it will set a new bar for what is possible — both in terms of the weather itself, but also in terms of what we can bear. It is heartening to know that, even in these very wet, dark times, we can personally find so much joy, and the farm can continue to provide abundant food for our community!

(And next week I’ll write about something else. I promise!)

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

CSA payment due this week! If you haven’t paid us your second CSA payment yet, please bring it with you to pick-up tomorrow! We can take cash or check. Please let me know if you have any questions about your account balance due. Thank you so much!

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Apples
  • Radishes
  • Salad turnips
  • Marina di Chioggia winter squash
  • Seasonal salad mix
  • Kale
  • Chard
  • Cabbage
  • Beets
  • Sunchokes
  • Potatoes
  • Green garlic

 

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Rain, rain go away

Rain does occasionally bring beautiful rainbows! (Photo credit: Rusty)

Rain does occasionally bring beautiful rainbows! (Photo credit: Rusty)

Let me open this newsletter with a list of all the things I am grateful for this spring:

I am grateful for five high tunnels in which to plan and grow crops … for two well established orchards that will fruit regardless of how early we can work up the soil … for some money in savings that can give us peace of mind and flexibility in a season that is shaping up to be an exceptional one … for the fortuitous decision to start our season later and have a smaller CSA this year … for all the many blooming trees in that brighten the landscape on these dark days (especially for the feral cherries surprising us now with blossoms in otherwise innocuous hedgerows) … for rainbows.

Folks, have you noticed? It’s been raining since … oh, about late September. I know that much of the country thinks that it always rains in the Pacific Northwet, but really it doesn’t! We often get lots of variety in our weather, including breaks from the rain even during the wet season. This last fall, winter, and now spring, however have shaped up for an exceptionally wet season.

Even though rain is wonderful and necessary and so welcome at times, it has become tedious for many. I know that most people are feeling this in their bones at this point — a deep readiness for a shift in the weather. I’m sure it all feels even more extreme following the last two winters, which were mild and brought very early spring and summer weather. Because last year was early and this year is late, by some estimates, we are about two months later in the season compared to this time last year (in terms of things like temperature, blooming dates, etc.). Two months!

On a farmer email listserve we follow, emails have been more frequent than we expect in spring. There is a sense in these emails that everyone out there is pacing their fields, checking their tractors, tapping their toes with arms crossed, waiting for the opportunity to finally get out there and work up the fields for early late spring planting. In the meantime, the emails are flying with questions about pea trellising and farm dog training (each with some mention toward the end about “when will it stop raining?!?!?!?”).

The long term forecasts don’t offer much immediate hope. The one we follow most closely chimed in this week: “Enough with the rain.  Will a dry window (actually, a barn door is needed at this point in time) open in the future?  Well, this forecast is not very settling.

The author goes on to suggest that we’ll have a brief dry window at the end of this week and early next week, followed by another round of wet, cool weather.

So, here I sit, looking out the window at another gray sky over a very green field. A green field that I would love to see turned over and prepping for our spring planting, but alas we wait for that window (or barn door, as it were) to open. We have learned in prior summers that it does not pay to “push it” with our spring tillage. Turning the soil before it is properly dry only leads to compaction and hard clods later in the summer. And we have very well drained soil!

Casey and I assume that the window will open eventually. Surely May will bring weather that tips the balance toward dry. But, we were also discussing the possibility recently that maybe it won’t. At least, not in the way we expect here in Oregon. The evidence is in: climate change does affect weather patterns, and some big ones are shifting. We’ve always assumed that climate change would bring us more and more years like the recent ones, when drought and wildfires were the big concerns. But we’re realizing that the new scenarios might not be that simple.

Of course, it’s so easy to get caught up in the present moment and assume that it will never change, even when change might be a day or two away. This is a very human trait, to take now and expect it to be forever. We can get ourselves into all kinds of trouble this way — not preparing for a more prosperous or a more lean future! Many legends from around the world center on this very topic — people getting into [often interesting!] predicaments by assuming that their current situation is permanent. And, yet change is the one constant. After 11 years of operating this farm, we have learned how little stock we can put in our expectations for each season. And, those years of experience have paid off in that we feel calmer about this spring than I ever could have imagined a decade ago, when we would have been shaking in our boots at this point in such a wet season.

So, we’ll wait and see, along with all the other farmers in the Northwest. And we’ll keep tending our high tunnel crops, stretching them farther into the growing season than we might have anticipated. Presumably at some point we’ll make the shift to harvesting from the fields more and more. And, presumably at some point I’ll stop taking the vitamin-D drops I take in the “dark season”!

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Upcoming community events of note:

  • The “Screenagers” movie documentary is being shown at the McMinnville Covenant Church (2155 2nd St) on Friday, May 5 at 7 pm. The screening is free but donations will be accepted. This is the second time a CSA member has organized a screening of this movie in Mac, and both times I have not been able to attend! But I am so glad that a dialogue is happening about the potential affects of unlimited screen time on developing children. As a parent, I have a lot of concerns and worries about this giant experiment on our youth. Either way, it’s something to examine carefully. You can find out more about the documentary here: http://www.screenagersmovie.com/
  • The McMinnville Women’s Choir’s spring concert will be held at the First Baptist Church (125 SE Cowls St, McMinnville) on Sunday, May 7 at 4 pm. Tickets are available for purchase at Oregon Stationers ($8 adults; children are free).
  • We also need to schedule our upcoming farm events! Usually we have a potato planting and potluck in May but we have been feeling very reluctant to plan any kind of farm events while we are still in the midst of this protracted winter-y weather. Even though the calendar tells us it’s time to start planning our events, it’s hard for us to believe that. Hopefully soon we’ll get dates scheduled so we can share them with you!

~ ~ ~

Second CSA payment due! I sent out statements last week with payment reminders. Your second CSA payment is due to us by next Thursday, April 27. You can mail a check to Oakhill Organics, P.O. Box 1698, McMinnville OR 97128; or bring cash or check with you to pick-up this week or next! Please let me know if you have any questions about your account or balance due!

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Apples — This week’s apples are mostly Cortland variety.
  • Purple sprouting broccoli — The supply is limited this week, and we’ll label it accordingly.
  • Radishes
  • Marina di chioggia winter squash — An OSU professor who does trials of vegetable varieties recently sent out an email about a winter squash study. They wanted to find varieties that were especially suited to long-storage. Marina di chioggia wasn’t on their list, so Casey emailed to share it with her. Apparently many farmers are daunted by the size (yes, they are huge!), but we reassured her that we think it’s worth it to have delicious winter squash as late as April. (And that’s another thing we’re grateful for this odd spring!)
  • Seasonal salad mix
  • Cabbage
  • Kale
  • Beets
  • Sunchokes
  • Potatoes
  • Green onions
  • Green garlic
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Sources of empathy

Blooming plum trees + freshly mowed orchard floor = pretty spring sight.

Blooming plum trees + freshly mowed orchard floor = pretty spring sight.

Along with many Americans, Casey and I have been playing closer attention to politics in the last year than we did in prior years. I’m sure we would have benefited from closer attention to such things earlier, but for us the last decade was very much focused on farming and parenting. And, now it feels as though there is a lot to pay attention to as well.

As I do listen more closely, I have been struck by what is perhaps my own naiveté as I find myself astonished to learn that there are grown adults — people who function in the world and even hold important positions — who seem to lack empathy. The ability to imagine someone else’s experience is something that I’ve always taken to be An Important Life Skill. Empathy allows us to practice other Important Life Skills, such as compassion, forgiveness, and charity. Some people seem to be born naturally empathetic; and others learn through the course of experiences (which can often be painful but important ways to learn!). But, apparently, some people grow up without learning. Or, at times, choose not to extend themselves that way.

As an example, in a recent public forum, an elected official expressed his confusion about why he was able to graduate from college in four years without debt whereas so many cannot. Folks, I’m sure you and I both could think of a thousand and one reasons why his experience doesn’t translate exactly for every other person in the wider community, but what was more striking was that he didn’t seem to see those reasons (or chose not to anyway). He couldn’t imagine the factors that would lead a different individual (in a different era!) to have a different set of outcomes from what seems on the surface to be the “same” situation.

My shock at this revelation (“responsible adults who lack empathy!”) has led me to ponder the nature of empathy further and wonder: Where does empathy come from? How do we learn it?

My first answer comes from right outside the door. How many times have I waxed poetic in these newsletters about Casey and my love of the natural world? That this love is what led us to farming? Many people have written at length about the importance for humans to engage with the world with wonder. Wonder is that awe-filled experience of watching turkey vultures dance above our heads against a clear blue sky. Or, watching a dark thunderstorm cloud roll across the horizon. Or, witnessing the amazing circling of newts as they mate in ponds. Or, listening to the music of wind blowing through an aspen grove. Wonder is that moment when we feel the joy of stepping outside of our own experience to witness the experience of a very different kind of being in this world. Even though most of us would consider empathy a human trait, I believe that regularly experiencing wonder in the natural world is perhaps our most basic level learning of empathy, of understanding that things, forces, causes, and beings exist outside of me. Rachel Carson even wrote an entire book about the importance of wonder in child development; she (and I) would say that we need direct experience with nature in order to be fully human.

Next? I believe that we learn empathy through my other great love: story. If we are defined by anything as humans, I believe it is our need to understand the world through narrative and story-telling. We have a compulsion to tell and hear stories, and I believe that we learn the best through stories. Good, living stories help extend this experience of stepping outside of ourselves as we find ourselves so easily sucked into other people’s experiences. While listening to or reading a moving story, we can cry, laugh, weep, rejoice over experiences that are not our own — but in those moments they feel like they are our own. And in that act of engaging in story, we can learn about experiences that we’ve never had. Experiences that our neighbors have had, and we can begin to learn that our own experience of the world is limited. The best stories are ultimately so humbling in the way they extend our mind beyond what we know first-hand. They help us with that hard task of imagining what others might think, feel, experience.

As a homeschooling parent, these two points sum up most of what we try to do in our learning life together: spend as much time as possible experiencing wonder outside and reading really good stories. I have observed, too, that the stories we choose matter. Although we may find ourselves sucked into stories of all kinds, not all stories are edifying. And perhaps this is part of how individuals can (apparently!) grow to adulthood without learning how to practice empathy. Some stories don’t ask the reader or listener to enter a place of humility but instead can continually reinforce the reader’s own experience as the only true thing. This is why for the children (and for myself), I seek out stories that ask us to stretch our imaginations and learn about other people.

This week has also put one of the great stories in the center of our family’s life. It is Holy Week in the Christian church — the days leading up to Easter. This is a time in the Christian tradition when we remember again the final days of Jesus’s life as it is recounted in the Gospel stories — culminating in his crucifixion on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

In the liturgical tradition, the whole week is loaded with story telling, and much of it focuses on Jesus’s experiences of suffering in his final days: his weeping in the garden of Gethsemane, his betrayal by a close friend, his public humiliation, his subjection to torture, his very painful death, and his despair. Every year, the stories are read — often dramatically — and in many churches congregants are asked to participate in the readings, including even the hard part where the crowd yells: “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Christians participating in these services are asked every single year to imagine so many parts of the suffering in the story — to imagine Jesus’s suffering and to also imagine their own culpability in his suffering (and by extension the suffering of people throughout history and around the world). It can be a hard week of empathy as Christians enter these dark places where humanity’s suffering is revealed, along with our role in it.

But there is another side to empathy in this story as well. Because according to the Christian story, as it is told through the New Testament and church tradition, Jesus’s sufferings are God empathizing with humanity. As the story goes, the creator God didn’t just love creation enough to simply imagine what kind of suffering humans experience, that same God became human — fully, painfully human! Inherent in this story is the truth that empathy and love are critically linked — on the cosmic as well as the human scale.

Now, I don’t want to end this newsletter on some kind of high horse about my own virtues. Even though I find myself surprised at statements and declarations (and often even policies) that seem to lack basic empathy, I also know that empathy — and all those virtues that flow from it — is actually a really hard thing to keep at the center of our interactions with other people!!!! How much easier and more comfortable is it to see our own experience as the one true one? It is so much easier then to judge other people for their failings and to feel righteous about our successes and so on and so forth. Goodness, I feel these challenges every day, and Holy Week itself is a yearly reminder of how painful it can be to actually engage in real empathy and compassion.

But a few years ago, I really embraced the language of “practice.” People talk about a “spiritual/religious practice,” and it finally clicked for me that there is a reason why the word is practice. It’s not just because it’s something we do regularly, it’s because we are constantly practicing at all of it. We set our eyes on something virtuous (which will vary from person to person!), and we practice the art of always walking in that direction — never expecting to arrive but knowing that it is only in the continually practice that we can achieve anything close to our goal. Empathy is certainly something I am always walking toward and practicing. Time spent in nature, engaging with stories, and participating in a Christian community and the Christian tradition are keys for me (in fact, on that last note, I think it is the empathy at the core of the Christian story that always feels so radical to me — and so personally challenging too!).

Perhaps you have a different tradition that inspires you. Or perhaps different virtues you aim for. Perhaps that man at that public meeting has different virtues that he’s aiming for too. And, even if we do all take the time to imagine another person’s situation and feel the pain of it doesn’t even mean we’ll come up with the same solutions for fixing suffering! Feeling compassion is one thing; translating compassion into complicated things like policies and laws is a whole other set of challenges — so I have to give politicians a lot of slack on this one too. They’re doing tricky work, and I certainly don’t have answers for everyone! But, my goodness, as the population on this planet grows and grows, I do pray that more and more of us can continue to grow in our ability to think beyond ourselves and our own experiences — to appreciate all the other intelligent creatures we share this planet with already (both the human and non-human beings). Perhaps we can find answers together eventually.

Either way, I find that, for myself, the more I can let myself feel and imagine and listen to those other experiences, the more I grow in love for all of it — the swirling, awesome chaos that is our world.

And, also, I hope you enjoy this week’s vegetables too!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

CSA payment due by April 27! I emailed CSA statements to everyone this week with a reminder that your second payment is due to us by Thursday, April 27. You can mail a check to us at: Oakhill Organics, P.O. Box 1698, McMinnville OR 97128. Or bring cash or check to pick-up! If you have any questions about your account or balance due, please check in with me. Thanks so much!

~ ~ ~

Spring concert! Folks may know that I (along with many current and former CSA members) sing with the McMinnville Women’s Choir. You are invited to join us for our upcoming Spring concert on Sunday, May 7 at 4 pm at McMinnville’s First Baptist Church. As always, we have a fun and diverse line up of songs from many musical traditions, different countries, and in varying styles (with body percussion!). Tickets are $8 if purchased in advance at Oregon Stationers. (In fact, this newsletter got written later than usual because I was busy practicing singing with other choir members at an extra rehearsal this evening!)

concert~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Apples
  • Radishes
  • Turnips
  • Seasonal salad mix
  • Kale
  • Cabbage
  • Marina di Chioggia winter squash
  • Sunchokes
  • Beets
  • Potatoes
  • Green onions
  • Green garlic
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | 2 Comments

More of the quarry story

A spring milestone: Casey finally got onto the field with the chisel plow today! This is just the first step in spring ground prep, and it will likely be weeks before he can do more, but STILL ... it has BEGUN!

A spring milestone: Casey finally got onto the field with the disk today! This is just the first step in spring ground prep, and it will likely be weeks before he can do more, but STILL … it has BEGUN!

Several times in recent weeks, we have been approached by people who have questions about the relationship between farms and pressure from the aggregate industry (or other potential conflicting uses of farmland). Apparently, word has gotten out that we have lots of experience at this point addressing such questions.

For newer readers to our blog, some quick backstory: In 2010, a gravel company applied to convert a piece of prime farmland on Grand Island to “mineral extraction” zoning — i.e. applied to start a gravel quarry here on the island. We spent the next year helping to organize an effort in opposition — an effort that became almost a second full-time job as we juggled farming and caring for our newborn son as well. The Yamhill County Commissioners ultimately passed the zone change, but we are still working to oppose the start up of this proposed quarry. Six years later, and it is still not operating.

So, I suppose in those years we’ve gained some level of experience that might be helpful to others. One person I spoke with in recent weeks is a graduate student from Ontario studying land use planning in rural areas that abut large metro areas (in her case Toronto). We talked about Oregon’s history of land use laws and how we perceive those affecting our farm. And we talked about our experience with the land use process in regards to the quarry.

Today we received an email from another farm in Colorado. They are facing the threat of a gravel quarry and concrete batch plant that wants to go in adjacent to their farm. They were wondering what tips we might have about the opposition process. In writing my response, I had the opportunity to reflect (perhaps for the first time) on all the massive work we’ve done over the last seven years to oppose the proposed quarry here on Grand Island. So much of what we did was very organic at the time — we hadn’t been involved in community organizing or activism in quite this way before, so we didn’t have a clear game plan. Instead, we worked piece by piece with other people to figure out what our opposition might look like.

What follows is an edited version of my email response, in which I break down what we actually did and why I think each step was important. I think that these steps would probably apply in many similar situations where a farm or other body wants to oppose a proposed project that might have negative impacts — be it a quarry or polluting industry or other potentially harmful use of the land.

How to organize an opposition:

  1. Educate yourself about the quarry’s application process!!!! What exactly do they need to do and when? What are the laws around land use and who do they “favor” in terms of uses? This is all critical information for you to have. Find out who will make the decisions and what kinds of factors they will consider. Your local planning department is likely your best source for this information. Be very very very friendly with them and recognize that they are people. Go visit them in person. Dress in clean “town” clothing. Introduce yourself. Be persistent about getting the information you need. All else is pointless if you miss a critical deadline for comment or don’t understand what the decision making body is actually looking at in the case.
  2. Publicize what is happening and make sure that the public knows exactly how/when they can comment on the project (if there IS a comment opportunity). In our case, we did this by spending thousands of dollars for a full page ad in our local newspaper. The ad emphasized the farming history on Grand Island and shared the date/time of the first hearing. This really galvanized our community — lots of people came to the first hearing and the numbers just went up from there as hearings continued. Also: post about it on your website/blog; write letters to the newspaper; make yard signs. We made signs that said: “Protect Grand Island . com” and put them in the yards of supportive neighbors all over our area — the website then had more information about how to get involved.
  3. Organize with people who care. Who else is in the neighborhood? Who else might be affected? Can you pull together a group of people who are stakeholders and/or concerned about this? Do you have CSA members or other customers who would be willing to work on this with you? Try to meet regularly to brainstorm what to do and to prepare testimony if there will be a hearing. We met weekly for months with dozens of neighbors and concerned citizens.
  4. Make it easy for people to comment. We made postcards addressed to our county planning department that gave people an opportunity to very easily and quickly oppose the proposed quarry (with space for comments). We gave these out everywhere and the county received HUNDREDS of them, all of which went on the legal file. We also kept our effort’s website up to date with the email and mailing contact info for the planning department and the local papers.
  5. Get legal counsel. We hooked up with Crag Law Center, a not-for-profit law firm out of Portland that specializes in environmental law. They were able to help us hone our testimony and they testified as well and represented us at the land use board of appeals. We formed a non-profit so that people could donate tax-deductible funds to our cause to help pay our legal fees and other expenses.
  6. Tell your story. Why does your use of the land matter? Emphasize the role you (and other farmers) play in your local economy. This will likely be important in your testimony, but also in your public message. What would be lost in terms of money, jobs, and other benefits to the community???
  7. Be persistent. We are STILL fighting this quarry, six years later. We watch their every move and continually correspond with the related agencies so that they are very aware there is a concerned citizen effort opposing this quarry. This makes a big difference. If those agencies and decision makers don’t know there’s opposition, they might not do much except “rubber stamp” it. Our non-profit board still meets at least once a year and more frequently when there are moments for action. The process has been exhausting and dispiriting at times, but we all feel like it’s important to do! So we persist! If you want to stop this quarry, you will likely have to work HARD long hours. It has felt like a second job to us at times, and we have kids and a farm to run! We have wanted to quit many times, but we’ve persisted.

I told this farmer that I wished we already had a clear (and successful) ending to our particular story. Alas, it is ongoing. Most recently we were attending hearings regarding the gravel company’s application for a flood plain permit. We made a strong case against the permit, but the county granted it. Still, there are more permits for them to attain, and we have not given up hope. From what we’ve heard regarding some of the state and federal agencies, they share our reservations about parts of the proposed quarry, and they are aware that it is still a contentious project. So, we will see.

I felt like sharing all of this today, because so many of you have walked on this journey with us over the years — either by putting a sign in your yard, mailing a postcard, donating money to our non-profit or even showing up in person to one of the many hearings. This has been a large scale community effort, and from our vantage point today I see so much beauty in the work we’ve done. I see that there has been dedication born out of love for the land, love for Oregon agriculture, and love for future generations.

Activism is hard work. It can feel pointless for years and years and years. I see this in other causes too — that dedicated individuals and groups will sometimes put in decades of work before seeing the fruits of their labor. But when people care and they persist, things can happen. Looking at the big picture — even of an unfinished story — can give me hope on gray days when it is easy to yearn for quick solutions.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Seasonal salad mix
  • Salad turnips“Salad” turnips? you may ask. What does that mean? It means that these are turnips that were bred to be most delicious when grown and eaten fresh in the early spring. They follow closely behind radishes for being some of the quickest to grow early season crops, and they are also uniquely suited for growing now — finding their sweetness and tenderness in these cool-ish spring days of growth. So, how to eat? As the name implies: fresh! These are not intended to be cooked but to be eaten as you might eat one of those spring radishes: sliced raw onto a salad, or dipped in ranch dressing, or just chomped right off the end of the greens with a happy hoorah for spring! The greens are also delicious and very similar to mustard greens. They are tender enough to chop and throw into your salad, or you can chop and sauté them. They will cook down a lot, so if cooking, I usually combine them with another cooked green to make them go farther. For example, I’ll throw them in when I’m cooking kale for lunch.
  • Marina di Chioggia winter squash
  • Purple sprouting broccoli
  • Kale
  • Cabbage
  • Beets
  • Sunchokes
  • Green onions — Rethink your uses of green onions! These aren’t just for chopping onto salads (although that is yummy!) — we also chop green onions and use them in place of bulb onions when we cook. I like to heat a little butter in a pan and sauté chopped green onions (including the green part!) before throwing in greens or broccoli.
  • Green garlic — To reiterate on last week’s notes, green garlic can be used in the same way as clove garlic, but you chop the whole plant to use. Add to salad dressings, sauté in butter before cooking greens … or, for a fun treat, try roasting green garlic whole in a pan until crispy (with oil/butter and salt) and then serving along the side of the plate as a beautiful edible garnish. Eat it with your fingers!
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

Preventing plastic at pick-up

Pretty much unrelated to this week's topic, but this is a pretty photo of our earliest plums blooming right now!

Pretty much unrelated to this week’s topic, but this is a pretty photo of our earliest plums blooming right now!

It came to our attention last week that the McMinnville City Council recently approved a so-called “bag ban.” We were fortunate to have a conversation with one of the bag ban authors and promoters later that same day to learn more about what this means around town and for us at CSA pick-up.

For us farmers, the “ban” will begin in September of this year. The ban only includes the plastic handle bags that people pick up at the start of the CSA table if they have forgotten to bring their own tote bags or bins for produce. We will still be able to portion our vegetables using produce bags in the line itself.

So, we’ll all need to get creative about how to replace those handled grocery bags! I’d love to hear ideas from folks over the next few months about what would be a suitable replacement solution. An obvious answer would be for everyone to procure their own sturdy reusable container: a bin, basket or tote bag.

Tote bag holding library books, sitting in our living room RIGHT NOW!

A well used tote bag holding library books, sitting in our living room RIGHT NOW!

And, if you’re looking for a stellar tote bag, we do have Oakhill Organics “I eat local vegetables” bags for sale at pick-up now! They cost only $10, which is our cost! Why so much, you might ask? (Because one can buy tote bags for much less elsewhere.) Here’s why our bags cost this much: they’re high quality. They’re made out of cotton, right here in the U.S.A. (by a woman-owned company!). The cotton is thick, and the bags can hold a lot. The straps are actually long enough to use comfortably on your shoulder too, which I love.

We have several Oakhill Organics tote bags in our house that we use for everything: buying our own groceries, bringing home books from the library, taking towels to the pool, and more! We still use the bags that we first got over a decade ago — they are that awesome.

So, that’s step #1 of a possible solution: buy a tote bag from us (or procure one elsewhere).

Step #2 is trickier: remembering to bring it with you! How do folks make this work? I’d love to hear from you ideas that I can share with others. I know that, for me, packing my tote bags has just become part of my routine of leaving for the store. But I think it helps that with kids around, leaving the house inherently requires me to pack up a lot of stuff (jackets, snacks, etc.) — the tote bags are just part of it. If I could leave the house with just a wallet and keys on occasion, it might actually be easier for me to forget my bags too. But I also keep a roll up tote bag in my purse all the time, just in case.

But, you know what folks? In our 11+ years of operating our CSA, we know that plenty of folks will still forget. Because we’re all busy and, frankly, we are just so happy that people remember to pick up their vegetables! So, we’d love to have a back-up solution too. And this is where we’d love more ideas as well. Should we buy paper bags? Would it work for people to bring us their own leftover handle bags that folks can use if they want? Let’s get creative together!

This won’t be the first time we’ve seriously pondered the plastic use at pick-up. It’s something that’s always on our mind, and for us, we’ve always tried to balance reducing the use of plastic with offering people hospitality at the pick-up. We want you all to feel cared for and to feel like bringing home your vegetables is easy, which is why at some point we started offering the handle bags. It’s also part of why we portion some items into plastic as well — in our experience, storing vegetables in some kind of plastic is the best way to retain freshness (because the fridge will suck all the moisture out of veggies otherwise, leading to limp carrots and wilted kale!).

To compensate for our use, we’ve always chosen to buy higher quality produce bags, with the idea that people will not see them as single-use tools. In our experience, the produce bags we use can be reused dozens of times before they start to degrade. We hope that you find ways to reuse yours within your home before you finally recycle them.

Also, in case you are not aware, you do not need to use our produce bags at all! If you have cloth bags or your own reused bags, you are welcome to bring them with you to pick up and ask Casey to put veggies in them for you! We have several members who do this every week, and Casey is happy to help people prevent plastic use. You’ll just need to be a little patient, because it takes slightly longer to get veggies this way, but we love doing it.

You can also remove items from the bags and put them directly in your tote without a bag. Just slip our bag back in the bin and Casey will refill it for the next member to come along!

So, to recap: in September we will no longer be offering the plastic handle grocery bags at pick-up and we’ll be thinking of alternatives. We’ll still have produce bags, and you are always welcome not to use them. And we are thankful to the bag ban for another opportunity for all of us to reconsider our plastic consumption and how/where we can trim it down (for us as a business; for all of us as consumers).

In other quick farm news, this week our earliest plums started blooming (see photo above), and we had our annual organic inspection!

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Apples
  • Seasonal salad mix
  • Cabbage
  • Purple sprouting broccoli
  • Kale
  • Rapini
  • Marina di Chioggia winter squash — We experimented with our squash this week. We wanted to eat some for dinner but there definitely wasn’t enough time to bake a big old chunk of squash, so Casey removed the seeds, washed and then cubed a slice of squash to roast (note: he did not peel it — we just ate the skin and it was fine!). He roasted it 450° with plenty of butter, stirring occasionally. It was delicious! And ready so soon! We ate roasted cubed squash several more times this week.
  • Beets
  • Sunchokes
  • Potatoes
  • Green garlic — What is “green” garlic? It’s the young fresh garlic plant before it has fully bulbed or started to dry down. When it is still green like this, you can chop it far up into the tender green section and use it all as you might normal garlic. We typically throw it into the pan with the butter before we cook other vegetables. It is amazingly delicious and such a special spring treat.
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | 1 Comment

Remembering and savoring

Another requisite early spring greenhouse photo — in the foreground: fava beans!

In a greenhouse right now: On the right, fava beans! On the left: snap peas! Both quickly growing now.

Each year, spring takes me a little by surprise. Sometime mid-winter, I just forget what is possible. I forget how green green can be. I forget about the rousing choruses of bird song at dawn. I forget the spicy savory smell of a bag filled with freshly picked nettles. I forget what it feels like to feel a warm soft breeze on the skin.

And, then, it all comes back so suddenly on those first warm days. This first week of spring has brought plenty of more-of-the-same-rainy-days, but we’ve had those moments that help me remember.

The children and I are slowly reading our way through Anne of Avonlea right now, and I love revisiting Anne Shirley’s philosophy of life and the way she models savoring the natural world every day — pausing at the garden gate to just watch the wonders of the world. We are each day offered such riches, right here at our gates (or doors). Of all the seasons, I think spring most naturally reminds me of this wealth of experience, offered for all of us to enjoy.

May this week bring you your own spring moments of pausing in wonder. Maybe you’ll find it on a forest trail or in your garden or on your daily walk or in your kitchen as you prepare your evening meal.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Apples — Liberty apples this week. These are a relatively new variety of apple, bred specifically to be disease resistant in the orchard (and yummy in the mouth!). Even with our thinning efforts in the spring, each tree produces tons of apples each year. They are a favorite!
  • Purple sprouting broccoli — Have you ever paused to wonder: “What is broccoli anyway?” Ok, maybe just farmers wonder about the familial lineage of different vegetables and how they “came about.” Vegetables are bred and selected just as much as apples (or more so!). Many of the vegetables we treat as “normal” parts of our diet are relatively new inventions! Or, at least, the version we know are a recent phenomenon. Many vegetables today are larger, more uniform and sweeter than they were through much of human history thanks to careful modern breeding programs, including hybridizing. Not to be confused with genetic modification, hybrid seed lines are created through normal plant sex — but very carefully controlled plant sex! Usually two lines of plants are set out next to each other in order to force cross-pollination. The resulting seed line will have traits of both the parent lines but with added vigor and consistency (“hybrid vigor,” they call it). We grow several hybrid varieties of vegetables, including cabbage and sweet corn (all of them organically grown seed). Modern broccoli is also a result of this process, which has allowed this family of cole crops to develop exceptionally large and tight flower buds in the first season of growth! Generally speaking, cole crops are “biennial” plants, which means that they only flower after “vernalization” (fancy language to refer to having gone through a winter and into spring — a combination of day length and temperature changes). But most cole crops and brassicas still need to over-winter before flowering — those flowers are what we call various kinds of “rapini,” which really does resemble its cousin, broccoli! And, somewhere in between rapini and modern broccoli you might find this week’s broccoli relative: purple sprouting broccoli. You could look at this crop in two ways: either its a super delicious, larger than normal kale-like rapini; or, it’s a slightly smaller, hardier, biennial version of broccoli. We sow the seeds in late fall, and they over-winter as small plants. In the late winter, when days start warming and growing longer, they put on a lot of growth and then produce prodigious quantities of florets (along with delicious leaves and stalks). We can pick these and come back again several times before each plant is finally done for the season. We love having that green broccoli flavor so early in the year! Perhaps this is way more plant/farm information than you needed today, but I love putting vegetables into context to help you understand how they fit into the farmscape as well as into your diet. You can prepare the sprouting broccoli in any way you might prepare kale, rapini, or broccoli. Our favorite is to lay it in a single layer in a baking pan and roast it with butter and salt until it is crispy on the leaves and the stalks are cooked through! You can eat it all!
  • Radishes
  • Rapini
  • Marina di Chioggia winter squash — Before we left for Holden two weeks ago, Casey baked a truly massive Marina di Chioggia winter squash. We ate some of it before we left and put the rest in the fridge for later. I was amazed: we kept eating it and it kept being delicious and good in the fridge. Over the next week after we arrived back home, we ate it once a day until we finally ate the whole squash. I really didn’t think we’d make it through the whole thing, but we did. And every single bite was delicious. When I reheat the cooked slices, I like to do it so that one of the cut edges gets brown and crispy — I’ll do this either on a seasoned baking pan in the oven or on seasoned pan on the stovetop. Casey and I eat the skin and all. Casey and Dottie both love eating it with a big slice of butter on the side. I like to put butter on top of mine while it is still hot so that the butter melts into the flesh. And plenty of salt too.
  • Salad mix
  • Kale
  • Cabbage
  • Beets
  • Sunchokes
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

Surprising signs of spring

Wee narcissus blooming in my wee flower garden.

Wee narcissus blooming in my wee flower garden.

Spring begins this coming Monday, and this year the season has not been quick in arriving. I feel like in Oregon, we often see signs of spring well before the equinox that marks the season on our calendars — crocuses and forsythia can both bloom in February, bringing welcome color to what can be a bleak winter landscape in our gardens.

But this year, the season has been waiting. And we have been waiting too — for more light and for more color (thankfully here in Oregon, the green never disappears, so we always have that to comfort us).

Even as late as last Monday, we had snow here in the Willamette Valley! And frigid temperatures for much of that week.

Finally, however, this last weekend we started seeing and feeling the impending arrival of the new season. Here around our house, the daffodils and narcissus are blooming, bringing their brilliant splash of yellow to our lives. They mostly end up in our house, brought to the door by small eager hands, and I put them into jars on the kitchen windowsill behind the sink so that Casey and I can appreciate them while we cook and wash dishes.

And, of course, the temperatures have risen significantly over the last few days. Last night I woke up too hot in the night because it was 70° in our bedroom! We ran out of firewood a few weeks back (thanks to the cold winter!) and have been using a space heater in place of our woodstove, and we’d just left it on out of habit, leading to an unexpectedly warm house! It was, after all, 57° outside when we got up this morning. It doesn’t take much to heat the house to comfort zone when that is the starting point.

The warmth is so welcome. Even with the continued drenching rainfall, the outdoors feels more accessible than it did when it was 37° and raining. Casey immersed himself in the mud on Tuesday as he installed a new length of buried mainline on the farm into a very wet trench. He had to rinse his clothes out in the laundry sink before putting them in the wash!

But, the most exciting signs of spring for us came farther away from home. We made a very quick trip back up to Holden Village this weekend, leaving the house at 2:30 in the morning to catch the boat in Chelan on Friday. We stayed for just three nights, during which time Casey worked on some plumbing projects for the village (they don’t have a plumber right now and that used to be his job there). The kids and I played around (and went sledding!) with old Holden friends who also went up with us with their similarly aged children.

This image doesn't look like spring, and yet we felt spring's arrival while in this winter-y scene for the weekend.

This image doesn’t look like spring, and yet we felt spring’s arrival while in this winter-y scene for the weekend.

You wouldn’t expect to feel spring in the air when at a remote mountain retreat center that has received almost 300 inches of snow over the winter (with six feet on the ground)! But, we did feel and experience spring there, quite profoundly, in the form of avalanches. When the weather warms up in March, compacted snow on surfaces begins to slide under its own weight. It becomes a dangerous time in the valley and around the village, where the same phenomenon occurs on the roofs of unheated buildings.

While we were in the village, all the roofs that had not cleared yet did so, including the massive roof of the largest building in the village, the Village Center. This building sits beside the vehicle road that buses and trucks pass through to get to the lake, and when an entire winter’s worth of snow is still sitting on top of the roof, it becomes one of the most dangerous spots in the village. When we arrived, it was cordoned off with caution tape to keep people from walking below the inevitable slide of tons of snow.

And after a warm day of sun and thawing on Saturday, it went. The whole community was in the building next door for church services, and several people heard it (I did not). Afterward, we all ran out in the dark to see if it were true, and we found the entire road filled above head level with the “roof-alanche” snow. For the villagers, it was a relief to have it down, and everyone marveled at the awesomeness of the pile that now needed to be cleared away.

After the big roof-alanche (off the building to the right). Dottie is sitting on the road. The people behind her are standing on the snow that fell off the roof, which was over our heads in depth.

After the big roof-alanche (off the building to the right). Dottie is sitting on the road. The people behind her are standing on the snow that fell off the roof, which was over our heads in depth.

The kids and I got to see several other roofs shed snow on other occasions during the day (always from a safe distance) — big chunks that fell in blocks to the ground — and by the time we left on Monday morning, all the roofs were clear and rain was falling on top of the snow. It wasn’t the end of the long snowy season at Holden, but it was certainly the beginning of the end.

Here is a poem that speaks to this experience so perfectly, which a CSA member just happened to give us the day before we left for Holden (cosmic timing!):

Another Descent ~ Wendell Berry

Through the weeks of deep snow
we walked above the ground
on fallen sky, as though we did
not come of root and leaf, as though
we had only air and weather
for our difficult home.
But now
as March warms, and the rivulets
run like birdsong on the slopes,
and the branches of light sing in the hills,
slowly we return to earth.

We left feeling like spring had finally begun, and when we arrived back at home that feeling continued. On the farm we don’t have the big dramatic markers like tons of shedding snow, but we can see that the grass has perceptibly grown since last week (and is greener to boot). Buds on fruit trees are swelling, reading to burst open any day. The early morning is full of dawn songs from birds, welcoming the day. Rapini is popping up on more and more of our crops. All of these individual signs feel small and undramatic on their own, but they stir us with excitement. We are so ready for this next phase of the year — of flowering and planting and seeds going into the ground and sprouting.

May you enjoy the Spring Equinox! And, enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Apples
  • Radishes — Another sure sign of spring! We only grow radishes in the early spring, because: 1) That is when they taste best, in our opinion 2) They are a very short season crop, meaning that we can sow them and then harvest them within a few weeks 3) This is a time of year that can often benefit from something unique and colorful! They feel like little jewels to us. We’ll grow a few more crops of them before the spring is over, but remember to savor these as a truly seasonal vegetable. We find that we usually just eat them, but they’re also delicious sliced onto salads.
  • Crown pumpkins
  • Seasonal salad mix
  • Cabbage
  • Collard greens — Collard greens can be prepared in all the same ways you would cook kale, but they generally take slightly longer to cook. Greens sautéed in butter is a staple food for us around here (often with a bit of meat mixed in to make it a meal), and I love making big pots with multiple kinds of greens when we have them. For example, I might cook cabbage and collard greens together, starting with the cabbage since it takes even longer to cook. We love our greens cooked well so that they are soft, but other people prefer theirs “al dente” (which is an appropriate term, since we often think of greens as a substitute for pasta and use flavorings and other ingredients that would go well with pasta as well!)
  • Kale & kale rapini
  • Mixed rapini
  • Beets
  • Sunchokes
  • Potatoes

 

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