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 40-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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Happy summer!

We prepared the orchards for summer this week: mowed the alleys, scythed around each tree, and then thinned the apples!

Yesterday was the summer solstice — technically, I believe we reached our apex of the year’s travel around the sun sometime right around Casey and my bedtime (9:30ish). As I pulled closed our curtains at bedtime, I looked out at the very bright blue sky, still lit up by the sun, and I thought that yes I am ready for that turn toward slightly longer nights again.

It will be awhile, of course, and I’m in no rush to see the days shorten quickly. But, summer is here! The sun has been so mild this year that it still feels good on the skin (in moderation, of course). The dust and heat waves will come, too, but right now summer is just all good.

As school gets out this week for the latest schools, I am sure that many in our community are also feeling the summer joy. School is good, yes? And so is that break. I think that the breathing in and out of the year is so important for us people — to work hard and then to break. And you folks who don’t farm are lucky to get your break smack in the middle of a glorious season for travel and outdoor adventures! We do as much of that as we can, but farming is for sure the focus of our time in summer (it is of course another kind of outdoor adventure).

May you all be busy preparing for summer’s gifts of adventure! And enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Cherries
  • Apples
  • Fava beans — The beginning of this year’s fava harvest! If you’re new to fava beans, here’s the scoop: also called a “broad bean,” favas are one of only a few “beans” native to Europe. These are fresh favas, but they are also grown as a dried bean (which is similar to a lima bean). Fresh favas can be eaten several ways, but they are almost always cooked. The outer pod is very thick and fibrous and not suitable to eating raw, but you CAN roast or BBQ whole fava beans in the pod. This is the way we are most likely to eat them, because it’s fast, easy and delicious. Just lay fava beans in a single layer in a roasting pan with some butter/oil and roast at a high temperature until they are brown outside and cooked inside. Salt liberally. We usually pick them up with our fingers to eat. A more traditional Italian way to prepare fresh fava beans is to remove the beans from the outer husk and then peel the white skin off the innermost green beans. You can do this while they are raw, or you can blanch the inner bean and then “pop” it out of the skin. Once you have a pile of the green beans, you can cook them further — try sautéing in butter or olive oil with fresh garlic. Once cooked, you can simply add them to a pasta dish, or for the ultimate foodie treat: purée them into a fava bean paste and spread it on toast. Getting to that final point can take a lot of work, but it is such a delight.
  • Broccoli — When people think of spring foods, they think of the earliest, tender fresh greens. When people think of summer foods, they think of the fruiting zucchinis, tomatoes, and peppers. But there’s a whole other category of annual vegetables that arrive in early summer, before the fruiting has begun but after the tender greens have passed away. This is when we get to finally enjoy the longer season green vegetables that we planted at the same time as those earliest quick-growing spring greens — namely, broccoli!
  • Zucchini
  • Fennel bulbs
  • Salad mix
  • Chard
  • Kale
  • Bok choy — Bok choy is an Asian green that was relatively recently introduced to markets beyond specialty suppliers. Because it is most traditionally used in Asian cuisines, it’s safe to say that the flavors of those cuisines complement it well. I love eating it with sesame oil, ginger, garlic, and soy sauce. But, like all greens, its uses can range for beyond what might have been “traditional” in its original context. Just this week, we enjoyed bok choy in a wide variety of contexts: for example sautéed with butter, peas, and diced ham. At another meal we ate it seasoned with chili powder and served rock fish on top. We often end up pairing foods based on what is in season (hence the bok choy and peas) rather than sticking strictly to any kind of recipes or servings suggestions. We find this a simpler way to address the bounty of the field and field our family fresh good food on our full days. What do we have? How can we put it all together? When starting with fresh ingredients, it’s really hard to go wrong!
  • Fresh garlic — Casey has begun harvesting the garlic! This is much earlier than “normal” for us because we experimented this year and planted our garlic in one of our high tunnels. We did this because one of our perennial big challenges with garlic is weeding it mid-winter. In our mild climate, there are plenty of weeds that love to grow (and even flower and set seed!) in the winter, and yet it is a very hard time to weed because the ground stays persistently wet for several months. We spent many, many winters trying to carefully liberate our little garlic plants amidst winter weeds, only to see them engulfed again soon after. It definitely affects the vigor of the garlic plants and their ability to put on big beautiful bulbs before harvest. By planting them in the high tunnel, we were able to give them more attention and weed them all winter (because the ground would have opportunities to dry out between winter irrigations). It isn’t a choice we would make if we grew lots and lots of garlic, but at this point we would rather have a small, reliably good crop than a larger, struggling crop. (In fact, I’d say that’s our mentality about many areas of the farm these days!) All that to say that this week we have some of this year’s garlic for you! It is not “cured” (i.e. dried down) yet, so you will find that the wrapper leaves are less dry than you might expect. Peel down only as necessary to get to something yummy. In this stage, the skin on each clove is likely to be fine for including when you cook. Use your judgment based on the texture.
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The tide

Cherries!

A farmer neighbor often passes me in his truck when I’m out on my early morning runs and sometimes he stops to say hi. Today he rolled down his window and said just one thing: “Katie, it’s cherry season.” Then he gave me a huge grin and drove away.

He’s excited because he’s a cherry grower, and this is action time for him — the next few weeks will bring a flurry of activity to his orchards as he and his crews happily bring in their harvest. I also smiled upon thinking of this new season, partly because cherries are awesome, but also because it signals another turning in the season. In so many ways, the beginning of the cherry harvest is the beginning of summer around these parts. The sound of another neighbor’s cherry shaking is a sound I positively associate with consistently warmer weather and the start of all kinds of summer activity on the island.

If you’ve never witnessed cherry shaking before, it’s an astounding sight: a very low custom tractor-like vehicle with a big mechanical crab claw out front drives around the orchard, grabbing very large old cherry trees and then literally shakes them so that the cherries fall down onto tarps workers have laid below. The tarps are then pulled up by another machine that carefully collects the cherries to later go into pallet bins. All day long this time of year, we hear the sporadic hum in the distance of the machine shaking those cherries down! The kids like to ride bikes down with one of us to watch.

Our cherries are later than those in other orchards on the island. They’re an older variety and we like to let them get truly ripe before picking them (whereas cherries intended for processing are often picked before all the sweetness and flavor have developed). But, the kids and Casey discovered that the very first of the cherries in my parents’ orchard were “ready” a few days ago. There is one tree that is a completely different variety than the rest, and it ripens first. By my standards, the first few cherries they were eating weren’t quite ready, but children love the joy of finding the first of the next fruit! All summer long they delight in eating slightly under-ripe fruit because it’s the next thing! Perhaps this is the ancestral joy that has fed into so many consumer fads and fashion gimmicks that tug on our genetic desire to find the next food (only instead it’s the next cut in pants or a newly designed mop).

I like to wait for the first truly ripe editions of each new food, but my delight is just as deep and real. In winter, the periods between changes in our environment can feel looooooong and mid-winter the world almost feels like it’s standing still. It doesn’t, but by human standards it can feel that way. Meanwhile, June through September feel almost too packed with change — it’s a never-ending parade of new flavors and experiences. The beginning of the cherry season is just the start of that influx, or as Wendell Berry calls it in this poem, that tide:

The Arrival

Like a tide it comes in,
wave after wave of foliage and fruit,
the nurtured and the wild,
out of the light to this shore.
In its extravagance we shape
the strenuous outline of enough.

And, June also brings a tide of work as well (the tide actually began in earnest in May): so much weeding, so much mowing, so much irrigating to do in the next few weeks and months! It is on, my friends!

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Strawberries & cherries — Our first fruit of the year (strawberries) is winding down just as the next (cherries) is slowing winding up! Limited supply this week of these offerings until we’re in the thick of the cherry harvest. Soon! Then on to figs!
  • Salad turnips
  • Bok choy heads
  • Winter Density lettuce — This is one of our all-time favorite lettuces. It’s everything that iceberg should have been: crisp, flavorful, and refreshing. The leaves are beautifully shaped and we love making “arranged” salads that really show off the deep green top part of the leaf and the yellow-blanched heart at the bottom. But it’s also just great chopped and tossed with your favorite dressing!
  • Fennel bulbs
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Zucchini — It has begun! In our household, the start of zucchini season is reason for much rejoicing. In the summer, we eat zucchini daily as a base for at least one meal. I love telling people about how we honestly didn’t love it much until just a few years ago. Even while we were growing and selling it, we felt kind of “eh” about it. But we kept trying it, and then finally we found our way to zucchini love! And boy do we love it!
  • Chard
  • New potatoes
  • Apples
  • Garlic scapes
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The year’s learning

Notebooks out, ready to discover nature’s wonders, such as this unexpected patch of large leaved lupine we found at the end of a forested trail last Friday.

We’re wrapping up our “school” year next week, and I’ve been reflecting on all that’s been accomplished and learned this year that Rusty was a first grader and Dottie a preschooler. Now that I’m back in the land of the academic year, I remember how long that unit of time felt as a kid. Truly, much could happen and change over one continuous fall, winter, and spring.

When I write about “school,” I always use quotes (and even do “air quotes” when talking about it), because our learning life looks so different from a typical school setting. Certainly there are overlaps between the two, but our days have a home-based rhythm and actual instruction is limited to a very short window of time in the morning when I sit down with Rusty to do a bit of handwriting practice and math at the table. That time is followed by “reading time,” when we read lots of really good books snuggled together on the couch.

As a guide to how we spend our days and our “school” time, I’ve been following along with a free curriculum called Ambleside Online (the name is misleading — it’s not actually online at all, except for the resources for parents). Ambleside’s program is inspired by the 19th century educator Charlotte Mason and uses what she calls “living books” rather than textbooks to teach history, science, literature and more. We read classics like Aesop’s Fables and wonderful books like Paddle to the Sea. It’s a program that can be easily modified for each family, which I’ve done, adding books to our daily book basket of my own choosing as well, including a weekly seasonal picture book and a book on our nature study topic for the term (this year’s topics were birds, rocks, and fish). I like to make sure there are stories that are more appropriate for Dottie too, so I made a little special book of wonderful fairy tales and legends that are perfect for preschoolers, and we read one each week. Over future years, I plan to also add more books specific to Oregon history as well as many more books by and about women and people of color (which the classics-leaning Ambleside is light on). In addition to the core Ambleside readings, we used homeschooling-oriented math and phonics curricula for that table schoolwork (and a little bit of Spanish lessons too).

Rusty’s been in first grade this year, and it’s been a year of big changes, most notably is that he went from not really reading at all to being a very fluent independent reader. In our house, this was a big cause for celebration, because Casey and I both have active reading lives, and we rejoiced as Rusty was able to finally begin his own independent reading life as well. As he observed at one point during his learning-to-read journey: “It’s like a whole new world is opening up to me.” Oh, yes, it is, my son.

Beyond the hour or two of sit-down time, we aim to be learning (and having fun) as much as possible the rest of our days too. The kids do some of the usual kid stuff: swimming lessons, gymnastics, ballet (not all at once!). Rusty attends a full day “farm school” program at a nearby farm one day per week as well, which gives him the opportunity to run around with a pack of kids bigger than his sister and without his mom in tow. Once a week we meet up with our homeschooling co-op for outings and field trips. This year’s outings included a visit to the Hallie Ford Art Museum, a dugout canoe trip to Willamette Falls, a camping trip at L.L. Stubs Stewart State Park, a visit to the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, and more!

On Fridays, the kids and I go on a weekly hike, where we enjoy different places close to home. We take our time on these outings, noticing as much as we can around us: blooming wildflowers, bird songs, seasonal changes in the forest. This spring we’ve been trying to find one new plant on each outing that we don’t know and then identifying it. We all have nature notebooks that we bring. And, now that it’s finally not as rainy, we’ve been better about keeping them out as we hike so that we can pause to take notes or draw. That’s a habit that I hope we continue to grow into as the kids become more comfortable with writing on their own. Nature journaling provides so many opportunities to consider scientific concepts such as the importance of quantifying data, scale, and more. We all find that we really observe more when we have our notebooks out, which is of course the goal. But they also become wonderful documents of our time together, which we also enjoy. We experience unexpected wonders every single week.

Rusty and Dottie helped release birds, including this Swainson’s Thrush, during the bird scientists’ visit last weekend.

But amid all of this fun, our lives have a lot of breathing room too. This is very intentional on Casey and my part. We both feel that not rushing through the day is the best way to feel like our life is luxurious. So our days still have a lot of room for the kids to play here on the farm, and for the farm itself to have space to offer its own unexpected opportunities. Time for helping to harvest or build extensive “houses” and tunnels in the tall spring grass. Time to wander the farm with visiting scientists doing bird counts (the same folks came again this week who came last September). Time to pick strawberries for breakfast. Time to help parents cook meals. Time for kids to relax in their hammocks looking at or reading books. For the most part, our days feel pretty expansive, and that is so very satisfying to us all.

Going into this year of school, I kept thinking that this was when the “rubber hit the road” for us as homeschoolers. We’d been doing home-based learning all along, but until our oldest child was in elementary school, it felt like the stakes were pretty low. My goals before this year were pretty simple: have fun, go outside, read lots of good books together, and start laying routines for later years. But I felt more responsibility going into first grade, knowing that if we were choosing to continue learning at home that I’d need to feel sure that what we’re choosing is a better fit for us than what could be found at school. As we close the year, we all feel happy about this choice for our family going into the future. We all feel like growth happened, along with a lot of tremendous fun. So we will continue next year as well, building on what we learned this year.

But this year was also a time when the weight of our choice also became clear in another way. Homeschooling is a full-time gig for us parents, and especially for me (Katie). It can be an intense endeavor, and this year was not without moments of doubt! I am very aware now that homeschooling isn’t really for everyone, and certainly not for people who don’t actually enjoy teaching (I do! Teaching is what I would be doing if we hadn’t started a farm). I am grateful that our lifestyle and career choice are a good fit with our homeschooling goals — that Casey and I can both still pursue work here on the farm and be a homeschooling family.

But I have to admit that the older the kids get, the more I feel a returning urge to be productive beyond the domestic sphere. Perhaps most notably, I feel a strong desire to be back in the world of more regular writing and intellectual discourse, whatever that might mean for me at this point in my life. Casey always has itches to do new things, and so far has mostly satisfied those through farming endeavors. We are definitely life-long learners, which is also why we love learning at home with our kids!

So, we’ll spend the next week wrapping up our final readings for this year, and then enjoy months of summer activities (still full of learning) before diving back into a new “school” year here in our house.

And, meanwhile, as promised in last week’s newsletter, much weeding has happened this week on the farm, along with irrigation. Our cultivating tractor was in the shop most of last season (boo!) but now is operating smoothly again, much to Casey’s rejoicing.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Strawberries
  • Apples
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Fennel bulbs
  • Carrots OR zucchini — Limited of both this week! You’ll get to choose either carrots OR zucchini.
  • Cut lettuce
  • Beet greens — These are tender enough to be eaten as a salad!
  • Chard
  • Kale
  • Garlic scapes
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Putting in the garden

Casey laying out eggplant starts that we later planted by hand into prepped soil.

Most years, we aim to plant our main season crops over time — a little here and a little there, as ground and transplants are ready. However, the extended wet and cold spring of this year has forced us to plant in a way that we think of as more traditional: all at once, in an act of “putting in the garden” for the year.

To make up for so many missed opportunities earlier in the season, we’ve spent almost every day planting over this last week.

Dottie carefully planted sweet corn into her garden this weekend.

Saturday, Casey and the kids planted their garden up by the house with starts of their choosing from everything that was growing in the greenhouse: sweet corn, kale, lots of melons, sunflowers, sweet peas, pole beans, fennel, shallots, delicata, marina squash, basil, sweet peas, and more.

That was just the warm up for Casey. We plant using a biodynamic calendar, and late on Saturday, the “transplanting” window of time opened up, and Casey got busy planting pole beans while I was putting the kids to bed.

The next day, we planted all of our main season cannabis plants in two high tunnels. On Monday, we planted peppers, eggplants, tomatillos, and winter squash. Tuesday, we planted sweet corn, sweet potatoes, melons (water and musk), zucchini, basil, beet transplants, fennel, and cucumbers. Today, Casey took a break from planting to harvest for the CSA (and irrigate!). On Friday, we’ll plant our onions, brussels sprouts and leeks (maybe a few tomatoes, too)!

It’s been a busy (and very physical) week, but we can now look out our window and visually see the results of our efforts — so many green lines of crops that seem to be growing right before our eyes!

That is one observation we have from this spring in general. As I said, most springs we’ve often “pushed” into our farming season: always aiming to work up our ground as early as possible so as to plant everything as early as possible. This year, we just didn’t have that option. There were literally no dry spells even close to long enough. As a result, we ended up waiting until the days were longer and, on average, warmer than we might normally have started all that spring work. And, we’ve been surprised by how much smoother all our spring work has gone in light of those longer, warmer days. The soil residue broke down more easily; ground dried out more quickly; and — now that they are in the ground — plants are growing much faster than if we’d planted earlier in the season in a “dry window.” In the end, we may not “lose” much time at all on the summer crops because of the slightly later planting, because the conditions have been so ideal for them to thrive.

This is a useful lesson for us, one we will ponder in future springs (which will of course all be different once again). Does it “pay” to “push” the season, even in a year with more dry spells earlier? We’ve observed in past years that planting two to three weeks earlier sometimes only translates to a few days earlier harvest — if there’s an advantage at all.

I’m not sure now how we’ll make use of this spring’s experiences in the future. Each year brings its own unique challenges. But it has been heartening to realize that spring is here and that our season will likely be on track for the summer now that we’re almost done with our spring planting.

Next week’s big task: weeding! And so on it goes! Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

P.S. Thank you everyone for all your interesting questions and positive comments after last week’s LONG newsletter. We were honored that so many people read the whole thing and then approached us very thoughtfully in response. We are more than happy to continue answering any questions you have about any of it. And, if you are interested in an update on last Friday’s visit to OSU, I wrote up a separate post about it here.

P.P.S. Just for fun, this week I decided I wanted to document the farm kids’ feet. They’re barefoot 90% of the time (80% of the year, at least). I can only imagine how strong and healthy their feet are growing to be, in spite of (or because of) their stained soles:

This farm Mama loves her farm kids’ feet!

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Strawberries
  • Apples
  • Sugar snap peas — So many peas! We picked four bins this afternoon, and we still have several rows left to pick tomorrow!
  • Carrots
  • Fennel bulbs — Most people are familiar with herb fennel, which is a perennial grown primarily for its strong-flavored foliage. However, this fennel has been selected for the delicious bulb it develops at the base of its stalk. You can use all parts of the plant, but the bulb is usually the center of the action. The texture is very similar to celery (they are in fact distantly related to each other) but with a mild fennel flavor. We love to chop these and add them when we start cooking any kind of vegetable, but especially greens. They’re also delicious chopped raw onto a salad.
  • Head lettuce
  • Rainbow chard
  • Kale
  • Bok choy mix
  • Cabbage
  • Garlic scapes — In late spring, certain varieties of garlic will throw up these green shoots, which will eventually develop into flowers and seed heads. But at the green stage, they are a delicious and unique garlic-flavored vegetable (called garlic “scapes” or sometimes “whistles”). You can chop the whole thing and sauté as you would garlic. It has a fresh, mild garlic flavor. A fun spring treat!
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | 1 Comment

Update on our visit to OSU

As I mentioned in last week’s CSA newsletter, Casey and I had an appointment last Friday at Oregon State University to address their existing marijuana policy, which excludes all extension agents from working with legal marijuana growers in Oregon (it also excludes any research or academics relating to marijuana growing as well). Here is a link to a summary of OSU’s marijuana policies. Of note for us is the last section, which states: “The OSU Extension Services will not provide instruction regarding how to grow, manufacture, distribute or dispense marijuana.”

As we prepared for our discussion, Casey and I pondered our approach. OSU is a big institution! Small folk like us aren’t going to “change” a policy in such a big institution in one meeting (especially when we were meeting with the Assistant Dean for Outreach and Engagement, not the provost). So we decided that our first goal needed to be to demonstrate to him (and to others we speak with) that there’s a problem right now. That not serving or working with this rapidly-growing sector of Oregon agriculture represents a problem.

This is step #1: Establish the problem.

  • Policy perpetuates unhealthy historical stigma against marijuana production and use
  • Policy perpetuates segregation between marijuana growers and other Oregon farmers and de-legitimizes marijuana producers as being “farmers”
  • Policy severely limits opportunities for facilitated cross-pollination of ideas and information between marijuana growers and other farmers
  • Policy severely limits marijuana growers’ access to important agricultural resources and information, possible perpetuating use of unhealthy prohibition-based practices
  • Policy represents institutional discrimination against farmers who are growing a crop legally in Oregon

Step #2: Communicate the problem.

This is the step we’re actively working on. Our meeting with the Assistant Dean last week was the seed of a bigger conversation. Many more people will need to get on board before the OSU’s legal counsel and provost will be likely to put in the hard work of figuring out how to bring their marijuana policy more into line with the reality of complex marijuana laws. We’ve also already reached out to:

  • State Senator Floyd Prozanski, who is also a lawyer and has been a key player in implementing Oregon’s marijuana laws
  • U.S. Senators Wyden & Merkley
  • The OLCC
  • Cannabis lawyers

We plan to also share some of our thoughts with the media to engage more people in seeing this problem.

So far the response to our initial inquiries has been very positive. Most of the people we’ve contacted were not aware of the disconnect between the needs of Oregon marijuana growers and the lack of available services from Oregon’s most important agricultural resource.

Step #3: Help OSU align their policy to Oregon’s laws.

Part of why we’re contacting so many people in step #2 is because OSU will need help in figuring out exactly how to revise their marijuana policy. We believe that there is nothing in current existing laws that prohibits institutions from teaching about marijuana or aiding marijuana growers.

Yes, marijuana is still federally illegal and a Schedule 1 drug; however, it is legal to grow, sell and consume in Oregon (and 25+ other states) in accordance with state laws. The right to do so is protected by what is called the “Cole Memo,” the U.S. Department of Justice’s guidelines to prosecutors and law enforcement in states where legal marijuana laws have been passed. Essentially, if a state program can meet these same goals (such as preventing possession by minors), then it is free to function and people in that state are free to function within the state’s laws. This is how large agencies such as the ODA and the OLCC are legally able to participate with and license marijuana growers in Oregon. The combination of laws are also why so many essential businesses and services work with marijuana growers as well.

However, it is clear that OSU’s legal counsel has taken the most conservative (and let’s face it: simplest!) route in interpreting the complexity of marijuana laws on the state and federal level right now. Essentially, they are choosing to not acknowledge Oregon state laws or the Cole memo.

It is our goal to pull in together more minds to help them rethink this interpretation, and/or possibly even write new state or federal legislation if necessary to help create the protections that OSU (and other institutions like it around the country) needs in order to begin engaging in the very important work of engaging with the burgeoning marijuana industry. That is why we’re working with both state and U.S. legislators.

It sounds as though OSU’s legal counsel would prefer to see federal level legalization before changing their policy. From the looks of it, federal legalization and/or rescheduling marijuana may actually become the last step of legitimizing the existing and growing marijuana industry. In the meantime, states are moving ahead with their own methods of legalizing marijuana for their farmers and consumers. This industry is growing quickly. If academia waits too conservatively to join the conversation and work, then the marijuana industry will miss out on the many benefits that come from that particular kind of applied inquiry and discourse.

The faculty members we chatted with on Friday heard us and did their best to explain OSU’s position. We learned from them that OSU’s extensions agents get requests for information from marijuana growers routinely — whom they have to turn away. So, at the very least, it felt like the four of us established that there is indeed a need. Everyone parted with some level of hope that this problem is by no means insurmountable. We planted a seed, and (as we have time!) over the next few weeks we will continue to water it with our time. Hopefully at some point, it will be a living project with a life and momentum of its own as people come together to solve this puzzle. We look with joy and hope toward the eventual fruits this work will bring to Oregon agriculture.

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A new frontier

We feasted on lots of yummy strawberries this week!

Casey and I are driving down to Corvallis on Friday for an important (and perhaps surprising) meeting. We will be talking with someone at Oregon State University (OSU — Oregon’s land grant ag school) about their existing policy to not engage with Oregon cannabis growers or offer any cannabis-growing materials through their many farming and extension programs.

We see this as problematic on multiple levels. First of all, because of decades of prohibition, cannabis growers are — quite literally — coming out of a closet right now. Prohibition forced many persistent (and illegal) growers inside, again literally into spaces like closets (I actually witnessed a closet grow in our neighbor’s bedroom during our college days!). Now, if you know anything about growing plants, you probably know that closets (or closet-like spaces) aren’t the best place to grow them. Usually there’s no soil or sunlight to be had — which are much needed for growing healthy plants of any kind!

In the absence of free access to bountiful sun and healthy soil, marijuana growing during prohibition established a lot of other kinds of practices for growing indoors: containers with potting mix, grow lights, very controlled conditions, chemical fertilizers, hydroponics, to name a few. Even though marijuana can now be grown legally outside in Oregon, many people still associate its production with those kinds of indoor methods. Rightfully so, since many growers are still using these methods, being most familiar with a system that would be unlikely to exist at all were it not for decades of prohibition.

However, as marijuana production scales up to meet the growing demand in Oregon, some of those methods sometimes can be (or seem to be) unhealthy, let alone no longer as necessary. We’ve heard from our vegetable growing friends in Southern Oregon about how marijuana farmers (or their investors) are buying up class-one farmland and paving it in order to grow marijuana in pots filled with soil mix. I join my friends in weeping for this permanent loss of beautiful soil, and I shake my head at the shortsightedness of the marijuana growers as well — to not even realize the asset they are losing in the process of continuing to grow in the old, prohibition-inspired methods. Rarely before have marijuana growers had access to class-one Oregon farm soils, and clearly some of them don’t realize that it can grow all kinds of crops! Quite well!

And, this is why we’re going to OSU, because we feel like this new burgeoning sector of Oregon agriculture needs to be brought into the fold. In the farming circles Casey and I run in, we hear a lot of farmers speaking of marijuana growers in ways that suggest that they are “outside” the group — “they” are “others” and not farmers, like “us.” For so long, the two groups were quite separate, since one group was kept mostly in the dark (those literal closets!) or in small medical grows. There wasn’t much need or opportunity for the mainstream farming community to interact with the marijuana growing community. But as marijuana production increases, different kinds of folks are starting to bump up against each other, and it’s become clear that there are many prejudices in place — some of which are based on those old methods and old prohibitions rather than on the actual quickly-evolving nature of Oregon marijuana production today. Many mainstream farmers have a lot of fear and skepticism about their new marijuana growing neighbors, who they don’t always readily see as being fellow farmers. Prejudices rarely represent truth, and they are almost always harmful.

And this is why we’re going to OSU on Friday. When cannabis was legalized in Oregon for recreational use, OSU established a policy of not participating in disseminating or coordinating information. Casey and I were told that it was because OSU feared losing its federal funding because marijuana is still federally illegal. We’d like to discuss this decision further with them, because we think it’s a stance that has far-reaching negative consequences for Oregon farmers (marijuana growers especially):

By not including Oregon’s cannabis growers in the “fold” of farmers OSU serves and reaches out to, they effectively “other” marijuana growers and perpetuate the long-standing stigma against marijuana growth and its use. When I attended an OSU Small Farms conference this last February, cannabis production came up, but in a way that assumed no one in the room would conceive of growing it and with the implication that its production primarily had negative consequences for farmers (a category that didn’t include cannabis growers). These not-so-subtle messages perpetuate prejudice among Oregon farmers, which can create unnecessarily hostile relationships between neighbors who might otherwise be cooperating.

The other big problem is that OSU has effectively cut off marijuana growers from very important information that this new industry needs — that is, a wealth of information about how to grow healthy crops in Oregon, using the sun and the soil. I have heard people disparage marijuana grows as being inherently polluting or resource-heavy (because of the grow lights), but again — these are not actually practices that are inherent to growing marijuana. They are cultural practices that grew from prohibition. (Not to mention that many indoor growers are quite conscious of using organic inputs, not polluting and using energy-efficient methods whenever possible.)

Casey and I believe that if OSU were willing to take a risk to work with marijuana growers (alongside so many other agencies in the state such as the ODA and the Oregon Farm Bureau), they could make a huge and powerful statement. They would effectively confirm what is actually true already: Oregon marijuana growers are Oregon farmers. They would acknowledge that marijuana is a crop, worthy of consideration by the experts that can help farmers find healthy, cost-effective solutions and help connect information to the farmers who need it. OSU could help bridge the gaps that exist between the historical marijuana growing community and other Oregon farmers. Historically segregated from each other, they both have different bodies of knowledge about growing that could be shared — the useful information wouldn’t necessarily run just in one direction. Marijuana growers have become experts on certain plant diseases, molds especially, and their solutions could be highly relevant to vegetable and fruit growers.

(OSU would also recognize that it too could potentially benefit financial from the tax revenue from recreational marijuana sales, which has amounted to $75 million since 2016!)

And, when Casey and I sit down to have this conversation, we will be doing so as farmers who have bridged those gaps already, on our own farm — putting us in a unique position of having a foot in both camps. For as long as we’ve farmed, Casey has always “joked” (or so I thought) that when marijuana became legal, he’d grow it — out of curiosity and celebration of legalization as much as anything. So, when Oregon launched its recreational marijuana program through the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) last year, he started doing research into this new crop, and eventually (after a lot of analysis and consideration), we got licensed and grew a fall crop of marijuana.

It was a crazy experience to launch a small part of our farm into what is effectively a very new frontier within agriculture (which I think was a big part of its appeal for Casey, forever the “mountain climber” at heart!). Everything was being figured out by the OLCC and growers in motion, and we had no idea what to expect from our first year — whether we’d be able to grow it at all as a starters! Interesting fact at this point: there is (perhaps naturally!) some prejudice within the marijuana community about other kinds of farmers as well! Some long-time marijuana growers really doubted that we’d be able to grow it successfully our first year, even though we’d been successfully growing a wide range of other crops for a decade. Others were supportive and incredibly helpful in offering cuttings and lots of information and counsel. We’ve formed some really wonderful on-going relationships with other marijuana growers, and we have tried our best to offer information that is useful to them based on our farming experiences too.

In the end, we grew our first crop of cannabis well enough to have a decent harvest. We certainly learned many things along the way, since marijuana is an entirely different plant than any we’d grown before. We definitely learned about mold! And we also learned from other growers a lot of cool, organic-approved methods of preventing it, which we now also apply to our vegetables and fruits (especially in our high tunnels). One of our mold preventing agents is made out of fermented knotweed!!!!! Another agent is a bacteria that might be found in fermented foods. We are essentially providing ‘probiotics’ to our marijuana and vegetable plants now. So my point earlier about the cross-application of knowledge wasn’t just theoretical.

After harvest, we had to find new customers to work with, because — unlike vegetables — we can’t sell our marijuana direct market! We can only sell to licensed retailers, processors, and distributors. And, because everything was so new last year, we had product to sell before there were even many retailers licensed to buy it! But that all shifted after the New Year when laws kicked in requiring dispensaries either to get their OLCC license or stop doing recreational sales. And, the money we made from our first modest crop was enough to allow us to meet some of our bigger picture (but modest) financial goals, including starting our first retirement account ever!

So, we considered that first year a success. We’re renewing our license and growing another cannabis crop this year, experimenting more with different kinds of marijuana (day-length neutral vs. the traditional day-length dependent strains). Now that we’ve been through an entire season, we have a much better idea of what to expect from the season and its work with this crop.

If you’re still hanging with me through this revelation of sorts, it’s likely that you have a lot of questions. We’ve noticed that people often have a lot of questions when we share about our marijuana growing, because it’s all so new and most people are learning from scratch about the basics of marijuana production, let alone the ins and outs of Oregon’s laws and how they function. We have certainly learned a ton in the last year ourselves, as we knew very little to begin with.

So, in this newsletter, I’d like to end with a Frequently Asked Questions section regarding marijuana production on our farm (and when I say “frequently asked,” I mean frequently!). Some of these questions enter into personal territory, but we like to be open about what our life as marijuana growers really looks like, because I think our operation defies a lot of people’s preconceptions, and I think that is useful for rolling back unhealthy stigmas all around. So, here are our FAQ:

“Do you guys use marijuana?”

No we do not, at this time. Really, I almost hate that answer because I don’t want to suggest that this fact somehow justifies us growing it for some people, but it is the truth. For what it’s worth, we also don’t drink alcohol at this time in our life either. That is what feels comfortable for us, for now. In future years, I don’t know what the answer to this question will be. I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to use marijuana if chronic pain became a part of my life or if I had to undergo chemotherapy treatment for cancer. Also, if you’re wondering, we don’t always consume everything we grow: for example, Casey doesn’t eat potatoes! And, we have grown dry beans and grains at times when we were not eating those either.

“Will you quit growing vegetables?”

No! Not in the foreseeable future! Right now, our family has three income streams, all from our farming endeavors: we grow and sell vegetables/fruits through our CSA, we grow marijuana, and we rent some portion of our land base to two other organic farmers. With all three of these income sources in place, we feel a great deal of relaxation about all of them. Should anything go awry with any one, there are two others still. We really love this level of diversity (just as we’ve always loved growing so many different crops for the CSA) — it represents risk management for the farm and for our family.

Plus, we love growing fruits and vegetables. Really, we just love plants so very much. We find them fascinating and endlessly satisfying to grow, which is part of what inspired Casey to try growing a new crop. If anything, feeling like our farm is more financially secure than ever has renewed our joy at operating our CSA. We feel like we have the wiggle room to operate it in ways that are fun and feel good to us, and we worry a lot less about possibly losing a customer here or there. It also allows us to operate a relatively small CSA (compared to some former years), which feels more fun to us. We love the small scale and how it lets us really engage with our farm in a detailed, loving way.

“So, are you guys getting rich now?”

That’d be great, wouldn’t it? Certainly, growing marijuana is the most profitable enterprise we’ve ever taken on to our farm. But part of why it has been profitable for us is because we didn’t have to invest much into it last year — we already had the farm, the tractor, the well, and lots of other tools. The only money we had to invest was in the OLCC license (which is expensive!), seeds/plants, and infrastructure specific to marijuana (which was primarily the security measures mandated by the OLCC — more about that below). So, the stakes for our farm were pretty low last year, and we covered our costs and made a profit that, like I said above, allowed us to start meeting some modest financial goals that had been put off for years and years (such as starting a retirement account).

To actually get rich growing marijuana would require investing a lot more time and energy than we are interested in doing at this time. Yes, cannabis sells for a lot of money per pound, but each pound of marijuana requires a surprising amount of labor, especially in the post-harvest handling when it is dried, cured, and trimmed. As with the CSA, we don’t want to exceed what we can do with our own labor, which naturally limits our income potential.

That being said, yes we feel like our financial situation shifted with this new crop, in very pleasant ways. We felt some pressure lift off our finances, which were always stable and positive but at times tight in spots. We have felt more comfortable spending money on things like kids’ activities (which, holy moly, add up fast!!!!). We did have to pay more in taxes than ever before though too!

Finances are of course very personal matters, but again I wanted to share this in order to dispel the notion that just growing marijuana will make one filthy rich! And, of course, the price will fluctuate as supply and demand in Oregon settle out over the years (and again when federal legalization happens, which I think is inevitable eventually). It’s likely that the price will go down over time, which is why we’re grateful that it’s only a supplement to our farm’s income rather than something we’ve invested a lot into.

“Can you get a contact high while working with it?”

Nope! Little known fact (outside the marijuana-using community at least) — marijuana is not active until it is heated. This is why it is either smoked or cooked into food. So, even though we are completely surrounded by the smell of marijuana while we work with it, there is no danger of us accidentally being affected by the cannabinoid compounds, such as THC or CBD. Most people wear gloves while harvesting or trimming marijuana, but that is to keep their hands clean! The resin can be very sticky and hard to remove, but it’s not impossible if one is willing to rub one’s skin with rubbing alcohol and coconut oil.

“How do you grow it?”

We grow our marijuana using the same methods we’ve used for growing fruits and vegetables for over a decade — using the native soil on our farm and the sunlight that falls naturally from the sky. We’ve chosen to grow our crops in two of our high tunnels, because we know how beneficial that system is for all of our crops. Last fall, having that cover was a real benefit when the early rains hit in force in October and we were still harvesting the last of our crop!

All our inputs are organic-approved, and Stellar, our certifying body, knows all about the crop and will be happy to certify it as soon as it is federally legal for them to do so! We’re keeping all the records for our marijuana that we keep for our other crops (and then some!) and the ground it grows in is certified organic. (We could actually have it certified Biodynamic right now through Demeter, but so far we haven’t seen that there is an existing demand for that and honestly it’s just one thing too many for us to manage right now!)

“Are you worried about security?”

The OLCC smartly mandates stringent security measures for all of its licensees (producers, retailers, etc.). One of the stores we’ve worked with had an attempted break-in earlier this year, and all the systems in place worked to scare off the perpetrator and alert the police to the scene before any marijuana was actually stolen.

So, one little section of our farm has an eight-foot tall perimeter fence and a security system in place. We also have to utilize a very complex auditing program to keep track of all our crop at any time — all OLCC licensees are in the system, so when we sell a package of marijuana, we have to “transfer” it in the system to a store. All of these measures insure that legal marijuana stays in the system safely and doesn’t get diverted to the black market. These measures also provide protection for the people growing and selling it.

We also don’t have any cash stored anywhere on the farm; we’ve been able to find another way to manage our money, off site (not cash based either!). Having to store cash would have been a deal-breaker for me personally, so I was glad we had other options!

“How do you guys feel about marijuana use, in general?”

I’d say that we feel neutral to positive about its use, in general. We feel concerned about unhealthy use of any kinds of substances — marijuana, alcohol, legal opioids, etc. But it seems to us that people, for the most part, use marijuana as responsibly as they use alcohol.

In our journey to more knowledge, we have learned so much about what marijuana is. First of all, it’s a plant. Seriously, folks. It’s just a plant. It has leaves, stems, flowers. When you dry the flowers, they are in ready-to-use form — no further processing needed for use. It is, basically, a very powerful herb, which is how it felt when we were working with. That is also, if you’re interested, how we explain what it is to the children: that is a very powerful herb that should only be used by adults. It’s interesting to see their nonplussed reaction so far to the whole thing; they are too young to have any concept of the historical stigma or any knowledge of “pot culture.” Cannabis is just a crop that we grow (and the OLCC prohibits their presence in the enclosure, so they don’t get to see it up close anyway).

We were also fascinated to learn more about the mechanism of this “drug,” which doesn’t technically “intoxicate” a person at all — in the sense that “intoxicate” literally means to “make toxic.” The active compounds in marijuana, cannabinoids, are not toxic to the body. In fact, our body produces cannabinoids naturally as a part of healthy functioning (these are called endocannabinoids), which is part of the theory behind marijuana’s incredible medicinal value: that it provides substances the body needs to be healthy. The mechanism of the “high” is not a side effect of thwarting the body’s systems, as in the case of opioids, but of possibly super-charging the body’s systems by adding extra cannabinoids to all those communication pathways between systems. So weird, but also so cool to learn about. Because we love plants! (Also, because I’m a runner I found this article about endocannabinoids intriguing: “To Your Brain, A Runner’s High Looks a Lot Like Smoking Weed.”)

If you want to learn more, we recommend two books (both of which are in the McMinnville Library’s collection):

“How can I become an OLCC-licensed marijuana producer too?”

Yes, this is a common question! I think that Casey’s enthusiasm for this crop is shared by many, and we’ve fielded many inquiries from other farmers and farmers-to-be about what it really takes to become an OLCC-licensed grower. We won’t actually go into the details of all of that here, but suffice to say that it is a truly rigorous process full of hoop jumping, lots of paperwork, particular infrastructure development, and inspections. But, like most hard things in life, it is totally doable if one has the determination to complete the task.

“Where can I buy some of your stuff?”

Yes, this is also a question we get! Because, as it turns out, folks who use marijuana are starting to have a choice about where and who they buy it from. And, just like with food and wine, they have preferences! We sell the marijuana under the DBA Walnut Rise (which is a play on Oakhill and has a fun story behind it). Right now we don’t have any flowers at retails stores (we sold out several months ago, selling primarily to stores in Salem), but you can buy a tincture made from our flowers from Willamette Botanicals, available locally at Medicine Tree in McMinnville.

We are happy to answer lots more questions you may have in person or through email. As I’ve said, it’s our experience that most people are very curious about this new industry. They may be casual users and still not know about marijuana’s production; or, they may have never used and only be working from stigmas about the plant — either way, people seem to like having us to answer questions as best we can. Because we’re that bridge between two groups that have been segregated from each other for so long, I think we offer a unique perspective on so many aspects of marijuana production. We too were newbies who knew nothing (except a lot about farming), and perhaps that makes us well equipped to explain all the novelty of it to others who are similarly new to the concept of legal marijuana.

It is truly a new frontier, and Oregon is on the forefront. But more states are joining us all the time. At this point, 26+ states (and D.C.) have some form of legal marijuana programs (medical and/or recreational) in place or very soon on the way (here’s a map if you’re interested). Each state also has a slightly different implementation program. From what we’ve heard of others, we really love Oregon’s, which allows individuals to grow their own (four plants per household!) and favors small growers (production operations max out at one acre per taxlot per licensee). Both of these features seem to really have the “flavor” of Oregon, where so many people love gardening and love small farms!

OSU has been a big part of promoting the growth and viability of Oregon’s small farms through its (aptly named) Small Farms Program. One of our first friendly introductions to Oregon agriculture was our 2006 attendance of their annual Small Farms conference — before we’d ever even planted a seed in the ground! We were inspired by the presentations on direct marketing and the networking opportunities provided. It truly helped launch us in a successful direction when we started our own CSA in McMinnville later that spring on one acre of rented ground outside of McMinnville. The rest, as they say, is history! We’re still at it 11 years later, starting to feel like “old folks” in the direct-market farming community. We are so grateful for that opportunity OSU provided, for us to connect to that important information and community of other growers. And that is why we’ll be driving down to Corvallis on Friday to urge OSU to extend that same warm welcome to all Oregon farmers, to the benefit of all farmers and Oregonians.

Thanks for bearing with me on all of this big stuff. I imagine that many of you have found it interesting and that at least a few of you might feel challenged. It’s definitely new territory for all. And, now that it’s “out there,” marijuana growing may make occasional cameo appearances in our newsletter, but rest assured: this is our CSA newsletter. Casey actually writes a separate blog for the Walnut Rise part of the farm, sharing marijuana growing stories (and occasional book reviews). We see these CSA newsletters as a place where we document and share the happenings of our vegetable farm and our family’s life on the farm. I, personally, love having a weekly outlet in which I can process all the interesting things that happen out here, from the arrival of the spring’s first Swainson’s Thrush (this week!) to the challenges of a wet spring to our children’s ever growing relationship to the land.

And, this week in particular, some of the actual big news of the week was the sudden abundance of spring vegetables and fruit! I can’t believe this ends up being a postscript tacked onto an already long newsletter, but truly we have been amazed by how the shift in weather brought abundance (see the photo above!). The pea and strawberry harvests exploded after last week’s CSA pick-up, and we’ve been eating plenty of both and are excited to share them with you this week too. We spent all afternoon picking peas as a family, and they are super delicious!

Thank you dear friends for being with us this farming and eating journey! Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables: NO LIMITS this week! We think there is enough of all kinds of good stuff that everyone should be able to take home what they want! The hardest part will be choosing which items you want, it is all so good. Hoorah! Thanks for your patience as we got through that pinch point between over-wintered crops and the yummy spring stuff!

  • Strawberries
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Apples
  • Baby carrots
  • Head lettuce
  • Arugula
  • Kale
  • Asian greens
  • Cabbage
  • Sunchokes
  • Green garlic
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | 5 Comments

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
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

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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