Welcome!

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The farm family in 2016

Welcome to our farm’s blog and website! Oakhill Organics is a family-run farm located on Grand Island. We grow everything we sell right here on our farm, and everything that we grow is sold directly to customers here in Yamhill County! You can find out more information about what and how we grow by following the links above; or, scroll down to read our latest farm news on our blog!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

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Holding our soil

Our mature vegetables fields have very little bare ground, between the plants themselves and the inevitable weeds.

A week ago Tuesday, the kids and I went on our first official nature outing of the school year. Although we all spend time outside every day, we aim to hike once a week as a way to continue learning about nature and also just move our bodies! Last week we went to Airport Park, and as we walked the outer loop I was struck by how very dry everything looked. There was a layer of dust on all the foliage, and many of the plants were dried up to the point of looking dead — the snow berry shrubs especially had no visible green leaves, let alone white berries that are common this time of year.

This summer wasn’t especially dry or hot — pleasantly mild really — and yet seasonal drought is seasonal drought and with it comes stress for all kinds of living things. My own stress at the end of the summer usually comes from air quality. After fourteen summers of living here in the Willamette Valley, I love so much about my chosen home. I love the river that is the defining feature of the valley; I love the abundance of the soils; I love the people and living beings who also live here.

But I still do not love the dust! Some dust may be an inherent feature of the landscape and the region’s seasonal cycles, but much of it is the result of late summer agricultural practices. Notably last week I observed a lot of work in the bare floors of the hazelnut orchards, but combining late season seed crops can also kick up a ton of dust too. Sometimes as I drive to town, I can see plumes of dust miles ahead of me, at first looking like a vague haze in the sky spread over miles. As I move closer, I’ll see more definition until I eventually see the source: sometimes even just one tractor will be producing dust that hangs over many, many fields.

As we were driving home from the CSA pick-up last Thursday, Casey and I saw an extreme amount of dust floating across the road ahead of us, obscuring visibility for vehicles. As we drove closer, we saw two people driving off-road vehicles at high speeds through a recently cleared hazelnut orchard, kicking up opaque swirling waves of dust behind their tires.

If you don’t know, another way to categorize dust is soil erosion. “Dust” is not just made up of some kind of “extra” material that sits on the surface of the soil — it represents top soil itself, made light and free through the combination of dryness and tillage until it becomes air-borne. Some will land on other fields; some will land on foliage; some will travel far, far away (dust can travel around the world!). Soil is the word we use to describe the combination of particles in the context of where they were formed — in our case, the combination of clay and sand that makes up the material we dig in our fields. It’s also full of living organisms as well and has a particular structure native to each place where it’s been formed through many, many years of organic and inorganic processes.

“Dirt” is soil removed from context — like that dust that settles on cars and houses and greenhouse poly and tree leaves and in our lungs at the end of the summer. Dirt and dust certainly have the potential to reach the ground and become part of the soil again, but all the former structure and life has been stripped away by the time it takes to the summer air.

Knowing what I’m seeing and breathing at the end of summer does eventually make me long for a shift in the seasons (even though I love so much about summer!). My lungs are ready for fresher air, and I want to see a seasonal slow down in the air-borne soil loss in the valley.

So, when the rain began this weekend, I rejoiced! I knew that the air would be clean again for a period of time anyway. I also thought about those drought-stressed plants everywhere and smiled knowing that some of their stress will be eased too. We are heading into the season of senescence, but even now rain can make the difference between a plant surviving another year. I’ve also just loved the change and the drama of big downpours and occasional thunderstorm.

Although these are not without their damage too. Unfortunately the same conditions that can lead to air-borne dust erosion leave loose soil particles on the soil surface that can also be easily picked up by water and moved across the surface. Muddy rivulets in bare winter fields are another source of topsoil loss — a significant one in the Willamette Valley — and like dust turn life-giving soil into pollution (in this case the pollution entering surface water streams). Winter bare soils and run-off erosion often results in soil compaction too, making the topsoil layer less hospitable to future life than before (and resulting in even more run-off, as rain waters run across the soil surface rather than sinking in).

What is the solution to preventing all this soil loss and erosion? Is it a super complicated answer?

The answer is … plants. Except where humans make use of it for our own purposes, top soil does not lay open bare, exposed in nature. For one thing, open topsoil represents valuable real estate for any plants looking for a home! But also the healthiest structure of top soil (what is called good “tilth” in agricultural terms) is built through life: through the work of roots and fungal mycelia and bacteria and burrowing insects and mammals. A field with a well established cover of plants will not budge during a rain storm. No particles will flow off in muddy flows, even if the rain comes down hard enough to create standing puddles within minutes (as has happened this last week!).

Instead, the rain will follow the roots of the plants down in the soil. It will flow into vole tunnels and gopher burrows. It will fill the soil like a kitchen sponge and then very slowly drain down, down, down over subsequent days or months, seeping into the groundwater after being filtered through layers and layers of different sized particles of soil and subsoils. Healthy soils, with plant covers intact, make for healthy water systems. Which means more groundwater for irrigation; cleaner water in our streams; and topsoil that stays in place for generations to come.

Bare soil is considered a necessary part of agricultural practices today. We certainly use judicious tillage before planting our annual crops. However, even within this system of tillage, there are so many ways to reduce the potential negative impacts of these practices. Here on our farm, we start by using a tillage tool that retains much of the soil texture even when preparing the soil for planting. This “power harrow” works in plant matter while maintaining the existing soil strata — it does this with tines that don’t “spin” the soil (like a wheel), but instead “stir” it (like a spoon in a bowl). The different motion maintains different sized particles and soil life.

We also aim to have ground bare for as short a period of time as possible. In a way, bare soil is like an open wound. It can be healthy, but it needs to be carefully tended and it should be a temporary condition. For our annual crops to grow well, we do need to remove weeds (nature’s response to bare soil!) and try to foster the growth of our desired plants as much as possible. But honestly we’re okay with some weeds coming in as our crops get established, and we always sow cover crops after harvests are complete. When it rains hard in winter, we want our soil to stay in place. We also appreciate the gifts of plants to the soil: some plants make new fertility; others simply hold on to it (fertility can also be washed away by rains in bare soil). All plants add to the organic matter and healthy tilth of the soil.

Persian speedwell — a common weed in our fields that rocks at filling in bare space year-round.

Our farm is not perfect, by any means, and I don’t intend this newsletter to sound like boasting or suggest that we’ve figured it all out. But last week erosion was just so literally visible in the air all around us that I was contemplating it a lot. I also find myself genuinely befuddled that other farmers don’t seem to care — or, at least, don’t appear to be taking known steps to prevent such erosion from their own valuable fields. While I have a deep, spiritual reverence for top soil as an ecosystem all its own, from a very pragmatic standpoint, topsoil is a priceless asset for farmers.

This is of course the motivating premise behind the NRCS, the National Resources Conservation Services — our country’s institutional attempt to help farmers prevent erosion. The NRCS was founded almost 100 years ago, as a response to the infamous Dust Bowl disaster, and yet here we are today in 2019 with swirling dust in the air of the Willamette Valley.

Aside from the continued work of agencies like the NRCS and local Soil & Water Conservation Districts (SWCD), I’m not sure how to more effectively share the known solutions for preventing erosion and pollution. That’s a question that I think the Willamette Valley will need to discuss more as our population grows and the pressure on existing farm land increases. How can we simultaneously justify “protecting” it from development while watching its inherent assets blow away in the wind? I think Oregon’s land-use laws, which preserve farmland for farming, are a gift to farmers in this region. But the same laws also represent a responsibility. Oregon has said: yes, we value this work you do, and we will legally protect your access to it. But that tenure is an incredible privilege. Land-use laws represent a long-term vision for our landscape and community; we need to farm with a similar long-term perspective.

Today, the sun peeks between passing clouds and shines down on our fields through clean air! I will rejoice in this simple joy as we harvest for the CSA. Enjoy this week’s rain-washed vegetables!

Your farmer, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Reminder! Final payments due this week! Please bring checks or cash to pick-up tomorrow. Let me know if you have any questions about the balance due on your account!

~ ~ ~

Upcoming fall dates: We’re now in the final third of the 2019 CSA season, so I wanted to make sure you know what’s coming up …

  • Thursday, September 12 — Final CSA payment due tomorrow!
  • Thursday, November 21 — Our final CSA pick-up of the year! (Week 33!)
  • Tuesday, November 26 — Thanksgiving Holiday Harvest! (veggie list will be in final week’s newsletter and orders will need to be placed by Sunday evening)
  • Friday, December 20 — Winter Holiday Harvest & Open House! (veggie pick-up and Open House at storefront — we’ll email veggie list week ahead of time! We’ll have some treats at the storefront if folks want to linger and visit!)

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Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Concord grapes — These grapes have seeds! You can just crunch them up and swallow them or spit them out — we just like people to know ahead of time. “Old timers” on the island tell us this particular (clearly very old) grape planting is from cuttings carried on the Oregon Trail. If you’ve never had Concords before, you’re in for a treat — they are the flavor of grape.
  • Melrose apples
  • Pears
  • Broccoli — Abundant, beautiful broccoli this week!
  • Bell peppers
  • Eggplant
  • Tomatoes
  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Dinosaur kale — The dino kale is gorgeous right now! We’ve been eating it for breakfast a lot this week. This time of year, when the weather is warmer, we find the inner rib of the plant to be more “texture” than we prefer in our meals, so we just strip the leaves off and then chop them up. Delicious! I love the rich flavor of this particular variety of kale.
  • Zucchini
  • Spaghetti squash
  • Potatoes
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Wordless communication

My second “bumblebee-in-the-phacelia” photo of this year (and one of countless others) — I never tire of this sight … and sound!

What is communication? Is it something that can only happen with human language? Words and text?

Obviously, human communication is much bigger than the words we speak in our language. We tell so much through our facial expressions and body posture — so much so that at a glance, we can often accurately gauge a person’s mood or relationship status with another person.

But even though such real communication doesn’t take place through “language,” we humans often forget that we are not the only living beings that communicate — sometimes extensively, even cross-species. To push our understanding even more, animals aren’t even the only living beings that communicate.

The kids and I began school this week, and one of our fall books is The Hidden Life of Trees (The Illustrated Edition) by German forester Peter Wohlleben. The premise of the book is that trees are much more “social” than we might guess looking at them through our human lens. They share nutrients through underground root networks, and they communicate through scents and through electrical pathways via hidden mycelia networks. They can also respond to predators by changing the flavor of their leaves. For example, African acacia trees respond to the munching of giraffes by putting out a toxin — but they also let other acacia trees know to do the same by releasing alarm scents.

How do these pieces of information change the way we view plants, which are so often treated as passive objects in our world, rather than active subjects. In August 9’s Science magazine, they address this very viewpoint with a small tidbit of recent science. They point out that plants can respond to environmental cues in positive ways as well, providing the example of beach evening primose flowers that respond to the sound of bees buzzing by vibrating and then producing nectar with a higher sugar concentration. I couldn’t help but think of my own body during my breastfeeding days, responding to my babies by “letting down” milk — sometimes even just at the suggestion of a feeding (the sound of my baby crying).

In Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel, author Carl Safina pushes hard on the scientific tradition of stripping other organisms of emotions or thoughts (or even relationships). It has historically been a big “no no” to attribute any of these “human qualities” to animals, let alone insects or plants! As he says, “Not assuming that other animals have thoughts and feelings was a good start for a new science. Insisting that they did not was bad science.”

Why should we assume that evolution would only work this magic in us? Why, when we share cell features or skeleton outlines with organisms only remotely “related” to us, would we assume that we do also share components of what we cannot see but know is in humans? Emotions. Thoughts. Relationships with others. Clearly humans can have these before they’ve developed language skills (hello, babies — über-feelers and relationship builders). Much of the human experience of this lies in non-conscious communication. In the letting down of the mother’s milk. In the smile that warms another person’s heart. These acts of communication often happen without us even being conscious of them.

So, why do we not acknowledge the [possibly less conscious] important communication that happens underground between two trees in a forest? For example: Wohlleben describes in his book older trees providing sugar underground for younger tree still too short to reach the canopy. What level of distinction separates that act from me nursing my babies? Where do we draw lines and how do those lines affect our every interaction with the natural world?

Today, I stood and watched bees of all kinds dancing through a blooming phacelia planting. This plant is sometimes called “Bee Friend,” and it’s no mystery why. The air was alive with the sound of the buzzing, as bees flew from flower to flower, making them join the dance as they bounced back and forth too. We plant phacelia regularly on our farm for this very purpose — to provide an abundant source of food for pollinators living on our farm. From a scientific standpoint, we “know” that pollinators are beneficial to our agricultural activities, and so we want to foster their health year-round. This late summer season can be a rough time for bees since very few plants bloom now. But, from a loving, feeling, human animal standpoint, we also just love the experience of witnessing what feels like a joyous party in our fields when the phacelia blooms. There’s no fear of being stung — the bees are so distracted and busy, and YES they seem so happy. Delighted. Ecstatic.

And why should they feel these things? Why should we be the only ones to experience ecstasy — the emotion that probably best describes the peak experiences of life and drives our survival as a species? Evolution would be wasteful to have waited to give this gift only once homo sapiens showed up on the scene. I don’t want to misinterpret other organism’s motivations by assuming too much, but I feel confident that we share love and joy with most of the world.

In Safina’s book he describes the special glands in the side of an African elephant’s head that secrete during times that, for us, would be moments of strong emotion: when reuniting with family members after time apart, for example. Or before or after mating.

Safina beautiful articulates our relationship to these animals, including those bees dancing in the phacelia, this way:

As brains elaborated from a bee’s pleasure in a field of flowers, to our inner fish, to a bird’s delight in dance, and to our own — have our brains retained aesthetic roots that arose in insects? If so, the insect’s gift to us cannot possibly be repaid, except perhaps as reverence for the little elders at our feet and flitting among the flowers of our gardens. Regardless of who gets our thanks for the honor, there is no more wondrous face than that we are kin, bee and bird of paradise — and great elephant — stardust, all.

Both Wohlleben and Safina ask the important question, if we accepted the subjectivity of other organisms — including insects and plants! — how do we then rethink the lines we’ve drawn between ourselves as humans and every other living being. Wohlleben says:

I, for one, welcome breaking down the moral barriers between animals and plants. When the capabilities of vegetative beings become known, and their emotional lives and needs are recognized, then the way we treat plants will gradually change, as well. Forests are not first and foremost lumber factories and warehouses for raw material, and only secondarily complex habitats for thousands of species, which is the way modern forestry currently treats them. Completely the opposite, in fact.

May this be the next frontier for human philosophy — I know many people are already working to integrate these ideas (which have been integral in many indigenous traditions for millennia) into their lives and work. In a world where even some humans are still denied subjecthood and equal rights, it can feel like a stretch to look at trees and bees as kin — to put energy into thinking about having a right relationship with our non-human neighbors. But, maybe it’s essential to enlarge our thinking, to expand our worldview so that we can really see and appreciate the vast miracle of life all around us. To watch the chickadee at the bird feeder and wonder “who are you? who do you love?” To join in the ecstasy of the bees in the phacelia on a September afternoon.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

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Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Brooks plums
  • Chehalis apples
  • Honeycrisp apples
  • Pears
  • Peppers
  • Eggplants
  • Tomatoes
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Frisée salad
  • Golden chard
  • Zucchini
  • Spaghetti squash
  • Potatoes
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At summer’s end

The late summer field is a mix of fast growing freshly planted (broccoli!) and jungle-like longer term plantings that are pretty much done for the year …

We still have almost a month until the Fall Equinox (the official start of the Autumn), but this is the last week of summer break for anyone on a school calendar, including our family. When I was younger, I remember feeling so much joyful anticipation this time of year. Summer wasn’t so much my “thing” growing up, for whatever reason. I didn’t like the heat, suffered from seasonal allergies, and lived in a place where it wasn’t as easy to tap into the rhythms of the natural world in a meaningful way.

But now summer is most definitely my “thing,” and I approach the end of it each year with a mixture of that old anticipation (because I still love learning!) and a wistful sense of loss — another summer come and gone. I love the special delights of summer: outdoor music, lots of river time, potlucks with friends, camping, travel, beautiful fields and gardens, sunshine!, good summer foods …

River kids!

Next year will bring another summer of course, but our children will be a year older. They may have new passions and interests by then and will certainly be developmentally more mature. So this feels like the end of a chapter in their life: the summer when our kids were six and nine. The summer when Dottie joined Rusty in having her own kayak and grew into a competent paddler, and they kayaked across the river to play on their own (with me on the other side). The summer when they both loved Dungeons & Dragons for the first time and spent hours making “character sheets” for themselves and all their friends. The summer when Rusty was busy with his first real jobs (fittingly, helping neighbors take care of plants and animals). Each summer becomes another marker of their growth, offering new opportunities for them to grow in ways that are unique to the season — new forms of independence.

It’s so so sweet to be a witness to their unfolding and growth as people in the world. I don’t even want to slow it down, because it is such a gift to experience their forward motion. But I do remind myself regularly to be present and savor all of this, because it’s very clear at this point that childhood really does speed by, summers ending, children growing. We’ve watched our youngest CSA members grow and leave home, and ours will too. I think one of the greatest gifts of parenting is the awareness of how time passes quicker than we think. I may not feel significantly older from summer to summer, but our children certainly do, and it reminds me that this summer — this one, right now — is my life. What do I value right now? I need to be doing it now, connecting with people I love, having fun with our kids, and doing good work in the world.

Our friend David passed away earlier this summer after a long, wonderful life — filled with family, friends, and plenty of adventure and several years of cancer treatment at the end. One of his life mottos was “Don’t postpone joy!” Good words to live by, in any season!

David also first introduced me to the poetry of William Stafford (they were friends!), long before I ever moved to Oregon, including what has become a favorite poem. Casey, the kids and I recently began memorizing poetry together, and we chose this one in honor of David (it was shared at his memorial too). It seems fitting to share it with you too, at summer’s end:

Reminders
William Stafford

Before dawn, across the whole road
as I pass I feel spiderwebs.

Within people’s voices, under their words or
woven into the pauses, I hear a hidden sound.

One thin green light flashes over a smooth sea
just as the sun goes down.

What roses lie on the altar of evening
I inhale carefully, to keep more of.

Tasting all these and letting them have
their ways to waken me, I shiver and resolve:

In my life, I will more than live.

And, in tribute to the shifting seasons, you’ll find lots of new fruits and vegetables in your share options, including pears, carrots, beets, and the first of the winter squash (spaghetti squash!). Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Final CSA payments due! I emailed CSA statements to folks who still have a balance due this year (or who have credit they need to use). Please pay your remaining balance by Thursday, September 12. You can bring cash or check to pick-up or mail a check to us: Oakhill Organics, P.O. Box 1698, McMinnville, OR 97128. Let us know if you have any questions about your balance due!

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Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Apples
  • Pears — Your pears may benefit from time on your counter to soften up! They ripen better off the tree, so that’s why we pick them “early.”
  • Baby carrots — We have SOOOOOOOO many of these beautiful, tender fall carrots, so we thought we’d start harvesting them now! You’ll get to see them size up over the next few weeks, and eventually we will dig all of them to store for the winter in our walk-in cooler.
  • Beets — The beet greens are incredibly tender this week! These are also from a large fall planting.
  • Frisée (salad) — This week’s salad is all frisée, a frilly member of the chicory family that holds up well in end-of-summer heat. Traditionally, frisée is served with a heavy (sometimes even heated) dressing — something creamy or even involving bacon grease! The texture allows it to hold up under these dressings well. Traditional toppings include bacon pieces and/or a fried egg (duck is the best!). You can also use it in place of salad mix in your favorite salad preparations of any kind!
  • Spaghetti squash — A few years back a CSA member introduced us to our favorite way to prepare spaghetti squash: Cut the squash in half lengthwise, remove the seeds, and then place it cut-side up on a baking pan. Drizzle olive oil over the flesh and salt, and then bake at a high temperature until the meat is soft through (depending on the size of the squash, this could be 30-60 minutes). Once it’s cooked, you can use a fork to carefully “pull out” the spaghetti-like strands of squash onto individual plates. The olive oil will already have “dressed” it in the cooking process, and then you can add toppings or eat plain. We often use spaghetti squash as a “base” just like we’d use rice or pasta and then load on other vegetables or meat. We like making things kind of “wet” to put on top (just like pasta), so stewed tomato-y dishes, etc.
  • Peppers & eggplant
  • Tomatoes
  • Golden chard
  • Potatoes
  • Onions
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

Night sounds

Rusty tending a fire after dark last September … moon rising in background.

Does anybody else sometimes struggle with insomnia? I have experienced insomnia in the past — more so in certain phases of my life than others. Since I started putting CBD oil in my tea before bed, I’ve mostly slept very well all through the night (like everyone wishes babies would sleep), but earlier this week I found myself awake again.

Insomnia is such an interesting (and frustrating!) mental state — it’s not quite the same alertness and focus of daytime, but it’s not sleepy feeling either. For me, it really feels like an altered state of consciousness, one that is unfortunately prone to anxiety-laden thoughts and worries.

Thankfully, this week’s bout didn’t come with the usual load of angst, and instead I was just awake — my mind was spinning, recalling recent events, but in a neutral way. I decided to get out of bed (which is what the sleep docs recommend!), and stood for awhile on our upstairs porch. The moon was close to full, illuminating the landscape with silver light, but without my contacts in, I couldn’t see much beyond the large shapes of trees and houses.

Instead, in that odd nighttime state, I turned my ears outward, just listening to the layered sounds of the night here on Grand Island. This time of year, the most dominant after-dark sound is the rhythmic chirrups of the crickets. We only rarely encounter these insects during the day (I believe they’re very good hiders!), but at night they fill the air with their sound — one of the primary soundtracks of late summer out here.

But I also heard the calls of several Great Horned Owls, calling back and forth on either side of me: “Hoo hoo hoo hoo” “Hoo hoo hoo hoo” (with slight variation in the ending of the call and the response — difficult to transfer to words on a screen!). I remembered how loud the owls were around our house this time in 2012, when I was very pregnant with Dottie and preparing for her arrival. I remember getting up with Rusty in the night, and sitting with him in the dark with the sounds of the owls right outside our window. Little two year-old Rusty noticed too: “The owls are so loud,” he said.

I also observed that while the adult owl calls are loud as usual at night, I haven’t heard any juvenile calls this summer, whereas we have heard them in past years. A single juvenile would call periodically throughout the day, but especially right before dusk, offering a loud beeping sound to call to its parents for food. Sometimes we’d even hear the parents respond with their own calls. This summer, just the adults. I wonder why.

Closer to where I stood on the porch, I heard the nighttime rustle of birds in the Holly and English Laurel trees that grow by our driveway. Every night, dozens (hundreds even?) birds shelter in these trees. When they first come to perch in the evening, they fill the trees with the sound of their little evening greetings — not quite songs, but more like short chirped greetings and lots and lots of rustles of wings in the leaves. It can be quite loud, and we joke that the birds are having a party! They eventually settle down after dark, but at any point in the night, we can hear them slightly rustling — maybe birds just can’t be still, even in their sleep? We’ve witnessed some drama in these trees in the morning before, as Cooper’s Hawks sometimes come around to prey on the birds, even in their sheltered area — we’ve watched the hawks dive into the Holly and other birds fly out in all directions.

These three nighttime sounds I hold close to my heart. Out on the porch, awake, I felt less alone in the landscape, hearing these fellow creatures stirring or calling or singing.

But, beyond these animal sounds, I heard the other ever-present sound of summer on the island: the low rumble of an engine running, most likely running one of those very large sprinklers (known as “big guns” or “reel guns”). It’s a constant sound out here in the summer: reel guns irrigating fields 24/7. It’s a low sound that’s relatively easy to ignore (unlike some agricultural noise makers). I did hear other human-made sounds too: cars driving on the road; trains in the distance; and yes even an agricultural noise maker in a field (making predator roars to scare deer — actually pretty easy to ignore!).

As I stood there in the dark, awake but not really awake, I wondered what the audio landscape would be like without these ever-present human noises. What would it be like to just hear the crickets, the owls, and the sheltering bird rustles? What other noises would I hear that are too subtle in the current mix? I wonder.

For now though, Grand Island is very much a place both cultivated and wild. I love that about where we live, the juxtaposition of people working the land with the abundant habitat of being part of the Willamette River ecosystem.

Thankfully, I did end up falling asleep too! What a gift sleep is! But I appreciate those unexpected opportunities to experience our home in a different state too.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Honeycrisp apples — These apples are sooooooooooo good! Note that some will have an insect hole, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to toss them on the ground because of one small hole. Just be aware!
  • Sweet corn
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Eggplant
  • Salad mix — Lettuce and lots of frisée in the mix today
  • Basil
  • Kale
  • Golden chard
  • Potatoes
  • Zucchini
  • Onions
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

History lives

Recreations of the kinds of foods Lewis & Clark ate on their journey and winter at Fort Clatsop: salal berries, hard tack, camas bulb, wapato bulbs, “portable soup,” dried salmon, and elk jerky.

We are a history-loving family. I haven’t always been into history per se — in school, I remember studying “social studies” (which was something akin to geography meets anthropology, I guess) and one whirlwind year of AP US History (which I remember as being very “battles and dates” oriented). Other than that, I picked up historical context mostly through bits and pieces in contemporary news and literature that I read.

But when we began homeschooling Rusty several years ago, it felt very natural to make history a core part of our home learning experience. What is history, after all, but the stories of humanity’s experience? I love stories. Who doesn’t love stories?

It turns out, I definitely do. Especially when those stories transcend the “battles and dates” form of textbook history. As a teacher (and co-learner), I have loved looking for more inspiring “living” books and stories that we can share as a family. I’ve especially loved looking for the stories that haven’t been told as much — stories about how everyday people lived; stories of women; stories of people of color; and stories of people from around the world.

To help me organize our approach, I developed a five-year history rotation for our family, around which we focus a lot of our reading and activities each year as we focus on a different era: ancient, medieval, early modern, 19th century, and 20th century. We’ve been through three years of this rotation so far, so this coming school year we’ll be studying the 19th century — bringing us that much closer to our contemporary day than we’ve been so far.

When I read about the 19th century today, so much still feels incredibly relevant — the world was struggling with what it meant to become a global community and the clashes in culture and power roles as people and products moved from continent to continent. It was a time of incredible tragedy, even as the foundations were laid for modern scientific discovery. Empires. Genocide. Great literature. Bondage. Discovery. War. As much as any era, the 19th century impresses upon me the importance of learning the stories of our past, as in the United States is still be shaped by the happenings of that century. As an American, if you don’t know the basic timeline and happenings of the 19th century, you’ll miss a lot of what is going on today. Of course, the same could be said for the 20th century. Themes persist, both positive and negative.

Anyhow, we have some truly excellent and diverse texts awaiting us for this school year. The kids will really only just begin laying down the their own contextual understanding of this period of time (although Rusty’s history knowledge at the age of 9 exceeds what mine was at age 30!), but together we’ll share the important stories, good and bad.

Although we do spend a dedicated period in the morning “doing school,” our family’s learning experiences are so much bigger than the time we spend cuddled reading on the couch. Casey and I both love bringing learning into all that we do, and we love looking for opportunities to do more than “just” read.

When I learned that a family member was getting married in Astoria this summer, we jumped on the opportunity to visit in person some of Oregon’s important 19th century history. The kids and I have been listening to Peter Stark’s Astoria in the car over the summer to prepare. I didn’t know the details of the story and was surprised along with the kids at every new disaster! Oh my!

Family at Fort Clatsop

This weekend we finally drove to Astoria for a whirlwind tour of a few key historical sites. We began at Fort Clatsop, the site of Lewis and Clark’s 1805-06 winter stay in Oregon. We visited the replica of the fort and learned from the historical interpreters who were on site, tanning hides and teaching about local foods. The kids were suitably blown away to think that we were on the same literal spot where those famous explorers had wintered. I loved seeing their brains make the connection between stories we’d read in books and the place where we stood.

Next we visited the Astoria Column, where we revisited again the story of the area’s earliest European-American visitors on the spiraling upward paintings (and climbed up to see the awesome view from the top). Before bed, we walked around downtown, marveling in the old buildings everywhere. I learned that Astoria’s population peaked in 1920 (at 14,000 — today it is only 10,000), and one really feels the age of the little city in the houses and buildings. Many of them need what are likely costly repairs and renovations, making one wonder about the future of the city. But for now it is really beautiful.

The Flavel House dining room

The next day we visited the Flavel House Museum, a mansion built in 1886 and now maintained for public viewing. It was a big jump in Oregon’s history — from the rugged makeshift Fort Clatsop to the established affluence of the Flavel House, built just 80 years later. Again, an immersive kind of lesson in what has come before us.

We also stopped by a piece of personal history: the stately old house where my grandmother Dorothy (Dottie’s namesake) used to rent a small apartment from an older woman named Vera. I remember going to visit her there when I was a child. She didn’t have a separate entrance, so we would walk into the grand entry hall and pass through the main house, which Vera still maintained in her family’s antique furniture. In my memories, it was like stepping back in time, seeing her parlor filled with old chairs, well-worn rugs, and family portraits hung on the wallpapered walls. My grandmother’s apartment was a cozy modern space tucked upstairs in the back of the house, but downstairs it felt as though history had paused for Vera. Vera and my grandmother both died years ago, and that house too has seen better days at this point. I’m sure that inside it no longer has the grandeur of Vera’s family, but the house is still there, with probably even more stories to tell if one could listen.

Dorothy and Vera’s house

At the end of our second day, we drove back home through rare August rain, back to the farm, exhausted but rich with new experiences of old things — with a deeper understanding of how we came to be here today, doing what we do. The older I get the more conscious I become of our immense privilege, especially in historical context — to be able to move and purchase land on which to farm is historically an unheard of kind of lifestyle and status shift. That land was made available to us, that we could afford it, that we were legally allowed to be in a new place. Historically, these are rights that were reserved for only the most powerful, strong, and wealthy.

We are very aware of how much tragedy preceded that privilege. And, how do we today reconcile ourselves to such histories? I still don’t know the answer to that question. American writer, farmer, philosopher Wendell Berry’s answer, one that has been latched on to by many landed white Americans, is that through our dedication to the land — our good stewardship — we redeem the stories and our ancestors. That through work we can truly belong. I’m not sure that I think the answer is that simple any more, even though it still tugs at my heart strings.

I do feel like this land is home, but I also feel an obligation to endlessly learn and tell the stories of my home — including the stories of those who before. This is why before we went to Astoria, before we read about Lewis & Clark, before we even learned anything one might call “Oregon history,” the kids and I learned about the Kalapuya people and the native flora and fauna of our region. And, we will continue to learn about this place from all of these angles and more — through the stories of the various people who have lived here and through our own direct experience with the soil, with the plants, with the creature.

The only way I reconcile myself to home is by learning, endlessly learning and bearing witness and honoring and expressing gratitude for the layers upon layers of history here. If it is our home, it is a shared home — shared with the memories of others, with the ash trees growing along the creek, with the great horned owls who nest in those trees, and the infinite multitude that come and go, living and dying here too.

Amen.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Apples — Mix of Chehalis and Akane
  • Sweet corn!
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Eggplant
  • Cucumbers
  • Lettuce mix
  • Kale
  • Chard
  • Zucchini
  • Potatoes
  • Onions
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High summer mode

Planting fall and winter brassicas

This last week was 100% summer — which, to me, means life in the highest gear of the year. It was finally hot (even in the 90s!), and we farmed and played and all-around savored the season and its gifts. Some highlights:

I took the kids to the Yamhill County fair, where we checked on their horticultural entries. Participating in the fair is an annual tradition in our house and feels like it marks the high point of the season. They think ahead to their fair entries as early as February when they make their seed lists! They did well this year, earning three best-of-show awards and two sweepstakes between the two of them! Since we homeschool, I love that the fair gives them an opportunity to feel their hard work affirmed by someone other than a parent (they also have some great teachers in other areas of their life too).

We planted almost all of our fall and winter crops! Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and more. Just a few flats of starts remain up by the house, which we will plant this week in one of our high tunnels. Since we plant almost all season-long, reaching the finish line always feels like a very significant seasonal milestone. After the last few flats, we will have a break from transplanting until after the New Year.

We processed firewood for the winter! A very large, heavy limb fell from an oak tree at the weekly farm school program the kids attend, blocking the driveway to the classroom. We spent a hot part of Saturday chainsawing rounds and hauling branches — exchanging our clean-up labor for high quality firewood.

We attended two wonderful outdoor arts events: As You Like It at Stoller Vineyard (we love summer Shakespeare!) and a house concert by friend and harpist/poet Bethany Lee. As the hot days mellowed into warm evenings, we marveled in the magic of sharing music, laughter, and awe outside with others.

Dry fields at Baskett Slough

The kids and I hiked at Baskett Slough, where we were astonished at how very dry the landscape appeared. Our “sense” of the season is that we’ve had more rainfall than normal (which is true), and yet still here in the Willamette Valley summer drought prevails. Aside from the Queen Anne’s Lace flowers, most of the field plants and flowers were long past blooming and had set seeds, matured them, and were completely dry and brown. As we leaned our ears off the trail in one location, we could hear seeds popping out of dry pods (perhaps from vetch? It’s hard to identify all the plants at this stage). We also watched a very lethargic-looking bumblebee feed on a Queen Anne’s Lace and were able to see its tongue reach out for nectar from the flower. I had never seen a bumblebee’s tongue before!

And, we spent another wonderful day playing with friends at the river. The kids each have their own little kayaks this year, and they have both become so competent at paddling around the river, making smart use of eddies to go upstream and then riding the currents back down. They discovered a patch of soft sand on the far bank from our swimming spot and have spent the last three weeks building sand castles there, within adult eyesight but with a new level of independence from us too. It’s quite the jump in their freedom to be across the river from me, playing with their friends. We’ve spent every summer of their childhoods learning and practicing water safety, which helps make this possible for them (plus, life jackets!).

Last evening, we hosted a small group of folks for a farm tour, organized by OSU Extension (part of their summer “Crop Talks” series). We were delighted to meet farm-y types from around the region and share our story with them. We always provide lots of caveats when we show people around, making it clear that our farming journey has been just that: a journey, and one that we are still very much on. Things that worked for us in our second year on the farm might not be relevant anymore. And, likewise, what works for us might not work the same on another farm. But, nonetheless, there is so much value in connecting with other people who fundamentally love the land and this work. We shared a potluck afterward and enjoyed learning more about the kinds of projects other people are working on and what they dream of doing on their land in the future.

That’s a full week!!!! And just one week out of a wonderfully full summer. I love this time of year. I know I couldn’t sustain this level of activity year-round, but I don’t have to. The shifting of the seasons will bring a natural easing into new rhythms not too long from now. But I am going to savor every special summer activity while they last.

May you too be filled with the vibrant, golden joy of summer this week! And enjoy this week’s abundant summer vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Akane apples — This is a special treat! We first ate Akane apples in Bellingham, and we fell in love with this distinctive early apple (which is ready closer to the equinox in that more northern locale — right around when we would be back in town for fall quarter to start at school). When we put in our first orchard, we knew we wanted some of this special variety in the mix, but we’ve had years of disappointment. They just don’t do as well here as they do in Northwestern Washington. They mature too quickly and don’t develop the same sugars or flavors that they have in cooler climates. The trees themselves have struggled too. BUT! This year has been wetter and relatively cooler overall, and the result is that some apples are different this year, the Akanes included. They are, in fact, delicious! Enjoy!
  • Salad mix
  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Eggplant
  • Basil
  • Kale
  • Golden chard
  • Cucumbers
  • Zucchini
  • Potatoes
  • Shallots
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Summer’s monster!

Giant spiky leaves! Watch out!

Friends of ours have been hosting monthly potlucks with a twist: each one features a seasonal vegetable “theme,” giving attendees an opportunity to consider how they might creatively feature the main ingredient. This month’s veggie was zucchini! We ate oodles of zoodles, zucchini salads, zucchini bread, curry zucchini stew with lamb (our contribution), and more.

Before we ate, our host gave us all the opportunity to share our own personal stories about this vegetable, and it seemed everyone had something to share — mostly stories about zucchini gone wild and growing to mammoth proportions or about the lingering pain on the hands and arms after picking them.

Yes, zucchini do have spines on their giant leaves! And, they will certain leave a mark that can sting for many hours. And, the fruits grow amazingly fast. We pick ours at least twice a week, even though the CSA is only once per week. If we didn’t, we’d have gigantic fruit for pick-up, and we know that many people prefer to more moderate sizes (which usually feature fewer seeds and thinner skin, making them desirable for certain preparations).

Inevitably, however, we do miss a fruit or two at each picking. The dark green zucchini are especially good at blending into the shade of the plants, and by the time we get back to the planting, they will have tripled in size. Back at Cedarville Farm, where we trained in Bellingham, we used to call these missed zucchini “zucchini babies,” because they often ended up being about the weight, shape, and length of a large bundled human baby. On one particularly goofy day (probably fueled by the consumption of donuts and a blend of instant coffee and hot cocoa that we called “jet fuel”), we wrapped several zucchini babies in towels and drew on baby faces with a permanent marker, then rocked them in our arms and laughed and laughed.

I think there is something naturally hilarious about a vegetable that can seem so monstrous — spikes! rapid growth! and prolific! oh my! This humorous aspect is what inspires so many “leaving-zucchini-on-the-neighbors-door-step-and-running” type of jokes in August.

But, you know what? I love this vegetable. Both for and in spite of its hilarious features. I love how it produces and produces and produces, the living embodiment of a season that seems to provide us with endless abundant gifts. Practically speaking, I love how versatile it is. I will admit, I am a fan of “mushy” food. I love well-cooked stews with complex flavor profiles and things of that nature (when I first tasted Indian food as a child, I thought I was in heaven!). Zucchini is so well suited to such applications — it can carry the flavor of whatever seasonings you desire to add (Italian, middle eastern, Indian). It can also be roasted or cooked to be al dente too, in a pan, oven, or on the BBQ. Zucchini pairs naturally well with many other summer season vegetables too: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, onions, cauliflower, potatoes … we’ll begin making regular batches of ratatouille soon — a summer favorite for us.

Tomorrow we’ll mark the halfway point of summer (celebrated as “Lammas” by some). Sunset is already coming earlier, but we are at the peak of what will be a long harvest season here in Oregon. In honor of zucchini and summer’s abundance, here is one of our all-time favorite poems of the season:

The Arrival
Wendell Berry

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.

Now is the time to celebrate and offer our gratitude for these gifts — zucchini included! Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Shiro plums
  • Chehalis apples — The first of THIS YEAR’s apple crop!!!!! These are our earliest apple, and they are just now maturing into deliciousness. We’ll offer these for several weeks, and you’ll get to taste and experience how the flavor and texture will change as they continue to mature on the trees.
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers & eggplant
  • Salad mix
  • Red Russian kale
  • Golden chard
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower & broccoli
  • Zucchini
  • Cucumbers
  • New potatoes
  • Shallots
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How do we spend our time?

Casey, harvesting salad in the morning

Do you think much about how you spend your time? This seems to be a big topic for discussion and analysis between my friends and I, as we juggle quite a lot of responsibilities and goals in this stage of our life. One friend and I in particular will have long conversations about how we structure our weeks and our days, always working toward what might be the best possible rhythm for balancing work with leisure and everything in between.

But, of course, if there’s just too much all around, then that juggling won’t ever achieve a magic balance. Or, even if there’s just the perception of too much, it can be hard (or impossible!) to ever feel the satisfaction of being done for the day.

I’ve been thinking of this a lot lately from several angles. First, still from the question of how patterns and rhythms to the days — especially as we move toward the start of the school year, I wonder how to best order our days and weeks to accomplish our homeschool goals, social needs, and my work load on the farm. It is possible! I know, because we’ve done it several years before! But, from the standpoint of July (when the farm work seems endless), it’s hard to always trust that a fall rhythm is doable.

But I’ve also been thinking about it in terms of distractions and discipline. What I mean is: I’ve been thinking (again!) about screens and their role in my life. I can plan all day long to have a productive day doing x, y, and then z, but if I get distracted by something bright and shiny on social media, all my plans can be thwarted! I know that I’m not alone in this. It’s a conundrum.

Perhaps for this reason, I love reading books and articles about the latest research and analysis about screen use. How have these technologies changed us as people? This fascinates me! I also find myself perpetually envious of people who take extended “social media breaks” or whatnot. I often feel nostalgic for a world before smartphones, when our networks were based more on real-life interactions. Nostalgia can be distracting and misleading too, of course, but I’m just being honest about how my heart feels some of the time.

Recently I read two books purporting to help readers find a healthy relationship with digital communication technologies: How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell, and Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport.

In How to Do Nothing — a book I mentioned in an earlier newsletter as well — Odell herself explores the question of how to resist through several extended essays. Her closest thing to an “answer” is the pursuit of bioregionalism — that is knowledge of and interaction with the specific places where we live. She concludes that we can’t just create a vacuum by cutting ourselves off of social media but we need to replace it with something richer and fuller. She herself enjoys bird watching in her native bioregion, the Bay Area. I love this idea (and fully embrace such pursuits in my own life), but I find it a bit naive to think that pursuing something wonderful, such as bird watching, will be sufficient to reduce a person’s engagement in the so-called “attention economy” of social media notifications and 24-hour news cycle websites, etc. Bright and shiny (or alarming!) things tend to overrule the more everyday, less “in-your-face” world of reality. Alas!

I did enjoy Newport’s take on how to be a “digital minimalist.” He is more interested in creating structures and discipline for oneself, and not surprisingly his approach is reminiscent of Marie Kondo and her popular brand of minimalism! Rather than just trying to “cut back” on our internet use throughout the day, he proposes that we schedule when we use the internet (or check email or social media or whatnot) to limited times. Furthermore, he suggests limiting what forms of such technologies we use to those that have clear benefits for us (rather than just assuming that every new app or social media will be beneficial). So, for one person maybe that means having an Instagram account they check every other day, but no Facebook or Twitter. Or, reading one good aggregate news website once a day rather than checking several websites throughout the day. Either way, he definitely recommends physically cutting back of the types of exposure one regularly has. His advice is akin to suggesting that someone not keeping foods in the house that he is trying to avoid — remove the temptations by deleting unwanted accounts and clearly scheduling use of others.

It’s all great advice! But just the last two days I’ve found myself getting sucked into extended text back-and-forth conversations that bypassed all of those kinds of intentions. There were things that needed to be sorted out; plans to be made; unexpected challenges to be addressed. So there I was, in the piano studio texting to Casey during the kids’ piano lesson; in the fields, texting with a friend; in the kitchen, texting with an acquaintance. From one perspective (such as Cal Newport’s strong thesis that we need lots of uninterrupted time to do good work), those were failure moments. I was definitely interrupting myself each time to respond.

But, again, they were absolutely necessary conversations to have. And, that’s the thing: a lot of what we do via our phones is maintain and build relationships. Not all of it — I know people do a lot of scrolling, and I certainly get sucked into that occasionally (but I highly recommend installing a Facebook feed blocker to anyone who wants to spend less time unintentionally scrolling!). But most of the time that I spend on my phone is time navigating the topsy-turvy world of people and relationships: making plans, changing plans, figuring out challenges, etc.

When any of us sit down to write out our ideal work schedules for business or home, I think it’s so easy to forget all of those relationships. On paper, life can be so productive! No interruptions! But real life is every so much more complicated. Washers break (this happened here this week!). Kids get splinters. People have questions all around. I mean, sooooooo many things happen in daily life that need attention at home, on the farm, in the workplace.

I don’t know to what extent communication technologies have allowed us to increase the pressure of relationship demands (if at all), but for me it’s important to remember not to blame my phone for every distraction that comes along! Or to dream that without it my life would be simpler. I do love to entertain that possibility, but that misses the point that life is complicated. Relationships are complicated.

And wonderful too, of course. Casey and I feel so blessed to live in a thriving community, with friends and family nearby. We love being involved in projects that foster community in real life, even if that involves spending time interacting digitally. It’s really and truly ALL GOOD.

So, when I return to my ideal weekly and daily rhythms with that perspective, it’s easier to see that over all the tidy blocks of time, there are other layers happening all the time too. I can block off three hours for school with the kids in the morning, and I can also realize that some of this time may be simultaneously used to sustain other connections. I can schedule to harvest for the CSA, knowing that I may field questions about another part of our life during that time — and I will still finish the harvest! Is this layered approach to life the “most efficient”? I’m not sure! But does it work? It seems to!

Perspective then can change so much about how we allow ourselves to rest into the reality of juggling many things. Gratitude for our relationships can help us feel content at the end of a full day, even if not every task on the list got completed.

Summer is always a good time for this kind of analysis for me, when the days are literally longer and often very full. May you too find some fresh perspective this summer on the reality of your life — in all its distracting blessings and work and play.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Plums
  • Apples
  • Salad mix
  • Green beans
  • Basil – Big bags of basil this week! The plants have been loving the extra heat we’ve had in the last week, so there’s plenty! Pesto time!
  • Beets
  • Zucchini
  • Cucumbers
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Golden chard
  • Potatoes
  • Fresh shallots
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All weather has impacts

Casey picking plums for this week’s CSA — his shirt makes a great soft spot for landing plums!

What a summer this has been so far! Or, hasn’t been.

What we have experienced: significant rainfall in July! What we have not experienced: dusty, dirty skies; intense heat waves; intensely dry days.

So, it’s different than what we’ve come to expect here in the Willamette Valley for July (which usually full of those things I listed above). Most folks I talk to seem to be rejoicing in the more comfortable season, and I can definitely see the effects of it in the environment around us. Trees that might be showing the earliest signs of drought stress are still mostly just green. In our orchards, we can see that our earliest apples are maturing more slowly, which might actually lead to better quality, as sometimes the summer heat can be too intense for them. We had almost perfect germination in our fall brassica sowing and field-sown carrots — which often struggle to germinate on hot mid-summer days. Not this year!

There are of course also expected slow downs in the maturity of all kinds of crops. Our tomatoes are just now starting to ripen, later than our typical early July (for cherry tomatoes). Overall, our harvest lists remind us more of late June than mid-July. But, unexpected seasons such as this certainly keep us on our toes, always watching and learning from the farm and our larger environment!

I do hope that we still get some days warm enough to invite dips into the river (which hasn’t been overly appealing just yet). While the heat can be hard on us humans, it also provides those unique summer opportunities that I hope we’ll still get to enjoy to some degree this year. It is, after all, only mid-July.

Beautiful plums!

But, even with the feeling of delay in the fields, we’re excited about this week’s share, which leans more heavily on the warm-season fruiting crops: green beans! plums! zucchini! cucumbers! We also have lots of salad mix for summer salads and lots of new potatoes (perhaps for summer potato salads???). Overall we chose to harvest fewer individual items, but there are ample amounts of what we do have, and it’s all top-notch quality!

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Plums
  • Green beans — The first of the summer green beans! What is your favorite way to eat them? We love to sauté them with onions and eat them plain or add meat to make into a main dish. We also love to roast them in a pan with butter and garlic.
  • Cucumbers
  • Lettuce mix
  • Fennel
  • New potatoes — A mix of types!
  • Cabbage
  • Zucchini
  • Fresh onions
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On potatoes

Potato blooms!

There’s so much I could write about this week, not the least of which is this July rain that’s surprised us the last few days! But the potato plants are in full bloom now, and in their honor, I thought I would share some random potato facts with you all this week.

First of all, yes, the potato plants are blooming, but just in case I confused anyone with this detail, I will clarify that potatoes are tubers — they grow under the ground, at the ends of roots from the plant. It’s actually quite fun to dig through the loose dirt and find potatoes, such as this afternoon when Casey and I harvested beautiful bright pinkish red skinned potatoes from the brown earth.

Potatoes are propagated from cut potato tubers too, which are buried in the ground and then reburied as the plants begin to grow, forming a loose “hill” of earth in which the tubers can form easily (and loose enough to dig through at harvest time as well). As we dig for the fresh new ones, we still see the remnants of the cut pieces of potato that we planted this spring (with CSA member help!). But though the blooms don’t end producing useful (to us) fruits or seeds, the flowers still signify a certain level of maturity of the potato plants. We know that when we start seeing blossoms, we can begin digging for potatoes.

Though there are enough good-sized potatoes for us to dig this week, the plants will continue producing bigger and more potatoes for several weeks to come. As the season goes on, the volume of potatoes that we will dig from each plant will increase until the plants themselves reach their maturity and then begin to senesce at the end of the season. The plants will begin to lose their vitality and will eventually be killed by the arrival of cold.

Before the plants finally die, they will have produced a large handful of potatoes per plant, and even after they are doing growing potatoes, the potatoes benefit from extra time in the ground to “cure.” This is simply the extra time between maturation and harvest, which allows the skins on the potatoes to grow slightly thicker so that when we harvest them for winter storage they won’t mar in our handling. The texture of the inner flesh also changes during curing and then again in long-term storage, which is why “new” potatoes (such as we have in this week’s share) have a different texture than winter storage potatoes. In our house, we love both variations and are glad for the difference experience over the season.

Potatoes originally came from South America and were only introduced to European diets in the 16th century. It took years before European farmers and eaters embraced the new crop, which is fundamentally different than familiar grains, both in terms of its cultivation and culinary value (though it has a very similar macronutrient profile, being primarily a source of starchy carbohydrates). In 19th century France, King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette helped popularize the potato by wearing the flowers on their person (Louis in his buttonhole and Marie Antoinette in her famously coiffed hair).

Today, of course, it’s hard to imagine a diet without potatoes! Potatoes are certainly a staple in our house, especially for the kids. We almost exclusively roast them, slicing them into halves or quarters (or more pieces if large) and then placing them in a deep pan with liberal amounts of butter. We especially enjoy the results when we roast them in our convection oven at a very high setting (450° or so). We stir them a few times, and by the end, they are crispy on all sides — sort of a simple version of home fries.

As farmers, we love potatoes simply for their miracle-like growth and for their human-scale production. We tried growing grain crops years ago, and while they grew well on our farm, the harvest never felt simple. We often hired neighboring farmers to combine the grains, and we still then had a crop that needed further cleaning or processing in order to be edible. Oats, for example, grow well here, but they also need to be removed from their stalk (which a combine does) and then have their hulls removed. That process is called threshing and winnowing — which we learned is hard to do by hand on any volume or with very good results. We often found that our “cleaned” grains were still much less clean than what someone can buy at the store. Plus, then oats really should either by ground into flour or rolled for quick cooking. That’s just one example, but many grains have a lot of steps before the final product! I’m sure we could have fine-tuned some systems if we’d needed to, but ultimately we were convinced that grains are better suited to larger-scale, mechanical production.

In contrast, potatoes can produce a lot of the same kind of food on any scale, including our small scale. We can drop them into the ground by hand, planting as many rows as we need. And we can dig them quickly and easy by hand, needing only to wash them before putting them into storage. They do require cold storage for long-term keeping, but again that’s something we have achieved easily at our farm’s scale with two different home-constructed walk-in coolers that we run with hacked air-conditioning units wired to CoolBot devices. Along with a few other more starchy vegetables like winter squash and zucchini, potatoes allow us to grow vegetables that can really fill out a meal (and fill up the eater).

Grow, potatoes, grow! Enjoy this week’s vegetables, potatoes included!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Methley plums — The earliest of our plums! These are a reddish-purple round cling-stone plum that is for fresh eating.
  • Cucumbers
  • Zucchini
  • New potatoes
  • Fresh onions & shallots
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage
  • Seasonal salad mix
  • Basil
  • Kale
  • Chard
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