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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Through poetry’s lens

Beautiful fall dinosaur kale!

The kids and I cuddle up to begin our school day today and opened with poetry, as we do most days. Right now we’re reading poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and today we read “The Rainy Day,” which says, “The day is cold, and dark, and dreary” etc.

And, yes, it was indeed! The kids remarked on how fitting the imagery was in the poem in relation to the world outside. In our case, we were not feeling depressed or down like the narrator, but nonetheless we felt a kinship because it felt very true that “Into each life some rain must fall”!

Poetry has a remarkable way of connecting with our lives, in big and small ways. Unlike a novel, or even an essay, which have room for multiple characters and story development — which may or may not resonate — poems paint pictures. Pictures of scenes, emotions, brief events. They are like distilled snapshots of life — no less deep for their brevity. I love this about poetry, how in just a few lines a poet can touch upon truths and experiences that help me more clearly see my own. And, perhaps more importantly, help put my perspective and experiences in the context of humanity and the wider world.

Interactions with and observations of the natural world have prompted some of the best poetry. One of our personal favorite poets is, of course, Wendell Berry the quintessential farmer poet from Kentucky. He famously wrote that “eating is an agricultural act,” and I would add that for Berry farming seems to be a poetical act! Being a poet and writer seems to have opened his senses to his experience of the land so that basic work becomes the inspiration for a bounty of poems. His experience with the land inspires him to see and write differently, and then we receive the gift of his poems, which inspire us readers to also see differently.

We’ve loved sharing favorite poems with you all over the years, both in newsletters and on the big chalkboard at pick-up. Our work out here is very physical and in that way quite straightforward. We work the soil. We plant seeds. We bunch kale. We wash bins. But, even though neither Casey or I are poets, like Berry, we experience more than just the soil and sun as we work. Harvest days have often felt like alchemy, as our hands reach into rows of plants and transform their sometimes scraggly growth into bins full of beautiful, clean vegetables for our community. There are countless moments that beg to be distilled.

I do my best to share some of those experiences in the long essay form, but I am so grateful to the work of poets who can take the profound and mundane moments of life and work alchemy of their own, to share with us all.

If you don’t currently include poetry as a regular part of your life, I encourage you to make room for it. Long ago, when we lived at Holden Village, we learned that poetry is really best appreciated read aloud with others. There, we were regulars at “Poetry, wine and chocolate” nights — a great tradition that begs to be repeated elsewhere. All you have to do is pile books of good poetry* around the room, serve some wine and chocolate, and take turns reading! Easiest party to host ever!

We haven’t hosted such parties of our own, but we do read poetry, both as part of the kids school routine and on special occasions. When Rusty was little, I even compiled a spiral notebook of my favorite seasonal poems that are suitable for reading before meals. That book also forms the basis of what I write on the chalkboard at CSA pick-up.

In closing, I want to share one of those poems, fitting for this moment in Autumn, by another of our favorite poets. As you read, think about how the poem changes what you feel. Think about how it provides an opportunity to pause, the see the autumn world a little differently. Think about how awesome poetry is!

Linger in Happiness
Mary Oliver

After rain after many days without rain,
it stays cool, private and cleansed, under the trees,
and the dampness there, married now to gravity,
falls branch to branch, leaf to leaf, down to the ground

where it will disappear—but not, of course, vanish
except to our eyes. The roots of the oaks will have their share,
and the white threads of the grasses, and the cushion of moss;
a few drops, round as pearls, will enter the mole’s tunnel;

and soon so many small stones, buried for a thousand years,
will feel themselves being touched.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

* Don’t know where to begin finding “Good Books of Poetry”? I recommend reading The Poetry of Presence: an Anthology of Mindfulness Poems. This is an amazing compilation of poems from many great poets. Start here, and you’ll begin to learn the names of poets you want to spend more time with going forward. Also, Oregon has produced many great poets: William Stafford (and his son Kim Stafford), Brian Doyle, Ursula LeGuin, and the very local Bethany Lee and Ellen Summerfield! I’ve also found some great books just browsing at the library in the poetry section!

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Upcoming dates: I wanted to remind you of important dates this fall … we’re getting close to the end of the season!

  • 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:

  • Apples — More of the yummy Jonagold apples … even more different varieties yet to come this fall!
  • Pears
  • Fall salad mix — A colorful mix of cooler season greens: escarole, radicchio, arugula, and mizuna.
  • Cabbage
  • Kale
  • Broccoli & cauliflower
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Delicata winter squash
  • Spaghetti squash
  • Pie pumpkins
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Root parade

Just for fun: a late blooming sunflower in the fields on this sunny afternoon!

What a beautiful day for harvest! Casey and I enjoyed ourselves very much in the fields this afternoon. It was a treat to be in the warm sun, although there was still a chill in the air (and certainly in the shadows). Another frost is predicted for tonight, and I believe it!

Rather than waxing poetic about this moment on the farm this week, I want to share a story from the past that is culinarily appropriate for the fall shares. I’ve shared this story before, but it’s one of those stories I love telling over and over again.

A long, long, long time ago (probably around 2003 or so), Casey and I once lived in Bellingham, Washington and were young married students, still learning so much about the world. One of the things we were learning and thinking about was how to keep house in a sustainable way, including the importance (we learned!) of eating local vegetables in season. This was a very new idea to us at the time! There were cold season vegetables that we had rarely eaten and certainly never cooked before that we now noticed in the produce department. We knew we weren’t going to eat tomatoes in fall and winter anymore, so what would we eat? It turns out that we would eat vegetables like beets and carrots and potatoes and cabbages and leeks — staple foods for the cold seasons of our CSA.

So, one day I decided to buy several of these relatively new-to-me vegetables. Since we weren’t using plastic bags, I put them straight into my cart and then straight onto the check-out conveyor belt at our local food co-op. I lined them all up — potatoes, carrots, onions, beets, sweet potatoes, parsnips, and more — and watched them move toward the checker. As they moved toward the checker, I laughed and said, “Look, it’s a root parade!”

I have to admit, the checker (who was probably tired and uninterested) didn’t find my joke as funny as I did. But that night when we chopped all those vegetables and roasted them, Casey and I enjoyed the colorful and flavorful results of our “root parade” very much, and that name has since stuck around to be used anytime we roast a pan of mixed root vegetables (often plus other items too).

This is definitely the season for making root parade! It’s easy! You can include non-root vegetables too, of course (such as winter squashes, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, even cabbage), but roots make a great foundation for roasted vegetables. Chop them into bite-sized pieces, keeping in mind cooking times. Beets, for example, take longer to cook than potatoes or carrots, so I chop them smaller. Broccoli and cauliflower are less dense and can be left larger.

Once everything is chopped, put it in a pan, being careful not to overload (or veggies will steam rather than roast), add butter or olive oil, salt, and then roast at a high temperature until everything is soft inside and crispy outside. You’ll want to stir occasionally during cooking. If you have a convection oven, definitely use the convection setting, as the moving air will help everything crisp up. So will letting the vegetables briefly stand out of the oven before you serve them up.

There are other wonderful ways to enjoy all these good fall foods too. Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

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Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Jonagold apples — With each new variety of apples that matures, I think,“Wow, this is outstanding. This is my favorite apple.” The Jonagolds are no exception — I’m blown away by their crispy texture and delicious sweet complex flavor.
  • Pears
  • Sweet peppers
  • HOT peppers — Folks have been asking, and the hot peppers are finally ready! We will CLEARLY mark these at pick-up.
  • Eggplant
  • Cabbage/broccoli/cauliflower
  • Golden chard
  • Spaghetti squash — Now that it’s cooler out, it’s definitely the season for eating yummy, warm spaghetti squash. Maybe you’re like I used to be and think you don’t like spaghetti squash. The spaghetti squash I remember from being a child is fairly bland in my memory. It’s hard to assess such things through memory, but looking back I’d guess those squash either weren’t super mature (as was the case for much of the winter squash I ate in cooler Washington State actually!) or was a less flavorful variety than we grow today. While our spaghetti squash make a fairly neutral base for all kinds of dishes, I think they have lots of flavor on their own too. Once again, our favorite way to prepare these squash is to cut in half lengthwise (which is challenging, yes), remove seeds/pulp, and then bake cut-side up in the oven (drizzled with olive oil or butter and salt). Bake until the squash is cooked through and the “noodles” can be easily forked out.
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Zucchini — Definitely the very last of the year’s zucchini since the plants are mostly dead and we’re expecting our fourth frost of the fall tonight.
  • Potatoes — The potatoes seem especially beautiful this week!
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A week full of fall

It’s OCTOBER!

I love the seasons of change: spring and fall, the times when we shift most profoundly from dark to light and then back again. In each season, I find myself watching for the next sign of change. In spring, it’s the subsequent unfolding of flowers and leaves. In fall, the signs of the shift come in many forms.

Last week when the kids and I went on our nature outing at Willamette Mission State Park, we looked for various signs of fall. I was surprised by some of what we noted — phenomena that are definitely autumnal, but didn’t fit my typical list (and many that do!). We saw hops on the vine, nettles that had freshly sprouted thanks to rain, acorns and hazelnuts beginning to gather under trees, and of course the first of the crispy leaves falling on the path.

Bear’s Head mushroom

Since then, though, it’s been a fall-a-palooza around here. We built our first fire in the woodstove over the weekend in response to chillier temperatures. We found our first edible mushroom in the forest (and ate it! Yum!).

We also witnessed, for the first time in our memory, a migration of turkey vultures! Turkey vultures are regular summer residents here on the island, and we always delight in their return in spring (and have even noticed a few with particular wing markings who we recognize from year to year). But we’ve never particularly noticed the moment of their departure. Unlike Canada geese, turkey vultures are silent birds, and they don’t travel in such clear formations. Even when we saw them this weekend, at first they just looked like normal turkey vultures, circling on the air currents. Until we realized how very many of them there were circling, and we noticed that more and more were coming from the north and the whole swirling cloud was flying south (still in their circular soaring way). We can’t say whether any of those turkey vultures were “our” island neighbors, but it is certainly time for birds to begin migrating en masse, one of the greatest wonders of the natural world.

And, in terms of fall’s arrival, Casey woke up me this morning singing, “Ding dong the zucchini are dead!” Because we had our first frost on Monday, followed by another this morning! Although not unheard of, I’d say that frosts at the end of September and beginning of October are on the very early side. Our crops will all be fine. Anything that needs protection is in a high tunnel, and the cold weather will help our Brussels sprouts get sweeter (we’ll harvest the first of those tasty green treats soon!).

Trying out our pumpkins after dark

The kids are very excited about all of this cool fall stuff! They love this time of year. Dottie and I harvested pumpkins for our porch, which the kids have already carved! I doubt they’ll hold up through the whole month, but I’m sure the kids will be happy to carve more later too!

To share in the October love, we harvested the first of the pie pumpkins for this week’s share. They’re big enough to use as decoration and delicious enough to eat! (Or one and then the other!). If you’ve never worked with fresh whole pumpkins before, the easiest way to cook the flesh is to bake the pumpkin whole. Removing the stem will help it fit in your oven. We like to poke a few holes in the top to help release steam. Be sure to put it in a pan, because it will get juicy! You’ll know your pumpkin is cooked through, when you can very easily slide a paring knife through the skin and flesh.

Once it’s cooked, you can cut it open and let it cool. At that point, the seeds and pulp should come out easily with a spoon, and the skin will just peel off. You can use the cooked pumpkin in any recipe calling for pumpkin! Pumpkin bread, pie, soup, etc.

We will probably make something yummy with pumpkin this week, but I’m definitely scheduling a batch of beef and vegetable soup for the weekend. It’s been months now since we’ve made soup, and I’m ready! My standard soup is very simple: I cook beef bones and meat in the crock pot overnight (with just a few bay leaves), then strain the broth, pick the meat and add whatever veggies are around. Cabbage, carrots and onions are a favorite. If we have leftover rice from another meal, we’ll add that as well.

However you prepare them, enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

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Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Pears
  • Concord grapes
  • Liberty apples
  • Sweet peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Chard
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Pie pumpkins
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Fall & the ephemeral

Making ephemeral nature art while Mokum cat chills nearby

Monday was the fall equinox, the time when day and night match in length, the marker of our entry into the next season.

Autumn. It’s a time of senescence. Most plant-life has matured, produced fruit and seeds if they do so, and is now shifting back toward winter mode. Leaves will lose their green color and float to the ground. Annual plants will brown, wither, and melt into the soil, leaving next year’s growth to the promise of seeds.

It is a time when the world reminds us so viscerally: “This too will pass.” All of it. In Autumn, the ephemeral nature of our existence is on beautiful, vibrant display.

We can respond in many ways. I think feeling some amount of grief is a natural response, and fall triggers those feelings for many people (even as others delight in pulling out sweaters and drinking pumpkin spice lattés!). I think many of us can share in Demeter’s grief as her daughter Persephone returned to the underworld for three months every year. Grief is certainly a real, human response to the ephemeral quality of our lives. Woven into the fabric of every beautiful relationship is the reality that it will end, somehow, someday. Before we kiss our loves on our wedding day, people traditionally said “until death,” acknowledging that future end. New parents feel this dual reality so keenly from day one of their child’s lives — the intense joy/pain of loving another person so fiercely while also being so keenly aware of their vulnerability.

So, there may be grief. But, there is also the potential for deep and profound love and awe when we acknowledge the ephemeral nature of flowers, of relationships, of communities, of people. Out of fear of future grief, should we not love the world because it changes? Because seasons take turns in the course of the year? Because plants die to make room for next year’s seeds?

Should we not love our babies because this stage of life is so passing too? That is not what my heart says. My hearts say to savor, to kiss those toes while they are tiny, to treasure the beautiful moments that we know are fleeting.

We were all babies once. We have been many things. Each season of our life passes to make room for the next one, for the next stage of our growth. The same is true for people in groups: families and communities constantly changing and evolving.

I’ve always been very inspired by scientific insight into the nature of existence, especially cosmology, those deep inquiries into the story of the universe. To that end, I want to share words from Carlo Rovelli, an Italian theoretical physicist and author of Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, from which I pulled this quote (which I have broken into lines for poetic emphasis):

“We are born and die as the stars are born and die,
both individually and collectively.
This is our reality.
Life is precious to us because it is ephemeral.
… immersed in this nature that made us and that directs us,
we are not homeless beings suspended between two worlds,
parts of but only partly belonging to nature,
with a longing for something else.
No: we are home.”

This weekend, we gathered with some friends to celebrate fall’s arrival and acknowledge the preciousness of our ephemeral reality, and especially of the natural world. We built together ephemeral nature art. Rather than being more permanent than reality (such as oil paintings of kings and queens, attempting to preserve their likeness forever), ephemeral art is intended to change almost as soon as it is completed (or even during the creation process). Andy Goldsworthy is an excellent example of an artist who has explored these themes and media throughout his long career.

For our piece, we collected many natural materials from our environment: everything from apples to phacelia blossoms to sticks to Douglas fir branches to stones from the river. Already, the wind has blown the lighter leaves away, the sun has withered the blossoms, and our cats have budged other pieces while walking across it. It will continue to change over the season, our work together lasting mostly in our memories and photos.

Among other things, the slow disintegration of one artwork — ours or Andy Goldsworthy’s — reminds us that if we want the world to be beautiful, we need to show up and join in its creation every day, to be a part of the process. The really important work of life is never done. It is through our presence and our work together that communities are sustained, children raised, that beauty persists. Not to say that nature doesn’t play a profound role in this too, but we are truly co-creators and our presence and work can foster health, beauty, joy.

The bouquet I cut and bring inside today will wilt in time — but I can sustain the beauty by nurturing my garden year-round, by composting the wilting flowers, by paying attention to new blooms, and by making a new bouquet.

Our presence and energy matter so much in this ephemeral world. We can embrace these few moments we have together here and fill them with growth and promise.

Enjoy this week’s fall vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

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Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Liberty apples
  • Comice pears
  • Concord grapes — These have seeds!
  • Sweet peppers
  • Green peppers
  • Eggplant
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Chard
  • Delicata winter squash — Pretty sure at least half of the people who walked in our door last week said something along the lines of: “I am so excited about the delicata!” Us too! We harvested more this week!
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Beets
  • Zucchini
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From whining to wonder

Walking at Baskett Slough, earlier this summer

We’re well into our school routine here at our house now. It’s shaping up to be another fruitful year of growth and learning. There are many things I love about our home learning lifestyle, but what keeps me going on the hardest days are the little bits of bliss I find in two particular activities: reading aloud with the kids and going on nature outings with them.

Rusty and Dottie are two of my all-time favorite hiking companions. As I’ve mentioned before, we aim to get out and explore one afternoon per week. In recent years, these outings have been some of my most profoundly happy moments, when I feel a glow of peace and contentment.

Which is maybe surprising, because — well — getting kids outside and hiking isn’t always an easy endeavor. It can feel like a real push to pack all the necessary supplies, convince everyone that yes actually this is a good idea, support kids as they learn to walk at a steady pace (and uphill no less!), and keep everyone feeling chipper even amidst potentially challenging weather. Taking kids on hikes has the potential to be a recipe for major whining and resistance.

But, over the years, we’ve made it work — me and these two kids (with Casey’s enthusiastic help on weekends too). It’s still not perfect … kids go through developmental stages where whining will pop up again and I feel like I need to re-establish the rhythms and routines that have worked for us for years now. But, to me, it’s been worth the work, because once we work through the whining (again!), we move into the state of wonder. And wonder is my happy place. It’s also a state of receptivity, from which children can learn to observe the natural world around them, growing naturally in reverence and appreciation for the miracles of life. One of our goals as parent-teachers is to instill love for learning in general, but also love and appreciation for the natural world. One can only love what one knows, and so we go out, every week (or close to it!), and grow the familiarity and love that comes from a relationship.

If you have a child in your life with whom you’d like to share wonder and in whom you’d like to grow a love of the natural world, what follows are some of my best “go to” tips for making exploring outside a fun, accessible activity. I think much of this is common sense, but in my experience, a lot of adults feel daunted by taking kids on nature outings. These are strategies that have worked well for us:

  • Start young, if possible. If not, start now. There is no child who is too young for nature outings. Babies can be carried in baby packs! The younger the child, the more all of these tips will be important to consider. But, making the natural world a normal part of your life will build familiarity and comfort for your child.
  • Pack food. It really doesn’t matter if you just ate lunch, kids will get hungry outside moving their bodies! Hunger = whining. <—– For realz, guys. Times a hundred. So, pack snacks! Ideally, they would be snacks that provide some lasting energy through protein and fat or complex carbohydrates: nuts, cheese, sandwiches, apple slices, meat sticks, etc. Avoid anything too processed or junk food, which will give a quick sugar high followed by a crash. Pack more than you think you’ll need. Also, consider using snacks as an incentive for getting somewhere if you’re on a trail. I often like to save our snack break for when we’re at about the halfway point on a trail.
  • Dress for the weather. The kids and I have hiked and explored in all kinds of weather: Downpours! Freezing temperatures! Hot afternoons! I find that experiencing the vagaries of weather is an integral part of our experience — how does the weather change what we see, hear, feel around us? How do our bodies respond differently? What different animals come out or hide? We are going outside to stimulate our senses, and weather does that. But, there’s a limit to how much discomfort a kid (or adult!) can handle and still enjoy the experience. Here’s another true equation: Being cold = whining. (Being too hot too!) In summer, sun hats and long sleeves (and appropriately chosen shady locations) make a big difference. The rest of the year, layers are very useful. The classic combination of layers for a cold PNW outing is: base layer (long underwear), middle layer (comfortable pants and shirt), warm top (sweater or fleece), and outer shell (rain jacket, and maybe even rain pants!). Plus hat and gloves! (Gloves are a must!) These layers can be taken on and off as needed. Shoes are important too. We tend to hike in good sandals (ones that strap on — no flip flops) in the summer and plain old rubber boots in the winter (with thick socks they’re pretty comfy for hiking, and they keep our feet dry).
  • Pack a few other essentials too. My bag always includes a big water bottle, some extra snacks, a small first aid kit, small binoculars, and hand sanitizer, wipes and a poop shovel (my kids have pooped in many a woods and not every park location has potties). Because we end up carrying so much stuff, the kids have each had their own appropriately-sized backpacks from a young age and carry their own food, water, extra jacket, etc.
  • Set realistic goals. While we hike regularly, the kids and I don’t do big distances. Our average hikes range from 1-2 miles. Now that they’re older, they can certainly hike farther, but we’re not going outside just for exercise (although that’s part of the goal). We’re going outside to become familiar with locations in our environment and watch them change over the season. To that end, a little wander is sufficient, and a shorter distance is very doable for the kids rather than slightly challenging and daunting. We’ve explored many shorter trails in our area and have about half a dozen places we visit regularly. Many of them offer multiple shorter trails so that we can explore different areas on each visit.
  • Dottie counting tree rings at Miller Woods last week

    Meander. Look around. Pause. Ask questions. Again, if you’re with kids, don’t just zoom down the trail, arms pumping, sweat pouring down your face. Learn to walk steadily but keep your senses open and alert to what is around you — so that, for example, you notice when you hear a woodpecker and pause to find it with your eyes. Set the example of taking in everything around you: stop to examine a mushroom or count tree rings. Taste miner’s lettuce together. We keep “nature notebooks” (spiral-bound sketchbooks) that we bring with us on outings so that we can draw things of interest to us, which is another way to force us to sit still in one place and really take it in. This is a good activity to pair with a snack break too. I think the meandering nature of our outings is part of what feels so different (and blissful) to me compared to when I hike with other adults. When I’m with other adults, we often fill the space with conversation and move through the environment quickly. Even when I’m hiking alone, I rarely find myself as conscious of my surroundings since I usually move faster and get lost in my thoughts. I love the slower, sensory experience that the kids and I seek out. When the kids and I do talk, it’s usually about what we’re seeing or doing at that moment, keeping our attention present.

  • Sing when energy flags! This was an important strategy when the children were very young. Often they’d lose energy on the home stretch of an outing. We would already have eaten our snack, and they’d need a last boost of enthusiasm to get back to the car. I found that cajoling and comforting didn’t really work, but singing “The ants go marching” worked well to turn moods around and take the focus off of fatigue. It’s also a nice long song with a marching rhythm. I have other seasonal songs that I’ll sing too. Songs that can be easily changed or personalized to make more verses are fun and useful too (for example the “name game” song: “Dottie-Dottie-Bo-Bottie-Banana-Fana-Fo-Fottie …). Kids love singing about themselves or their friends and family.
  • Build your knowledge. We enjoy bringing a field guide or two with us on trips so that we can stop and look up an unfamiliar plant. Or, we’ll take a photo or draw a picture and looking things up when we get home. Even at a very young age, my children were captivated by this simple activity, and it helped them see the patterns in the world around them and to experience the forest taking definition — shifting from being a blur of nondescript green foliage to a landscape of familiar and specific friends. Kids are also remarkably good at learning to identify things — just think about how they can become walking dictionaries of Pokemon cards. Those pattern recognition skills are in us because, until very recently in human history, every person played a role in their own food procurement and production — which required recognizing plants and animals! A simple way we guided our growth at one point was to pick a “plant of the day” — we’d find a plant we didn’t yet know or recognize, describe it, draw it (and take a photo), and then look it up later and read about it. An important place to start with learning about plants is how to identify the handful of dangerous plants in our region: particularly stinging nettle, poison oak, and baneberries.
  • Make outings regular and predictable. If you really want to bypass whining, build a regular nature outing into your life rhythms and make it (mostly) non-negotiable. The best way to get resistance is to ask if kids “want” to go on a hike. Some kids might jump on this offer. Most probably won’t. But if it’s just something your family does every weekend or every Wednesday after school or what not, it becomes a predictable part of life. No one has to “decide” anything; it’s just what you do that day! (This is helpful for adults too, by the way! It’s hard to work up the energy to get everyone out the door.) The more regular this becomes, the more quickly kids will learn to transition from whining into wonder — especially if prior outings have been positive!
  • Be patient. Keep trying. Helping kids learn to love the natural world and outdoor recreation is a process. If a first outing doesn’t feel successful, don’t give up! First of all, giving up because of whining or resistance is a really sure way to get more of it in the future (about all kinds of things), but also because getting outside with kids is a process for everyone. It has to start somewhere.
  • Set an example. If you want the children with you to love the experience, start by loving it yourself (all the above preparation can help make it positive for you too!). But, to bring this back to the main goal of avoiding whining: DO NOT WHINE YOURSELF! In my experience, when children start whining, adults can sometimes fall into that same tone of pleading, and oh man it is a vicious feedback loop. Adults, use your ”big strong” voices at all times! This is where singing or taking snack breaks can help — both can cut the whining cycle so that you don’t get sucked in too.
  • Collect things … responsibly! Generally speaking, it’s best to leave things where they are in the forest or other wilder places for the health of the ecosystem. But, I make an exception for young ones, who can delight in collecting souvenirs from their adventures. When the children were younger, we designated the top of a short bookcase as a “nature table,” where we could display the treasures we’d found and enjoy them over a longer period of time. I taught them early on what was okay to pick up and take home, for example fallen leaves, rocks, pine cones (wildflowers, not so much, unless they are blooming in vast profusion, and then we pick one). Dottie especially always enjoyed an outing more if she could be doing things with her hands. The kids always (always!) seem to pick up a special stick on an outing. Our trunk has transported many sticks back home over the years (there is in fact, a stick in the icy picture below).

    Stomping on ice at Willamette Mission, 2017

  • Mix it up. We love revisiting familiar places, but our nature outings would be boring if we only ever went to the same place. Occasionally driving farther to explore a brand-new place is an extra treat. Sometimes I’ll come up with a new “game” for us to play while we walk, such as counting all the types of plants we can identify. Recently we did a scavenger hunt, where we looked for things that fit categories I’d come up with earlier: something red, something that grows in threes, something that looks old, etc. We each found different features in the park that fit what we were looking for, and it was fun to keep looking for new ways to interpret our clues.
  • Be open. I definitely don’t always come up with clever ideas like a scavenger hunt — more often, we just head out with our gear and open senses (including our hearts!), ready to see what kind of miracles or adventures come our way! I will be honest: I still doubt, almost every week, that we will find anything interesting. Why do I still doubt this after years of experience? Perhaps it’s just hard to imagine that, once again, we will be amazed or intrigued by something new. But, OH, the miracles we’ve witnessed! We’ve come across a big patch of giant lupine all in bloom. We’ve broken frozen puddles of ice. We’ve found a snag alive with a bee hive. We’ve walked through fields of wildflowers. If we’re open, even the smallest change in the place can be truly miraculous. But we need to learn to see and appreciate such things, and of course so do our children.

I hope one or more of these tips prove useful to someone! I think that getting kids outside, engaging the natural world, is a game changer. Our world’s sustainability hinges on whether future generations love the world enough to work for its preservation. Last week I wrote about dust erosion, but erosion is only a perceivable problem if we care about soil. If we love it, even. Have a feeling of reverence for the miracle that is soil life. The same goes the forest, the oak savanna, the river. So, I pray and hope that people who have children in their lives will set as a goal to foster love for the world, whatever form that takes. Just going out in the backyard to play can be a way to plant the seeds of that love! Visiting the beach! Kayaking on the river! There are many ways to build our children’s relationship with the world around us. But, as George Eliot wrote, “We could never have loved the earth so well if we had had no childhood in it.”

Another great way to connect to the world? Eating seasonally, of course! Taste the flavors of the season on your plate, and rejoice! Next Monday is the fall equinox, marking the beginning of a new season. If you have children in your life, this is a great opportunity to check in about the changes in the world around us, starting with the veggies in your dinner, which are definitely shifting. Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

P.S. Want some more resources on getting kids outside? Here are some links to useful opportunities, products, books, and places to visit:

  • Deuter makes some great child-sized backpacks! We bought some for our kids years ago at Salem Summit, a locally owned outdoor gear shop in downtown Salem.
  • Shanleya’s Quest is a fun picture book introduction to seeing patterns in plants. There is an easy-to-play card game that uses the ideas in the book.
  • Outdoor Education Adventures is a Yamhill County-based outdoor education program for kids of all ages. Our kids have loved their summer camps.
  • Zena Learning Center is a nature-based educational opportunity for homeschooled kids, located in Polk County. Our kids attend and love it! There are also summer opportunities.
  • A few of our favorite local field guides (hard to narrow it down, but these are our most often used!). Many of these may available at Third Street Books, but I’ve included links to Powell’s:
  • And, some of our favorite local places to explore and hike:
    • Baskett Slough — National Wildlife Refuge in Polk County
    • Darrow Bar — Small park off of Wallace Rd in Polk County with surprisingly large trees and little trails
    • Spring Valley — State park off of Wallace Rd in Polk County with Willamette River access and several trails
    • Willamette Mission State Park — We walk over on the Wheatland Ferry to access the trailhead there!
    • Airport Park — Little park by the Mac airport with some cool trees and wildflowers in the spring!
    • Tice Woods (aka Rotary Nature Preserve) — a big restoration project has just begun here! Watch it unfold.
    • Miller Woods — Day-use fee required. One of our all-time favorite places.
    • Harvey Creek — Sweet little hiking trail and creek access. A favorite on a hot summer day.
  • I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Kaleidoscope: An Introductory Guide to the Yamhill River Watershed by Laura McMasters and Wendy Thompson. This little spiral-bound book charts out suggested introductory field trips to most places of interest in Yamhill County! A great way to find new parks and places to visit in general. It provides cultural and natural history information along the way. I have seen it available for purchase locally at Harvest Fresh and Third Street Books, but not for a few years now.

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Concord grapes — Remember that there are seeds in these!
  • Melrose apples
  • Pears
  • Delicata winter squash — Woo hoo! Remember that the skin on these squash is tender enough to eat along with the inner flesh. Our favorite way to eat them is to slice them into rings, scoop the seeds out with a butter knife, and then roast with butter. They are like donuts!
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Basil
  • Peppers
  • Eggplant
  • Chard
  • Kale
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Beets
  • Zucchini
Posted in Home learning, Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

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!)

~ ~ ~

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
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

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

~ ~ ~

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
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

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!

~ ~ ~

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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