The farm family in 2016

Welcome to our farm’s blog and website! Oakhill Organics is a family-run farm located on Grand Island. We grow everything we sell right here on our farm, and everything that we grow is sold directly to customers here in Yamhill County! We sell primarily through our unique 40-week long Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, which offers customizable share sizes and contents. You can find out more information about what and how we grow by following the links above; or, scroll down to read our latest farm news on our blog!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

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Searching for Doug

Holden Village in 2002 (the cluster of buildings at the very bottom of the photo), surrounded by wilderness.

Dear friends, today I have a personal story to share with you. It’s a story that has shaped my perspective on the world and that I look back on regularly as I continue journeying through the world, trying to always better understand how to live in the world.

It was 2002, fifteens years ago and several years before Casey and I embarked on any kind of farm journey. It was the summer before our senior year in college, and we spent our break between school years volunteering on staff at Holden Village, a remote mountain Lutheran retreat center in the Northern Cascades in Washington state. The village is located up Lake Chelan, accessible only by boat, followed by a ten mile bus ride into the mountains to the village itself. That summer, I worked in the kitchen, and Casey served as a “Maverick,” the crew who haul luggage, process fire wood and do various kinds of important physical jobs in the village.

It was a great summer spent making new friends, exploring the wilderness, and beginning to contemplate what might come after our undergraduate studies ended (the answer to this question later became spending an entire year at Holden!).

Toward the end of our time at Holden, the village hosted a group of guests from Seattle, one of whom was a man in his 50s named Doug. Doug had Parkinson’s, and his mobility was impaired enough that Holden lent him a motorized scooter to use on the hilly paths between buildings in the village.

I didn’t particularly notice Doug while he was in his village, but his story has become a part of mine. Here are the details as they were revealed over the week of his stay:

A couple of days into Doug’s stay, he drove his scooter out of the village on the road up the valley toward the major trailheads leading into the vast wilderness that surrounds the village on all sides. The gravel road ends there about a mile out of the village and then turns into forest trail. At some point on his journey, the scooter either became inadequate for the terrain or it ran out of battery charge, and Doug got off to start walking on the trail to Hart Lake, one of the most regularly used trails out of Holden. Two other hikers from the village were also headed out that way and passed Doug, saying hello on their way. Just a few minutes later, they crossed paths with another set of hikers headed back into the village on the same trail.

Even though Doug should have been right ahead of them, those return hikers never saw Doug.

By the time of evening vespers, Doug’s group had noted his absence and his scooter had been found unmanned far from the village. Because Holden is so remotely located, the village has its own chain of incident command, a volunteer fire crew, a professional medic, and volunteer first responders trained in wilderness rescue and first aid. These systems have saved many lives over the years, and stories of successful rescues and seeming miracles are told and retold by villagers as symbols of the awesome things the community can do.

That evening, those rescue systems began to go into place, beginning with thorough, systematic searches of the village itself — every basement, every attic, every single closet was searched. Doug was not found.

First responders hiked the trail where Doug was last seen, calling his name and checking the areas adjacent to the trail. Doug was not found.

The sheriff was called in to help coordinate a larger search of the area. He brought in trained search-and-rescue dogs, several sheriffs deputies, and forest rangers. Anyone in the village who was up for the physically demanding task and could temporarily leave their work area was invited to help in the effort. Casey and I both volunteered to help.

Before searching in the woods, we geared up by putting on multiple layers of clothing to protect us from the foliage we’d be walking through: long pants and boots, covered by gaiters to protect our ankles and calves. We tucked in our long shirts. We wore gloves, which we tied over our sleeves to keep any skin from being exposed. We wore hats and safety glasses to protect our faces.

We were organized into long lines of people and then we very slowly, very methodically walked through swaths of the forest in those lines. We moved slow enough that everyone could stay together, side by side, and we walked through every barrier — through stands of slide alder and willow; through patches of devil’s club; through wild roses, which have the sharpest thorns of all. We paused to look in every possible hiding spot — under logs and in thickets. We were slapped by leaves and branches as we went, any exposed skin left with scratches by the end of the day. Sweat soaked our clothes through from the hot summer weather and our exertion. As we went, we communicated constantly to keep everyone alert and make sure we were seeing everything.

We moved through large chunks of the forest and avalanche chutes like this. More volunteers walked through Railroad creek, which runs through the valley and passes near the spots where Doug was last seen and where the scooter was found. The village itself was searched again and again.

After the first couple of days, our efforts turned from finding Doug alive to efforts to find his body. My thoughts shifted from a desire to find Doug to something more complicated: Please let him be found, but please don’t let it be me who finds him. I just wasn’t sure I was ready to find a dead body in the woods, but still we searched. Casey and I threw our young and able bodies into the search with a passion, joined by others. Over the week of searching, a total of over 50 villagers spent some amount of time searching for Doug.

Meanwhile, in the village those unable to physically search kept up prayer vigils. Other people went about the important business of keep the village running, feeding us all, cleaning rooms for guests, organizing evening vespers.

Doug was not found.

After five and a half days of searching, the community and the sheriff made the decision to end the search. The wilderness was so enormous. We felt confident we had thoroughly searched the areas that seemed most likely for Doug to be. With his limited mobility, it was hard to imagine that Doug could have walked himself far off the trail through all that dense foliage that challenged even the young and fittest among us. We didn’t understand how he could have just disappeared, and yet Doug was not found.

The sheriffs staged a fake successful search operation for the dogs, to keep up their morale for future searches. But the rest of us were left to process our complicated feelings about our responsibility to this person who was lost and not found. We now had a new village story, one without a miracle.

At vespers, we celebrated Doug’s life — hundreds of people gathered to hold his memory in their hearts, many of whom had never even actually met him. Friends of his in his group spoke about his life. One of Doug’s friends, who was Native American like Doug, played the drum and sang a chant that sounded like a prayer and wail mixed into one haunting plea, rising over the room with the scent of burning sweet grass and pulling us all into the force of its sound. People wept for Doug.

And here, toward the end of my story about Doug, I want to tell you another important detail about Doug’s life. Doug was a formerly homeless man who came to Holden with other residents of the managed care facility where he was living in Seattle. He was born in Alaska and had come back from serving in Vietnam to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. He had spent decades of his life on and off the streets, struggling with substance abuse, instability, and health challenges. His life had been hard. After his passing, there was no one to call or notify — no family. All of his few friends were on the trip.

At Doug’s memorial, the counselor who traveled with the residents on the trip spoke about what life was like for Doug on the streets of Seattle, where his existence was ignored, where he was (at best) invisible to the wider community, where he tried to stay hidden much of the time. He talked about how men and women like Doug go missing all the time on the streets of Seattle, and no one notices. No one searches.

Among Doug’s few personal items left in his room was a book about Native American vision questing. We pondered whether perhaps Doug, finding himself in the wilderness, decided to lose himself one last time. Perhaps he saw the beauty of the woods and decided on some level that it would be better to stay here, even in death, than to return to a life that would continue to challenge him with the constant pull back into substance abuse and street life. It’s likely that a man familiar with the street could find ways to hide himself so that even our careful efforts wouldn’t uncover him. We wondered if we didn’t find him because he didn’t want to be found.

One person in the village shared that she had had a dream that she heard Doug’s voice speaking to her and he said that he was in water and that he was at peace.

We took what comfort we could in these possibilities, but we would always wonder whether we just missed him — whether he had an accident and was lying unconscious or immobile just beyond the boundaries of our searches. We will never know. Casey and I carry a part of Doug and his memory in our hearts to this day.

We also carry with us the profound example of what we witnessed and participated in that week — the power of an active love that sees the humanity and value in every single person. It is an example that has created a foundational story for me in my own life, one that I am always striving to live up to. What does this example mean for my daily life, in all its smallness and bigness? I feel like I always have more work to do in following this example, but the story is there in my heart. And when I pause to remember it, I look at my world with completely different eyes.

Doug’s story perpetually asks me to consider whether there are or should be boundaries on my compassion for others. Simply by arriving in Holden, Doug became a member of the community, fully fledged enough to warrant hundreds of people turning their world upside down to search for him. To me, the experience felt like a living example of Jesus’s shepherd parables.

Right now in McMinnville, there is a lot of talk about our county’s homeless population, which has appeared to grow in numbers (and certainly in visibility) in recent years. The voices I hear addressing the big question of what to do all acknowledge the complexity of the question. Implicit in the conversation is: who is responsible? That is the hard question, isn’t it?

When we are faced with people who are suffering or struggling, I think it is a natural human desire to find the differences between us and them. We want to see ourselves as fundamentally different or separate because to consider the possibility that we too could so suffer is of course terrifying. It is much easier to mentally check all the boxes as to how we could never end up in that same situation, therefore giving us peace of mind and also freeing us from feeling responsibility to help another human being. It is easier to place all the responsibility on the suffering-ones for their condition. “If only they’d get sober … if only they’d work harder … if only they valued stability … if only their behavior was less offensive to the community … then we could help.”

We do this in our daily lives too, with our friends and family, mentally separating ourselves from their struggles in order to keep our comfortable position of distance. In that act, we miss out on opportunities to grow in love with others.

And, of course, sometimes when someone is struggling it really is truly hard to know how to help. It really can feel futile to offer assistance when from the outside it looks like someone is making poor choices again and again or stuck in unhealthy patterns, whether that be a person living on the street or a friend living in an abusive relationship.

And maybe the point isn’t always that we need to fix others’ problems. Maybe the point, when faced with a person who is struggling, is to be kind. To see their humanity. To recognize that really truly every single person is trying their best in life with the gifts and skills they have at any point. To see each person as precious, regardless of how much of a mess they’ve made of their life so far. To see what we share rather than what is different between us. To stop creating artificial barriers based on our economic situations, our legal status in a country, our nationality, our gender, our language, our age, our education, our abilities, our “claim” to a community’s resources, or anything else. We can see people as human, even while they might remain in their problems. We don’t have to fix them before seeing them as human, and sometimes just the act of seeing someone as human can be the most powerful thing we do. Real relationships can be powerful.

I believe that any complicated solution needs to start from this place. Step one: fully and deeply acknowledge the humanity of others. Step two: ??????? Step two will differ from situation to situation of course, but I think it is almost always obvious to tell when a solution comes after step one comes first. The solutions look fundamentally different. Sometimes the shift in our paradigm about another person actually becomes the solution. But other times further solutions are needed, and after accomplishing step one (acknowledge others’ humanity), further solutions are usually more cooperative and caring and don’t resort to violence as a “solution.” For example, “violence” in the case of McMinnville’s street population could be asking people to not “exist” within a community — to move away completely or to hide themselves from sight.

And, dudes, I have to stop here right now and say that I am speaking from the bottom of my heart, and that I am writing about my highest ideals. Like many people, I have built walls and distance between myself and those who are suffering or struggling. By writing this newsletter, I am not in any way suggesting that I’m speaking from a position of accomplishment on this topic. I personally am not a saint, and I have to continually return myself to step one (acknowledge others’ humanity) every single day. In fact, there are days when I don’t even do this — sometimes weeks or months might pass without me remembering about step one — but there are days I do remember. I have habits and stories and values in my life that help me return and return again (over and over and over) to what I see as one of the most holy acts we can do as humans. My faith inspires me to believe that deep levels of kindness are crucial for humanity. And I hope to grow in my own kindness (through thought and deed) over my own lifetime.

I also fundamentally believe that being kind and doing step one (acknowledging others’ humanity) is very, very hard and requires discipline and intention, especially in cases when we find those humans to be offensive or problematic or scary or confusing to us. People who seem to jeopardize our own quality of life in some way and therefore seem to be engaged in violence against us already. Those are the kinds of people that Jesus spoke about (and to!) often in his sermons and parables about how to live. When he asked his followers to love their neighbor, he really wasn’t asking for something easy. Neighbors are often some of the hardest people to love; they are people we share space and resources with but not always by choice or because of common ground. But they are the people that we have in our life with whom to practice the art of love.

Doug was my neighbor for a few days and he taught me a life lesson by his presence and subsequent absence. Today I have different “neighbors” in my life and new lessons to learn (as well as those same old lessons again and again). Again, these lessons are so hard to know how to apply. But we can always start from that position of empathy, of acknowledging the humanity of others (including people who might seem to be in positions of power and acting badly from that position too!). Complicated stuff, my friends.

In closing, I want to share a poem by Brian Doyle that I just happened to read last night before bed. Brian Doyle was a Portland-based writer who passed away this May. Reading his words is one way that I find my way back to step one (acknowledge other’s humanity!) over and over again. His poems are almost always miniature stories, this one included:

Poem for Grace Farrell (1976-2011)

A thin column in the newspaper; she died in an alcove
Outside Saint Brigid’s Church. She was from Wicklow.
She had been an artist. She came here at age seventeen.
She drank. She married a man who slept on the avenue,
Not near the church. He didn’t like the church and said
That the church talked to him at night in a stern rumble.
He beat her. Her friends on the street beat him and told
Him to stay away from her. Her alcove had a roof on it,
In a sense, as there was a construction scaffold above it.
The folks like us—nobody know us until we are dead,
Said a friend of hers on the street. Her family in Ireland
Accepted her body, from the medical examiner’s office.
We told them that she was homeless, but they chose not
To believe that, said the examiner. Her name was Grace.
So that’s the end of the article. But what if that’s not the
End at all? What if the old church spoke to Grace Farrell
That night, held her in its southern arm, sang very gently
To her as she died, caught her spirit as it hit the scaffold,
And handed it up, weeping for the sweet broken woman?
Couldn’t that be? Couldn’t it be that we don’t know who
She was and wanted to be, and maybe she was a wonder?
That could be. Maybe she was what she was invited to be.
Maybe her soul said yes to pain in this world to save kids
Somewhere else. Maybe she was brave in ways we never
Will know now. Every time I think I know something for
Sure I get the gift of not being sure at all; isn’t that grace?

Enjoy this week’s vegetables …

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Apples
  • Methley plums — I can’t even imagine how many of these plums we have eaten over the last week. They are the “go to” snack food around our house right now!
  • Eggplant — Some fun new summer foods are showing up this week: eggplant! Green beans! Green peppers! Summer cabbage! Enjoy!
  • Green beans
  • Green peppers
  • Basil
  • Salad mix
  • Cabbage
  • Kale
  • Chard
  • New potatoes
  • Beets
  • Zucchini & “cousa” squash — People always ask about the difference between our two kinds of green zucchini. The long dark green ones are the traditional Italian style zucchini. They have a slightly thicker skin than the lighter one, which is a Middle Eastern type of zucchini. Because of its thinner skin, it lends itself well to stews that benefit from the zucchini breaking down more. Both are delicious and can really be used interchangeably in recipes.
  • Garlic
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | 2 Comments

Best laid plans …

Unrelated to this week’s story, our Sudan grass cover crop is growing nice and green thanks to the shining sun and regular irrigation!

Do you ever one of those days? You know, the kind of weird ones? Last Friday brought some unexpected turns to our life last week, followed by so much kindness.

The kids and I went to Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge for our Friday nature outing. It was lovely as always to walk along the very long boardwalk through the wet forest, but for some reason all three of us were just kind of cranky. I don’t know who started it or what — we all took turns sniping at each other or whining or whatever. It was a very different tone than I’ve come to expect from these outings of ours. Obviously they can’t all be wonderful, but in general we all seem to unwind as we walk into the forest each week. Except not this time, alas.

By lunchtime, it seemed like we’d mostly turned our “frowns upside down” as we ate our sandwiches and looked out over the refuge and explored a very large ponderosa pine tree (with perfectly spaced branches for climbing!). But by the time we were back in the car, things felt off again. Just weird. I looked forward to getting home and hopefully having a quiet afternoon of puttering around the house. I really wanted to clean out one of the sheds by our house, which had accumulated various farm and domestic related things over the last few years to the point of being pretty unusable anymore!

As we drove back through South Salem, however, Dottie announced that her seat belt wasn’t buckled right, and I pulled over on a side street to redo her booster. When I started the car back up, I looked over the hood to see a stream of something coming up from the front of the car — steam or smoke. Neither of those are good signs! I got out and looked closer but decided against trying to pop the hood since the stream had come out just where the latch was.

I really didn’t know what to do! But I figured that there should be a gas station or other car place within blocks so decided to keep driving. Thankfully, within two blocks, there was a gas station and I pulled in to look closer there. When I explained my situation to the gas attendant, he immediately went into the store to bring out his two co-workers and the three of them popped by hood (carefully!) and quickly diagnosed the problem — our radiator had cracked and spit out all the antifreeze! My car was overheated, so I couldn’t drive anywhere at that point. They invited me to park in the shade there while I called around and gave me a few suggestions. One of the workers asked if my kids were okay and said that she had drinks and popsicles if they needed anything. We were pretty set for food and water, but I felt so cared for by her offer.

Casey and I still don’t own smart phones, so I had to figure out how to find a car place or tow truck or something to get us out of there. I called Casey and received no answer, but my mom answered her phone and was already on the road and able to drive out to us.

So, we waited. The kids were upset at first about the idea of our car being damaged somehow since this was their first experience with “car trouble” (which I had to distinguish for them from a “car accident”). But we had books in the car, and eventually they just settled down to wait. After several more tries, I got through to Casey, who had been on the tractor when I first called, and he offered to come out too. He also called our mechanic friend, Matt of West Valley Auto, who called me and walked me through how to safely and effectively put water into the radiator. The woman at the gas station kept checking on us and offered to fill the radiator up with the hose, which we did in case it might end up making sense to drive somewhere else.

But in the end, my mom came and we called a tow truck and had the car towed to Matt’s shop. Casey arrived too, and he figured out what radiator we’d need and then drove off to buy a replacement and take to Matt’s. My mom gave me and the kids a ride back home.

So, our afternoon plans were derailed in an unpleasant way. But in one of those surprising gifts of the universe, I found that the car trouble really changed the attitude of all in our party. Our crankiness with each other (and just in general) was replaced with very deep gratitude for all the people who were able to help us find a way out of the situation. I felt grateful to strangers who were willing to care and be kind to us, and I was also grateful for the support network we have in our family (and that our lives are all flexible enough to allow for family members to drop everything in a minor emergency).

The next morning, Saturday, our fun plans to go kayaking were put on hold because we were sure when we’d need to go pick up the car. But that worked out okay too, because it gave Casey and me the unexpected opportunity to clean out the shed together. Which was certainly for the best — there were so many items in there that I really wouldn’t have known how to identify, let alone judge whether they need to be retained or recycled or given away. As it was, we cleared almost everything out, leaving us plenty of room for our bikes, surfboards, and emergency supplies. We even took the time to finally hang all our hand tools on the wall so that they are easy to find (we built this shed almost 11 years ago, and it took us this long? Oh well!).

And, by afternoon the car was ready, thanks to the speedy work of our friend Matt who knew that we needed it fixed as soon as possible. The car was fixed in just over 24 hours from the time that it first fizzled on me! Once again I felt so grateful! (And our kids enjoyed the early plums that were ready to eat in Matt’s driveway — yum!)

May all your summer adventures, the expected and unexpected, bring your gratitude and tasty fruit too. Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Plums — The first of the next fruit! These are “Methley” plums, a hybrid Asian type that has sweet juicy red flesh. They’re never the biggest plums of the year, but they’re the first, so we eat them with deep appreciation!
  • Basil
  • Lettuce mix
  • Shelling peas — These are traditional shelling type of peas, and they DO need to be shelled in order to enjoy (the don’t have the sweet, tender edible pod like the sugar snaps do). Once you’ve shelled them, it’s simple to just toss the peas into any kind of dish you are cooking. When they are fresh like this, it doesn’t take much cooking at all for them to be delicious, so just add them a few minutes before you serve cooked greens, or throw them in a soup, or just gently sautée them with carrots, butter and garlic (add a little chopped ham to make it more a dish!).
  • Carrots
  • New potatoes
  • Chard
  • Kale
  • Zucchini
  • Garlic
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | 1 Comment

The joy of warmth

Summer on the farm!

These summer days have been so delicious lately. Dry air. Warm breezes. Growth all around. I’m not sure that I have ever felt quite so grateful for summer as I do this year after the year’s protracted winter of extra lots of snow, rain, cold and darkness.

I feel grateful every day that going outside is again a simple proposition: slip on some sandals and step outside (or, in the case of children, just step outside barefooted!). The warmth just feels so good this year, and I’ve already caught myself feeling sad that summer will end. Of course it will, and the odds are that by then our family will be ready for another turning in our rhythms. But we’re savoring summer’s treats now.

The world just feels so alive, as it is: bursting with abundant and growth. And our bodies feel similarly alive: no worries about vitamin-D deficiencies or lack of movement this time of year. These feel like the days of peak experiences.

The blooming forest at Miller Woods on last Friday’s nature outing: sublime!

I feel like my whole life has been a journey toward better appreciating this particular season. I remember growing up in the suburbs/city feeling like summer was … hot. Uncomfortably hot. Inside felt more comfortable, and I did love to do things like read, so that was okay with me.

But then later Casey and I lived in the mountains, and summer became the season for hiking. Then, we worked on a farm, and I discovered how much comfort comes with being soaked in sweat while wearing a big hat and long sleeves and pants (very cooling combination on a hot day!). I also learned to better appreciate the joy of eating summer’s foods only in summer. I now have this added association with the season, that this is when we eat tasty things like basil, sweet corn, zucchini, and (eventually) tomatoes and peppers.

Having young children at home has just added another layer of love to the season as I’ve watched them grow. From birth, Rusty has been more comfortable and calmer outside. When he was a fussy baby, we would take him on walks outside to calm him (even when it was winter!). Both children have intense needs for big movement. They love adventures and climbing and running and splashing! They can do these activities year-round, but as a parent I deeply appreciate how much easier it is for us all in the summer when they can just pop in and out of the house without needing to put on lots of warm layers (or peel off lots of muddy layers when they come back in). Honestly, I can’t even imagine parenting in a different context without easy access to the outdoors, because Casey and my #1 discipline technique is to send the kids outside. Being too loud? Time to go outside and play. Bickering? Time to go outside and play. Bouncing off the walls? Time to go outside and play. And so on. So, in that way, summer is a super relaxed time for us as parents!

We hope that you too are savoring all that the season has to offer, including all the food. Each week will bring more and more new flavors.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

CSA payment due this week! Another friendly reminder that your next CSA payment is due this week. You can bring us cash or checks to pick-up tomorrow! Please let me know if you have any questions about your balance due.

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Cherries
  • Apples
  • Fava beans
  • Salad mix — This week, the cut salad greens are a mixture of lettuce and spinach!
  • Frisée — For many years, we’ve grown frisée and simply added it to our salad mix. But this year the heads are beautiful and we feel like it’s time to once again offer this beautiful and distinctive green on its own. The most notable part of this green is the texture, which is feathery and delicate. The flavor, however, is robust, making frisée a great base for a complex salad. Traditionally it would be dressed with a hot oil (such as bacon grease!) and served with sweet and savory topics (like chopped bacon and dried fruit and maybe a poached farm-fresh egg). Here’s a post with some more suggestions, but rather than sticking closely to any one of these, just note the trends: a strong dressing, something sweet, and something salty/savory. Strong flavors all around. It’s a delicious way to fancy up the summer table!
  • Basil — One of the more amazing greenhouse experiences is handling the very first of the germinated basil seedlings in early spring. Just a brush of the fingers, and there it is: the smell of summer. It never fails to transport me months ahead to now — the season of warmth and sun and river play. And, now the basil is full grown and ready to be harvested! Casey picked the tops of the plants, and they are gorgeous! We love to use fresh basil in salads or sandwiches or chop it up and add it to our cooked greens. And, of course, you can take the time to turn it into a fresh pesto, using this week’s garlic, some good olive oil (there’s a store on Third Street), and walnuts (pine nuts are more traditional, of course, but we like walnuts as an Oregon variation).
  • Broccoli/cauliflower
  • Zucchini
  • Beets
  • Chard
  • Kale – dinosaur/tuscan/lacinato/black palm kale this week!
  • Garlic
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

Exploring new (watery) trails

Loaded up and ready to GO!

After years of deliberation, planning and dreaming, our family finally made a big purchase this weekend: we bought a tandem kayak!

We’ve lived on this river island for ten years now. What good is it to live on an island without a boat?

Water has always been an important part of our lives. Casey grew up in Lincoln City with a view of Siletz Bay out his windows and just a five minute walk from the beach itself. I grew up in the Puget Sound, with Lake Washington and the salty waters of the sound making up the backdrop of life. Not to mention all the tiny creeks and tributaries and sloughs that led in and out of all these bodies of water in our lives.

Evidence suggests that humans, as a species, flock to water. We need it for life, of course: to drink, for cooking and sanitation. But we also seem to enjoy its presence. “Water views” add value to homes, even though all homes in the same vicinity will have the same necessary running water in their showers and taps. We just love water: the feel of it running over heads in a shower; the sound of it flowing over rocks or in fountains; the calm placid sight of a lake or pond. I think that in so many ways, for us humans water equals life, and it stimulates in us the joy of just being alive.

Water metaphors abound in our culture and its stories and songs. Some of my favorites that come immediately to mind: the classic folk spiritual “I’ve got peace like a river,” which follows up this image with more watery lyrics — “I’ve got joy like a fountain” and “I’ve got love like an ocean.” Love like an ocean! Think of that imagery for a moment. What does it mean to have love like an ocean? That is a vast unending love, always coming to shore. Yes and yes.

Another all-time favorite quote of ours is from Kenneth Grahame’s classic The Wind in the Willows:

Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.

Casey once had a t-shirt with that quote on it, and he wore it in our early years of farming. Those were years that, I have to admit, felt a little dry to us as we acclimated to a new warmer, drier climate than the ones we grew up in. Casey and I both felt some reluctance initially about moving to an interior river valley, having both grown up breathing the smooth wet air of the ocean. But of course finding ourselves farming on an island brought watery romance back into our lives, and over the last decade we’ve slowly gotten to know this new kind of water — water that isn’t as vast as the ocean, but that flows through the most populous part of Oregon, bringing life everywhere it meanders: farms, ospreys, blue herons, willows, cottonwoods, kingfishers, minks …

We’ve come to love the Willamette deeply, as the source of our life here in reality and also in spirit. When our work gets dusty and hot in the summer, the river is our refuge — a place where we immerse ourselves in its flowing coolness and come out completely rejuvenated.

But we realized a few years ago that our experience of this river has been limited to what we can see from the shore (plus a little swimming), and yet the river is also a trail in of itself. In fact, rivers around the world were some of the first trails and roads, providing humans with open navigable paths through dense woodlands, serving as connections between different communities for trading and friendship. In places where water is more navigable than land, boats continue to be the primary mode of transportation (notably along the fjords of Norway and in the Amazon basin).

Boats are an important human technology and can open up new pathways. Plus, they’re fun to mess about in. So, we took a few years for the kids to be old enough and to figure out what kind of boat might be best for us (to start with anyway), and then we did it!

We took it out twice during last weekend’s heat wave, both here at our river spot and then on the Yamhill via the Dayton landing. On our first outing, we paddled upstream to an area on the river that we often hike to. The route via the river felt very different!

We’ve got a long list of places we’d like to explore now that these local pathways are open to us. And, as I write this, Casey and the kids are down at our river spot on the island messing about with the kayak before dinner. Adventures abound!

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

P.S. As a public service announcement, I want to add a note regarding water and safety. If you too like to explore our many rivers here in the Willamette Valley, please do so safely by wearing a coast guard-approved life jacket at all times — children and adults both! Locally in McMinnville you can buy life jackets at Bi-Mart and Big 5 (I’m sure other places as well — but we’ve bought them at these locations). We always insist that our children wear them even when they are just playing in the river, but certainly we all wear our life jackets at all times when in a boat. Rivers are unpredictable, and every summer brings a few tragic deaths to the community as people go boating and swimming in the rivers. Don’t just pack it; wear your jacket.

~ ~ ~

Reminder about CSA payment! Your next CSA payment is due to us by next Thursday, July 6. I emailed statements two weeks ago. You can bring cash or checks to us at pick up or mail a check to Oakhill Organics, P.O. Box 1698, McMinnville OR 97128. Please let me know if you have any questions about your account or balance due!

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Cherries
  • Apples
  • Fava beans
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower — There is a limit on these this week because we want to make sure that everyone gets a share!
  • Head lettuce — The heads are BIG this week! Time to make salad the main course of your summer meals. Load them all kinds of yummy toppings.
  • Bok choy
  • Zucchini
  • Chard
  • Kale
  • Garlic
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

Happy summer!

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

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

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

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

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

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

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


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

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

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

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

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

The Arrival

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

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

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

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

Putting in the garden

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

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

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

Dottie carefully planted sweet corn into her garden this weekend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

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

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

This farm Mama loves her farm kids’ feet!

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

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

Update on our visit to OSU

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

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

This is step #1: Establish the problem.

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

Step #2: Communicate the problem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A new frontier

We feasted on lots of yummy strawberries this week!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you guys use marijuana?”

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

“Will you quit growing vegetables?”

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

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

“So, are you guys getting rich now?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How do you grow it?”

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

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

“Are you worried about security?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where can I buy some of your stuff?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

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

  • Strawberries
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Apples
  • Baby carrots
  • Head lettuce
  • Arugula
  • Kale
  • Asian greens
  • Cabbage
  • Sunchokes
  • Green garlic
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