Snow days

A transformed farmscape ...

Context changes so much. On any other February Sunday, a persistent dripping noise could pass unnoticed. Just another day of winter rain in Oregon.

Today, however, the dripping signifies change. Movement. Thaw.

Dottie in her snowsuit

As I noted in last week’s newsletter, February’s arrival brought more winter weather. Sub-freezing temperatures, followed late last week by snow.

Before this weekend, we hadn’t received any significant snowfall here on the farm since late 2008. That was an epic snow event for the Willamette Valley, dubbed “snowpocalypse” by many. We were stuck on the farm for about a week, as we watched snow and ice pile up everywhere on everything. Incidentally, we also decided that week that, yes, we were ready to have children. Because how much more fun would that snow have been with little ones in our farm life? Rusty was born on the farm just less than a year later (during some record cold — not particularly snowy — weather).

So, five years have passed since our fields turned white. We had almost forgotten it was even possible, but Thursday morning’s forecast read: “100% chance of snow. 3-5 inches possible.” We quickly moved up the start time for our Full Diet CSA pick-up, hoping that everyone could get out here before the snow began to fall in earnest. Since it was 22° out, we knew this snow would stick immediately.

Rusty in his snowsuit (and goofy face)

And they came — the people, followed close behind by the snowflakes themselves. Our last CSA member pulled out just around 4 pm, driving back to Mac in several inches of snow. We hear that even more had already fallen in town (we are lower and often receive less snow).

And, then it kept snowing, all night and all the next day. The farm transformed before our eyes into a soft white blanket. As the white reflected light into the recesses of our little home, we were reminded of just how uniquely dark wet Pacific Northwest winters can be. Certainly, snow beings plenty of challenges, but that magic brightness can certainly offset much of that. So much light, even at night. Magic.

But, challenges too — it definitely took two people to get our routine animal chores completed each day of snowfall. In part, it was simply more physically taxing. By the second day of snow, only the tractor could safely clear the depth of the snow. Plus, the working was more daunting (especially when the snow continued to fall and fall on Saturday morning). Work that could normally be easily completed by one person was definitely better done as a team, and so Casey worked much of the weekend.

And, then on Saturday afternoon, the weather shifted. The snow turned to a “wintry mix,” and the temperature rose enough that our field house warmed above freezing, and the whole family watched as large chunks of snow slid off in succession. The trend continued in earnest Sunday morning, as that dripping sound became a joyful reminder that the snow was melting. The house shuddered as slabs of snow slid off our metal roof. The snow became crunchy and packed down under our feet. Birds chirped.

Enjoying a snack and a view of the snow

The children enjoyed the novelty of the snow for sure. They are still a bit young to play in it in earnest (small hands get cold so quickly), but we had a few fun outings and then spent quite a lot of time feeling cozy inside. I’m pretty sure we played with every single toy in our house by the end of this weekend, plus some items that wouldn’t have previously qualified as toys in our minds. Rusty is ready for some big outdoor adventures.

And, so, we head to the mountains tomorrow (where it is supposed to be rainy!). Planning this trip feels more than a bit crazy this afternoon as I continue to look out upon white, white, white. But, it is time for our annual farmer retreat at Breitenbush Hot Springs — an important event in our farm family’s year. We’ll be gone for two nights, and our awesome crew will hold down the fort, including hosting the Veggie CSA pick-up (on as usual 3:30 – 6 pm on Tuesday) and checking on everything and everyone as the snow reveals what lies below. Even though leaving at the tail end of some Big Weather feels surreal, we will go and come back with lots of new ideas and inspiration for the coming season.

Oh, and on Friday, the Willamette River is going to reach “action stage” (very minor flooding) after a winter of being well lower than normal for winter. Always exciting times on the farm where the weather is involved!

We hope that you all fared well during this recent winter storm. Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

End-of-the-weekend meal — the snow revisited:

Ah, I wrote the above newsletter earlier this afternoon, when the joy of melting snow was enough to ease the mind — but of course, I knew from experience that this extreme weather event is far from over. The melting itself will take its toll, and the snow lingers still …

And, so, it was shocking but not terribly surprising to encounter a caved-in greenhouse this afternoon on our walk. I will say this now — it wasn’t our greenhouse. It belongs to a dear neighboring farmer friend, who had just put it up recently and was preparing to plant in it for the first time in the coming weeks. We continued our walk up the road to her house and checked in about the greenhouse and so many other elements of this particular winter.

Honestly, about once or twice every winter, I seriously question our decision to offer produce year-round. In the actual winter months, it seems as though we are pushing against the very movement of the world around us. There is just so much that can spoil our plans this time of year — pests, weather, etc etc etc. And, still, as hard earned as they may be, our vegetables are just vegetables — out there in the world to be compared with vegetables from anywhere, including places where winter never comes. Sometimes I wonder why we do this to ourselves every winter — stress about this or that (including customer concerns about dwindling variety and quality) …

But, then we walked home, and I stopped by the pole barn to pick up some veggies to cook for our own dinner. We’d left a beautiful chicken roasting in the oven, and all the snow and descending fog had me craving the sweetness of the season. I reached into a pallet bin in the cooler to pull out a large dense cabbage, and I filled my jacket pockets with beets. While Casey went out to check on animals one last time, I chopped beets to roast and sliced cabbage to fry in butter. I added a bit of cabbage at a time, adding more as the each subsequent batch wilted down, until the entire cabbage was simmering in the pot at once.

Mid-cooking, Casey called me from the fields. The geese. We knew it would happen, because it happened before. As the snow melted, as in 2008, our over-wintered crops were the first green things to emerge. And the geese descended on them quickly. Casey estimated that they had only arrived about 30 minutes before he did, and the cabbages and purple sprouting broccoli were already eaten down to the ground. Even as he stood there, trying to shoo them away, they kept descending, their hunger overcoming any fear they might have of people.

As he described this to me, I said, “Oh. Ok.” Because what else is there to say? A friend of mine who moved recently, quoted a great line from the classic movie Airplane: “Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.” My play on this today is: “Looks like I picked the right week to read about Zen Buddhism” (yes, really, I am reading a book about Zen Buddhism right now). But, really, I think I have this realization almost every winter: there’s no point in raging against the weather. It comes. We respond. Things will grow.

In the meantime, our offerings will be further limited in coming weeks. Because that is the reality of our situation. Of course, there are still plants in our field greenhouses … which will go under water later this week. They may survive. They may not. We have more starts growing in our propagation house, and they will be planted in those houses if the other plants don’t survive the flooding.

But as I dug my fork into that delicious fried cabbage, I could hardly resent the season. I couldn’t even question our sanity. Because the food was so delicious and so a part of the world around us. THIS. NOW. This is what is real now. That sweetness of the cabbage and beets. The company of my family. The darkness falling over the melting snow. It is what it is, and we will continue savoring that daily experience.

Try having a mindful meal yourself this week. Even if you receive news of crisis mid-cooking, can you refocus yourself on the nourishment in front of you? Can you feel the gratitude in every cell for the gift of existence? Can you say THANK YOU from the depth of your body and soul?

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Cabbage
  • Kohlrabi
  • Sunchokes — Are you one of the people who get an upset tummy after eating cooked sunchokes? I am, which is too bad because I love eating roasted sunchokes (crispy and chewy and sweet — oh my!). The good news is that I can eat them raw, which is why I love including them in our “chopped salads.” In fact, these week, I may make a delicious chopped salad with several of the share items: cabbage, kohlrabi, sunchokes, and carrots!
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Onions
  • Garlic
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One Response to Snow days

  1. carri says:

    Katie! Thanks for these words. Thanks for writing about the realities of this season and what it means to be farming and eating now. I keep asking myself why we think we can/should be attempting to farm through the winter. But then what would we eat? What would our community eat? I’m looking forward to more melting snow and seeing you guys in the mountains shortly!

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