BIG dreams for the farm

Meet this week’s Mac veggies:

(What is this thing you call a “photo”?)

  • Sweet corn — The first of this year’s sweet corn! We have another planting that will come on later, assuming that summer continues to hold out.
  • Tomatoes — Try making ratatouille with this week’s late summer ingredients! Recipe in this week’s newsletter!
  • Sweet peppers
  • Eggplant
  • Broccoli
  • Basil
  • Summer squash & zucchini
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Torpedo onions & garlic

We just observed the five-year anniversary of purchasing our own farm. We have been recalling that time and how we would come out to visit our new 17.5 acre parcel that was ripe with potential (and work) — it was bare land with no permanent plantings, fields, buildings or other infrastructure. We would stand beneath a large shade tree, look at the open field and ponder what it would look like in one, two, five years …

Since then we have been busy, and it’s amazing to stand in the same spot today and look at our growing orchards, greenhouses, and fields full of vegetables (and of course behind us our house and other buildings that we built ourselves!).

And, now we’re at another pondering moment. We’ve spent the last five years achieving one vision of our farm — a small scale vegetable CSA farm — and now we’re planning for the next five years and an evolving vision.

So, what is that vision and how will our farm change? This spring we finished the purchase of the adjacent 31 acres of farmland — another big empty field with no infrastructure except for an irrigation well. And, a few weeks after closing on the purchase, we also signed a lease agreement on another 54-acre piece of land just to the east of the new land, bringing the total acreage under our management to just about 100 acres of farmable ground.

Yes, one hundred acres!

We haven’t yet mentioned about the 54 acre lease in the newsletter, in part because everything still feels somewhat dream-like and unreal. Most of the big changes we make in our life feel like this at first — we feel slightly overwhelmed and like to keep our dreams and plans quiet as we adjust to them ourselves.

But we also worried that you, our treasured CSA members, might think we’ve just gone bat crazy by increasing our acreage so much. Sometimes we’ve worried the same thing!

But, actually, as with most things in our life, this is a highly analyzed and calculated move on our part. After achieving our dreams of having a successful vegetable CSA, it was hard at first to consider “reinventing” our farm. But, the opportunities to buy and lease highly productive farmland just next door felt like something so wholly positive that we had to take the leap.

So far, both of the other parcels are still being leased by the former tenant farmer, but we will take over management after he harvests his crops of conventional sweet corn this fall. And then the fun begins!

As we’ve thought (and thought and thought and talked and thought and talked and thought and talked) about how to proceed with so much more land, we’ve decided there are two possible ways to expand our farm: we can expand its “width” by offering our same program to more people. We’ve done this to some extent this year by offering a Newberg CSA pick-up and adding a few more people to the Mac pick-up. And, we imagine that we will continue expanding our veggie production somewhat over the next few years, probably ending at not quite even twice the production we have now.

But, we realized that we can also expand our farm’s “depth” by offering more, different products to our existing customers. This is when we started getting really excited about the potential of our new “one hundred acre farm” (this is of course a reference to “the one hundred acre wood” in the Pooh books!).

We were then also recently inspired by reading the great book, The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball, in which Kimball recounts her experience of starting a farm with her husband that provides all of its CSA members’ food, year-round: meat, dairy, eggs, grains, beans, fruit, veggies, sweeteners, etc. What a powerful CSA concept!

We love growing vegetables, and over the years we feel like we’ve gotten pretty reliably good at it — things aren’t always perfect of course, but we feel like we have a “handle” on the process of growing quality veggies for lots of people. But we eat more than just veggies, and so do you all. We want more of our diet to come from the farm, and the best way we know to do that consistently is to grow more crops for everyone.

So, with the help of our awesome current employees (and hopefully awesome future employees), over the next three years, we are going to slowly start adding more enterprises — first at a slightly larger than homestead scale to experiment, and then scaling up after a year or two after we figure out initial glitches.

We’re still not sure that we’ll ever offer truly everything — that’s our dream, but it’s important to us that these new enterprises actually be a good fit for our farm. We also want the new products to be affordable and profitable too, which seems like it can be especially challenging with animal enterprises!

But, we feel that the diversity and the larger landbase of our farm (which will still be small compared to average farms around here) will allow us to have a more fully integrated farm system, with long periods of fallow for fields. Overall, there is the potential for a very vibrant, diverse and healthy farm ecosystem if we add more enterprises thoughtfully and judiciously.

We also feel like this option of going “deeper” with our expansion will allow us to become a “bigger” farm (in terms of acreage, employees, infrastructure, etc.) but at the same time to become more intimately connected with each of our customers. We don’t see our growth as something that will take away from our personal connection to the CSA but instead to make it stronger in both directions. As we offer you more of your diet, we both become more connected and committed.

Even though the addition of more products is going to be an evolving and growing process, we’re already tinkering with ideas for how to add each new product to the CSA while still allowing you some choice for how committed you want to be. We have a few years to figure out the exact details, but having the suggestion of a plan has also helped us feel excited about expanding and diversifying.

We have a ton of work ahead of us, especially in terms of infrastructure development. The next five years are starting to look at least as significant as the first five years (which will make for interesting newsletters, I’m sure!). As we’ve worked through the development of our dreams this year, I’ve had plenty of wakeful nights, wondering whether we are in fact crazy to be heading in a new direction when the farm was doing so well.

But, ultimately, we come back to a few principles that inspire this new vision:

* We think about what want to eat — fresh, seasonal, whole foods — and realize that we want to provide those foods for others.

* We think about what’s best for our ground and the amazing power of complex crop and animal rotations.

* We think about our amazing financial situation of being able to afford this opportunity, which will in turn provide opportunities for long-term year-round employment to others in the area.

* We think about how much we love the daily problem solving of farming in an ever changing natural world and how much more interesting the farm can become.

* We think about Rusty and any other future children and the learning and employment opportunities we could provide with a larger diverse farm.

These specific goals keep us committed to this new dream. And, for our sanity, we have the benefit of being able to move relatively slowly into this next phase. The farm already exists and functions, and keeping the veggies flowing in good quality and quantity is always our daily priority. But it’s good to have this vision and to be able to take immediate steps toward achieving it.

Now that we’ve been at this work for half a decade, it’s easier for us to realize we can have a grand vision and know that it will truly be achieved just step-by-step and day-by-day. The question is always: what can we do today to get closer to that eventual goal of providing our members close to their full diet from our diverse, thriving one hundred acre farm?

We’ve been wanting to share these ideas for a few weeks, but it never feels quite like the right moment. The dreams themselves seem to be in a constant state of evolution, and perhaps in two years we’ll decide that achieving simply part of our vision is good enough. We’ll see. But now you have an idea of what we’re thinking about out here on the farm.

And, this week we’re also handing out our annual CSA survey, in which we ask the usual questions about the season to get a sense of how things have been going. Some of you have more recently joined up, but feel free to share your experience thus far anyway!

We’re also asking a few questions related to the farm dreams to get a sense of your interest level in getting more of your diet from the farm. We hope you can take a moment in the next week to sit down and thoughtfully complete your survey! We always take every bit of feedback very seriously as we go into fall and winter planning mode.

In the immediate future, we still have many weeks of this year’s vegetable CSA remaining. The McMinnville CSA runs through November 29, and the Newberg CSA through November 17. For us, these last months of the CSA are always some of the most fun — the fields are so abundant and everything tastes so good and fresh. We rarely have to think hard or worry about what vegetables will be in the September shares — there is just so much to choose from!

Consider making a batch of ratatouille to celebrate September’s abundance. Perhaps as you eat it, you can consider our survey and our farm dreams! Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

Download the survey here: 2011CSASurvey

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