At the beginning of 2020, I thought I had a sense of how the year would go — what growth would happen, how our family would spend our time, what the challenges might be … I “knew” that I was scheduled to attend my first-ever large choir festival in Minneapolis, which would also be my first travel away from the family. I also “knew” that the kids would continue doing their favorite extra-curricular activities away from home with other children. I also “knew” that we’d have a wonderfully full personal calendar of connecting with friends, making music, hosting farm customers on the farm, etc etc etc.
Ah, how plans can quickly unravel. How much can be cancelled so quickly, changing life completely.
We have all now shared (apart) an unexpected constricting of experience and movement for the last two months during the Covid-19 quarantine.
Last Friday, Yamhill County slowly, cautiously began to reopen to business and recreation. The details of that reopening are well beyond the scope of what I want to address here today, but I want to share my own thoughts on how our farm and family are thinking about the rest of 2020 from our new vantage point of pandemic-life.
First of all, Casey and I conferred about how we are operating the CSA — with preorders and packed bags — and decided that we’d like to be conservative and continue using these physical-distance-based operations through the remainder of the 2020 CSA season. Technically, I think our farm could meet the “Phase 1” guidelines for safety with our older methods of a self-serve farm stand, but we feel more comfortable with keeping contact at a minimum for all of our members right now. This system seems to be working well enough for the purpose of delivering fresh produce to our community in a way that doesn’t add much extra work or burden to anyone involved.
The big piece that’s missing, of course, is the social vibrancy and ease of the storefront pick-up — but we will return to that in time. For now, we want to maintain the safest option, knowing that we have many members who will continue to be very conservative in their own choices about socializing and interacting with others this year. We don’t want anyone to feel like they need to make a hard choice between feeling confident about their health and getting vegetables — hopefully continuing with this low-distance option feels very comfortable for everyone.
Also, in the event that the entire community has to pull back again due to an outbreak, we don’t want to have to flip flop back and forth between systems. This is working; it feels safe; it’s easiest to just keep on going with it for now. Thank you so much for your participating in this unexpected evolution of our CSA system and for being respectful of social distancing at pick-up!
On the home front, we’ve been doing similar analysis of our family’s changed lifestyle and how much we want to alter it going forward, knowing that we’re still very much in the midst of a global pandemic (albeit one that, so far, hasn’t hit our community hard). In a similar vein to the pick-up system, at this point we’re emotionally and mentally preparing ourselves for many more months of a very similar lifestyle to what we’ve been doing: mostly staying home, engaging in extra-curriculars and social activities through remote applications like Zoom, focusing our life here more than we have in years.
Depending on how the summer goes, we may stretch ourselves some to include occasional outdoor gatherings that feel very safe — kayaking with friends comes to mind, because being in separate boats seems like an excellent way to keep distance and still be together! But we expect to miss the usual rounds of swim lessons and camps and camping with friends and in-person music lessons and large gatherings with extended family and so much more.
While there are parts of this plan that bring so much sadness and grief, we’re working as a family to focus our attention on the potential gifts in a year spent closer to home. As the children have gotten older (they are 7 and 10 now!), our life has expanded a lot in wonderful ways as the kids have wanted and needed more interactions and opportunities beyond the farm. In recent years, there’s been a fair amount of me playing the quintessential Mommy-chaffeur. In fact, earlier this year we were car shopping, anticipating the need to cart around more than just our kids as they get older and want to do more with friends.
It’s a big shift then to bounce back to a reality much closer to their earliest baby months, when staying close to home was just part of the developmental stage of frequently napping and nursing babies. In fact, I’d say we’re home even more than any period except the first few weeks of the children’s lives.
But, again, there are gifts here. Knowing that this period will pass (pretty please, universe), and knowing — quite frankly — that we don’t have an option, and knowing that — again QUITE frankly — that we’re NOT missing out on anything by staying home (no “FOMO” is a quarantine gift!), we can lean in to the positive aspects of a slower-paced life here.
Casey and I are both excited about the prospect of possibly having more time and energy to attend to all the farm and home projects that inevitably get shifted to the bottom of more urgent lists (or otherwise put off because there are fun trips and things to do in our free time in the summer). The house siding has been needing some work for years, and maybe being home this summer — no weekend camping trips in sight — will be the push we need to get it done. We’re also excited about just knowing that we’ll have time to continue doing our farm work well. It’s a really good feeling to have fewer things competing for our attention. There’s a sense of ease there that has been missing in recent years — even as our lives and days are very full with many obligations, even just removing most of the driving has provided us more time and presence for other things.
I am personally also excited about the ability to reconnect with this place where we live. Part of the appeal of farming and living on farmland was all the romance of homesteading and providing for ourselves. Although we’ve farmed commercially since 2006, our own personal “homesteading” efforts have waxed and waned over the years, depending on how burnt out we have felt by farming and parenting at any given moment in time. There were years when we were making our own yogurt (from our own raw milk!), grinding our own beef, and canning tomatoes. And, then there have been years, when aside from the produce we grow for the CSA, we live and eat more or less “normally” for a contemporary person who cooks from scratch — meaning we buy yogurt, buy ground beef, and just forgo tomatoes completely when they’re not in season. Operating the CSA — and eating the veggies from the farm — is our most consistent connection to the land, and that’s a huge part of why we feel like the CSA is an integral part of our living here at all. It’s how we relate to our land.
But there are other dimensions to living here too that are worth my exploration — things that aren’t connected to the CSA or anything business-related at all. For example, harvesting and drying herbs for our own tea. This is something I dabbled in briefly many years ago (during that same era of making yogurt and grinding meat). Casey and I have a cup of herbal tea every night before bed, and for most of our years of drinking tea we’ve bought prepared teas for this purpose. Occasionally, we’ll harvest and dry nettles or other herbs, but we’ve not kept this habit steadily up enough to forgo purchasing teas.
This year, I’m so happy that I finally developed a better drying system so that hopefully I can make it a regular part of my life — at least during this stay-home year. I have a hanging drying rack that I can pull out from storage and hang in our living room when I’ve harvested. It holds the perfect amount — the two trays hold about one of our blue bins worth of fresh branches or sprigs, which produces about a half gallon of dried crushed herb, depending on the plant. So far this year, it’s been sweet and easy to move from herb to herb as the season has unfolded: nettles to lemon balm to raspberry leaf so far — all harvested here on the farm (I’ve grown many herbs in my garden for their beauty for years) or wildcrafted from areas close-by that we consider an extension of our home.
(Quick important note about the ethics and safety of consuming wild plants: It’s very important when “wildcrafting” to pick from areas familiar to you in order to have a sense of the cleanliness of the plant and also to have a sense of what level of harvest is sustainable for that place and population. For example when wildcrafting nettles, we are careful to take only a small portion of what is growing there. Some plant species are not abundant enough for wildcrafting at all, in which case it is better to buy those herbs from reliable sources such as the Oregon-based company Mountain Rose Herbs. Also, do NOT consume wild plants unless you are confident about making a positive identification. Here in Oregon, we’re lucky to only have a handful of poisonous plants to worry about, but if you plan to wildcraft at all, you should learn to identify those first. I highly recommend referencing multiple field guides and references books to learn plant identification, but the best bet is to consult books and harvest with an experienced guide the first few times. Learning about wild plants is a lifelong journey, one we are happy to be on, but we recommend others start very slowly and carefully.)
Now back to tea making … We have a press pot that I bought at the Velvet Monkey for making the loose tea, making it easy for us to make our evening cup of tea with the loose dried herbs. So far we’ve been focusing on one herb a night, but I like to make blends sometimes too.
Even though much about this spring has felt anxiety-ridden to me, fitting in this very small practice of drying herbs and making tea has been such a sweet gift of the quarantine. Would I have fit this in if our life was on the usual schedule? I don’t know. It’s something I’d been wanting to do for awhile, but life was very full already. I really appreciate the opportunity to engage with our home, and lean on it for nourishment during these hard times. I can also tell you that the tea we drink now has a depth of flavor (and presumably a similarly-matched depth of physical benefit) that blows tea bags out of the water. I mean, there’s really no comparison at all — as you might expect, it’s an equivalent difference between buying frozen broccoli and eating freshly harvested local broccoli.
Another “homesteading” type routine that I’ve brought back into our life is making our own fermented sauerkraut. Again we’ve done this in the past but fallen out of the habit. It’s wonderful to get back in the routine with some new improved tools (I’m using the food processor more now and bought some cool new air-locks for my mason jars), and we are all enjoying the tasty results.
So, there are riches here! There’s also the time to go on walks and fully weed the flower garden and make bouquets for the house and read books together and do puzzles and color. I haven’t personally had as much time for all of these as I’d like this spring because of working on a political campaign, but as I look forward to the rest of 2020 I envision a lot more of these sweet alternatives to camping and driving kids to swim lessons and the like.
I am deeply glad that Yamhill County is slowly reopening business — I am excited to be able to go shopping for new clothes downtown again or maybe even eat out a few times — but for me personally, and for the farm, there’s also no rush to try to regain the old sense of “normal.” I’m okay with taking things slowly, continuing to do my part to reduce the spread of illness, and just really savor what I can this year. Maybe this year I’ll spend more time watching butterflies and hummingbirds visit my flower garden. And, who knows, maybe I’ll even work more on the homeschooling website that I started and never really finished!
Does that mean I won’t miss singing with friends? Of course not. And, I also want to acknowledge that so much of my relative comfort in this scary situation is based in the privilege of having relative stability and lots of resources. But this is my life today. It’s very different than how I expected it to look this year. But this is it. I have this day, and I can find joy in it.
May our [safely-delivered] vegetables be one of those little joys in a year that may look very different than the one you envisioned. Enjoy this week’s vegetables!
Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla
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Meet this week’s vegetables:
Casey and I realized last week that the one drawback to our current ordering system is that you all can’t see what looks especially awesome from the fields before you choose. So, I am going to try to highlight particularly awesome vegetables as they come along so that people don’t miss out. (Um, of course, all our vegetables are awesome, but some are awesome-er some weeks.)
This week I want to note that the bok choy has been outstanding these last few weeks! They are large, heavy heads of goodness! If you’re unfamiliar with bok choy, it’s an Asian green in the same wider family as turnips and mustard greens. We usually stir fry it with Pan-Asian flavors like sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger and garlic. It pairs well with tofu or meat and rice. Very yummy, and these heads have been especially gorgeous.
Now, onto the list. Please place your orders by Tuesday evening!