Kids and gardening

Rusty was planting so fast that it was hard to get a photo of him!

We’re a farming family. But I imagine what that means differs a lot from what people might think it means. I know that it certainly looks different than how I imagined once upon a time, before the farm and kids were both an actual reality.

Before having kids, Casey and I both worked full-time on the farm, both doing the physical hands-on work. We didn’t even have employees the first three years, although we had some regular CSA member helpers (who were awesome!).

But when Rusty was born eight years ago, we had to figure out the farm dynamics all over again. During pregnancy, I contemplated our work a lot and watched my friends with their babies and pondered how (and if) the two were compatible. Our work on the farm is fast, focused, and very physical. Part of how Casey and I have been able to make our small farm profitable and thriving is because we are both incredibly driven, task-oriented workers. Before kids, we raced around the farm — not sprinting, but walking quickly from task-to-task. We loved our work, and we knew how to do it, and so there was little stress in our days. We just decided what to do and then did it, with few distractions.

The energy of pregnancy, and then early motherhood, felt very different. Much, much, much slower. Much slower. The energy felt less task-oriented and more presence-oriented. Pregnancy was so much about waiting and just being — even as I continued to work on the farm (up until the day I went into labor!), I could feel my inner drive shifting to a new pace. And certainly, caring for a newborn and baby was so much about just being. Being a lap, being arms to hold someone else, being with this new little creature who needed me so intensely — not necessarily to do anything physical, but just to be with him.

The shift from moving all day to sitting most of the day was a big one, to say the least! But motherhood brings useful shifting hormones too, so I didn’t begrudge the shift. But I did recognize that it felt wholly inconsistent with the sharp focused way I previously moved through my days. I could no longer expect to finish any task uninterrupted — or finish at all! And, in spite of many people’s fantasies about farm life, it turns out that babies don’t really love being on a mother’s back while she does farm work. Somehow Rusty could always tell when my attention was focused elsewhere, and that was not what he needed or wanted.

Thankfully, I had seen this coming. I had seen it in watching other babies, and I also observed in myself that I really don’t enjoy multi-tasking. I loved having that single-focus of farming, and I was ready to be single-focused on mothering now. I didn’t want to begrudge the farm for taking my attention away from my baby, and I didn’t want to begrudge my baby for taking my attention away from the farm.

So, our farm family shifted into new roles: Casey as the primary physical operator on the farm (and definitely more than part-time parent), and me Katie as the primary parent (and part-time farm administrator).

Over the years, as the children have grown, we’ve tried integrating me and them into the farm work in meaningful ways. It’s worked at times and not at others. That integration has always had to be “extra” labor, because it’s never “worked” for us to rely on me (and certainly not them!) to complete tasks. There’d always be interruptions — a classic one being one of the kids needing to go poop while I am helping Casey harvest! This is not a interruption that Mama can ignore! And so, I’d pause working and take whichever child up to the house and sit while they take their time and help them clean up and then eventually make it back out to the fields to harvest … until the other one had to poop! (At least they have healthy digestion systems!)

Again, perhaps we could have done more integrating, but Casey and I have both never wanted to feel cranky with the kids or with the farm, and in that regard it has always felt best to raise the kids on the farm but not force a relationship between them and the farm. If they want to help, then they are welcome, for as long as they want. Two falls ago, Rusty chipped in when we were filling our Thanksgiving Holiday Harvests. He couldn’t read yet, but he understood about numbers and weighing things, so he genuinely helped weigh out potatoes and carrots and pick out the right number of bunches of kale. But most times one of them weeds or plants for a 15 minutes and then runs off to play.

So, so far the farm has not been a major source of occupation of their time or work. It will be interesting to watch how their relationship with the farm continues to grow over the years. Will they eventually want to step up and help us more with the actual sustained work? Or, will they mostly view the farm as their home rather than their occupation?

They certainly interact with it daily. It is the entire context for their outdoor play life. We have a good sized yard, but it is not fenced and they wander to and from the grass outside our house into the orchard and the cover cropped fields and beyond. Rusty especially ventures far from the house daily as he engages in elaborate, ongoing imagination games (often reenacting historical events). They both love seeking out new fruits and enjoy being kept up-to-date on which crop is coming in next so they can be the first to taste a ripe strawberry or plum or whatever it is. And, it is very clear in how they give their friends tours that the farm is a place of pride for them. They seem to enjoy knowing this place so well and having ideas of cool things to show to other kids, which vary from season to season. They want to share tasty treats and show off hidden nooks under special trees.

Why NOT plant your garden in pajamas?

But, each year their dedication to their own little garden grows. We keep a little patch of ground between our yard and the fields that used to be the “family” garden but has morphed into the kids’ garden exclusively. In recent years, we’ve given them free creative reign over what they plant and how. They’ve purchased and planted tress of their own choosing (Rusty has a crab apple and Dottie has a plum). Each year they pick out a few items from our many seed catalogs, and they sow those seeds themselves and then plant the starts themselves. Dottie always chooses lots of flowers, and they both love growing melons.

This weekend, the kids took the initiative to plan out this year’s set of starts. Casey tilled up some of the garden (some in bed shapes, some in random between-the-trees shapes), and the kids planted their starts with the skill of someone who has grown up on a farm: efficiently and effectively both. This year they even put their plants in rows! They know now that this really is easier to tend.

They still need help at many points in their garden, of course. Although they could fill the flats with soil on their own this year, they still needed my help to sort out all the seeds and label the flats. Casey and I end up doing a fair amount of weeding and watering, but the kids keep a close eye on things, taking the initiative to trellis tomatoes and harvest when appropriate. And, each year, they seem to naturally take on more of the work as their enthusiasm for the project continues to grow. I think their ownership over it is key. This is truly their garden, the result of their imaginations and desires. This is an aspect of raising our family on a farm that I didn’t imagine ahead of time. Call me short-sighted, but long ago if you’d asked me to picture our future family farm, I would have pictured children helping us with our project. Instead, where the kids meet the farm is us helping them with their farming project.

Nelson asks, “What are the kids planting THIS year?”

Many years from now, I look forward to hearing about how the kids remember this time in our life. Already it’s clear that Rusty has memories that Dottie doesn’t, simply because she was a baby during particular phases of our farm’s life (such as when we were farming 100 acres and milking cows and raising chickens and all that!). So far, those memories seem to be sticking with Rusty, even though he was relatively young too. But certainly, they both will remember this place as the foundational context for so much of their lives: their home, their place of learning, their playground.

Like all parents, Casey and I have moments of doubt about our choices and can sometimes focus on the experiences and things we haven’t provided our children. Balancing our work here with raising children hasn’t always been easy. But the land itself … it is like another parent and a teacher and a friend and so much more. What lessons are they learning that we’ll never even know, because they won’t even know to name or share those experiences with us? We are so grateful.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

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CSA payment due next week! Reminder that your next CSA payment is due next Thursday, June 7! You can bring a check or cash to pick-up (or mail a check to Oakhill Organics, P.O. Box 1698, McMinnville OR 97128). I emailed statements over the weekend, but please let me know if you have any questions about your balance due! And, please check with me if you are unsure whether you have signed up for the second half of the season! There’s plenty of room for everyone.

CSA pick-up window changing to 3:30-6:30 too! Also starting next week, we return to our former pick-up time window of 3:30 to 6:30 on Thursdays!!!!

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Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Strawberries Limited again so that everyone can have a share of these delicious Hood berries!
  • Carrots — The first of this year’s spring planted carrots! Limited so that everyone can enjoy! These are “Mokum” carrots, a variety that we love so much we named one of our kittens after it 12 years ago (he’s now a sweet adult cat).
  • Fava beans
  • Fennel bulbs
  • Kohlrabi
  • Kale
  • Rainbow chard
  • Butternut and Marina di Chioggia winter squash
  • Spring onions
  • Garlic scapes
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