Holidays & sabbaths

The sun rising over the fall brassica field.

October arrives this week! Even though the forecast is for warm, sunny weather, we are fully in fall. The rains of the last two weeks are likely to bring on mushrooms in the forest in the coming warmth, so even though the temperature may read “summer,” the effects on the world will be autumnal indeed.

Looking ahead to the usual run of fall and winter holidays, I find myself thinking about the beauties and the challenges of living in such a pluralistic society. I love that there are so many different ways to celebrate this season, all present side-by-side in our country. However, I have also noticed that living in a diverse society without a cohesive, shared culture around celebration can make it hard at times to really find moments to pause in the ways people have in the past. Even on national holidays, many businesses stay open, so that people are almost always working, somewhere.

I remember when we lived at a remote mountain retreat center, there was an intention to create shared pauses in our days — sabbaths when the community as a whole truly stopped work to instead rest and focus on whatever celebration was at hand, whether it was a unique-to-the-place observation (such as the sun finally passing over the top of a peak in the waxing days of late winter) or something familiar to the rest of the world. But, even there, some work had to go on, especially in the kitchen where I worked.

The kitchen staff and I worked all day on Christmas Day to provide a true feast for 150 staff and guests who were in the community that time of year. It was a truly joyful way to celebrate the day, but it was not a rest. I remember that one of the community directors happened to stop by Casey and my little residence late on that day to drop off a gift and noticed our unopened packages under our tree. She later thanked me for working all day so that others could feast — apparently seeing our deferred celebration of Christmas “morning” really brought home to her how some people work so that others could rest and celebrate.

This feels true every day now in our world. Commerce never stops. The news cycle never ceases. If we do not carve out real pauses for ourselves, no one else will. The world wants our attention every minute. It wants us to shop and work and be busy all day, every day.

I’ve already noted this year that this effect seems to have only been exacerbated by more and more of us working and schooling from home. As we’ve lost the physical boundaries between work and home, the temporal boundaries can easily slip too.

Yet, in a year with such a huge emotional load, our bodies, hearts and minds need rest. Every religious tradition that I’ve ever learned about incorporates the notion of “holy” rest — days outside of the normal workload that allow people to gather their thoughts, rest their bodies, reconnect with loved ones, remember the basics of their faith tradition, and find refreshment for the journey.

The world isn’t going to provide such opportunities right now. In the United States, only a few small faith communities strongly promote or mandate intentional sabbaths and pauses. The majority of us need to find our own way to those breaks, both in terms of making the space in our calendars and in figuring out how to pause.

What does this look like in a world where nothing ever stops and everyone seems to be addicted to working? I feel like I’ve been trying to answer this question for myself for years and years. I know the feel in my body and mind that comes from stepping back in a real way. I know that this feeling needs to happen for me to be healthy in mind and body and even for me to really see the Big Picture of my life and the universe. It comes from relaxation, but it’s a relaxation that allows deep breaths and an opening of awareness and perspective. I imagine this is why it’s such a fundamental part of human culture and faith traditions — to be fully human, we need to step back and breathe (or dance, make music, feast). It’s unrealistic to feel that level of relaxation all day, every day; but we do need to seek it out, even when it’s not handed to us on our calendars by our community.

Travel and social gatherings used to be an obvious way for our family to step away from the pressing work of farming and life. One of our favorite ways to retreat was to travel to places that literally forced us to turn off our devices and disconnect. We were saddened to learn this week that the recent wildfires burned many of the places we used to visit on such occasions, including Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center and Breitenbush Hot Springs. These are more hard losses in a hard year and our hearts go out to everyone who is affected by them, especially the people who made these places their homes.

Yet, in the absence of both physical retreats and social gatherings, we still need to be intentional about finding our way to rest in the midst of the muddle of daily life. It seems to me that we can create the circumstances for sabbaths, retreats, and holidays, even at home. Here are ways I see that we can achieve rest and celebration at home:

  • Disconnect for at least an entire day. Turn off the phones (or set to “do not disturb”) and the devices. Ignore media. The world needs us to engaged right now, but we can take a day off. We need to take a day off!
  • Clear the calendar of work. As much as possible, prepare food and do household chores in advance.
  • Spend time outside. Studies have demonstrated that time spent in nature lowers our blood pressure and heart rate and elevates our mood. Combining a day without notifications with time outside can seriously help our stress-response systems take a break!
  • Do something different. The novelty involved in celebrations and travel can help to bring us into the present moment. This can be hard to achieve at home, but it’s not impossible. Just make sure that the seeking of novelty doesn’t end up feeling like work!
  • Be a little bored. Ok, I know that “boredom” has been a problem for many people during the pandemic. But I find that there’s a different between chronic boredom (when life seems to lack flavor) and the momentary boredom of giving myself space to not have to rush into the next thing. Honestly, I often find myself “feeling bored” on vacations in moments when my body tells me that it’s time to do something, and I have to remind it that NO we’re just going to sit here and be still. In this case, the boredom can be a sign that I’m actually resting or being still and paying attention to the world around me. This might not be a need for everyone right now, but I know that many people still feel as harried as ever amidst the pandemic.

Those are some key ingredients I see to finding a pause. I am looking ahead now to our fall to see where I can schedule such days for our family. I’m already looking forward to them!

Will you find pause in this strange fall too? Are there ingredients that I’ve missed in my list? If you have more ideas, please share them with me!

And, enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

Place your order:

Please select the vegetable items you'd like to receive this week, to total to your share size. If you order 2 (or 3) of something, it counts as 2 (or 3) items. Some items are limited, as marked.
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

Here comes fall

Added some seasonal flairs to our porch this weekend!

Fall begins tomorrow — the equinox is officially at 6:30 tomorrow morning here on the west coast. That will be the moment when the earth is halfway between its winter and summer zeniths and when the day is equally balanced between day and night. Then we slide into shorter days and longer nights.

There is so much satisfaction in fall for us farmers, especially assuming we’ve had a productive growing season. I love the feeling of “having done” something, and I especially love the feeling of harvesting storage crops and seeing them tucked away. That step is ahead of us now — the winter squash are in the field; the onions are dried on the porch; the cabbages are heading.

It seems that fall is many people’s favorite season, and I wonder if it’s those ancient farmers in all of us. Even if we don’t all gather crops for the winter anymore, we still feel it in our bones, this sense that we’ll “be okay” for another hard cold season.

I’ve heard many people express, however, that they’re not fully “feeling” that autumnal satisfaction this year. That instead of feeling excited about the crisp days and the falling leaves, they’re feeling more trepidation. I can think of a million reasons why this might be so — an especially heated election coming in November; the absence of so many holiday season traditions (which are defined by being physically together); the lingering anxiety and recovery from the recent wildfires … It’s been quite a year!

I too am trying to wrap my head around what this season will feel like … part of me says to just not anticipate anything. Let each day just be what it is. But that’s hard for me, as I’m sure it is for others too.

Again and again this year I find myself coming back to the basics. The human parts of fall may be completely wonky this year (no pumpkin patch! no trick-or-treating! no Thanksgiving with extended family!), but the season will still likely bring all the usual glories — the golden falling leaves; the geese migrations; the morning mists. I will be honest and say right now: it’s not enough. I’m a human, and we’re social animals, and that’s real. But it is something. It is something I can reach out and hold on to right now.

And the smaller things will still be here too. We can still carve pumpkins on our porch. We can still make hot chocolate on cold mornings. We can still curl up with books and watch the rain. If anything, we may have more time for these simple pleasures, especially if we prioritize not filling our empty schedules with online distractions or media black holes.

As always, a new season inspires me to be ever vigilant about creating such space in our life — space that feels like pauses, like quiet. Even though we can’t be with people in so many ways, the world feels very, very loud right now. There is a lot of justified outrage spilling out and demanding our attention. Paying attention is important, but so is making the space to live. That will be my goal this fall — to make those spaces when we can savor the gifts we do have in these strange times.

Happy fall everyone! Enjoy this week’s vegeteables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

Place your order:

Please select the vegetable items you'd like to receive this week, to total to your share size. If you order 2 (or 3) of something, it counts as 2 (or 3) items. Some items are limited, as marked.
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

The fires

The field this afternoon: fall brassicas, sunflowers, and slightly-less-smoky-than-before air/sky.

It feels like a lifetime has passed here in Oregon since I wrote last week’s newsletter. That was just before the winds began to really pick up here. By evening, they were whipping through the Willamette Valley, causing our power to go out, branches and trees to fall, power lines to snap, and fires to ignite seemingly everywhere.

Our family decided to all sleep in the living room that night, ostensibly because of the potential of wind blowing down trees or branches against the roof of our upstairs bedrooms, but really Casey and I wanted everyone in one space in case we needed to get out fast. After the kids fell asleep, we gathered a few of the most important things by the door and then tried to sleep ourselves. I didn’t sleep much at all, disturbed by the sound of the intense wind and all that potentials it signified. It was intense.

But it was much more intense for many others in Oregon. Now that we’re a week into a major fire event, we have a better sense of how damaging that night really was. Many people did flee their homes that night — and some didn’t make it out in time. As the fires grew over the next few days, more and more evacuated, including Casey’s family in the Lincoln City area. Even more were put on warning for future evacuations, including all of Clackamas County. Many are still waiting and watching as the fires are not contained.

Wednesday, harvesting in the dark

Our air has been full of choking smoke and ash all week. As you know, we did harvest for the CSA last Wednesday with masks on. It was so dark that day that it was hard to even distinguish green peppers against the green foliage. When we would come in from harvesting, our eyes would see all the lights in our house as blue because they had become so adjusted to the deeply red light outside.

It’s hard to even catch up with how much has been destroyed by this massive event, and it is still ongoing. The guest cabins we always stay in at Breitenbush Hot Springs for a farmer gathering have all burned down. Many other such retreats and cabins and get-aways have met a similar fate. Hundreds of houses have burned as well, leaving a large population of Oregonians without homes.

The rebuilding will be a massive project, but we’re not even at that point yet. So many are still on guard.

Here on the farm, we’re starting to wonder about effects on the fields from the ash layer and the very reduced sunlight in these final crucial weeks of the growing season. These seem like minor concerns, but it is our job to be thinking about them and making plans.

Our hope now lies in the fall-like weather predicted for this week — even a bit of rain hopefully! Even today things look lighter out here, I assume because some of the slight breeze happening here is coming from the west rather than from the smoke in the east.

We have felt so many emotions this week — intense fear and worry, grief, anger, frustration. But we have been overwhelmed with gratitude for our home and for our family. There is a heaviness to our days, but it is a joy to live with people we genuinely cherish.

Keeping busy inside with puzzles, dominoes, and a sleeping Mokum cat.

And my heart has grown seeing how our two children have really coped amazingly well with their lives getting smaller and smaller and smaller this year — first cut off from friends and gatherings because of COVID and now cut off even from playing outside. I know it has been very hard for them, but they also understand that this is all part of bigger forces than our family. I would never have chosen for them to experience such intensely stressful events during their childhood, but I see that — as much as is possible — they are growing more empathetic, aware and loving as a result. Again, it hasn’t been easy, and there have been tears and frustration and major boredom this year. But they also now really truly know that the world is so much bigger than them. And they both eagerly wish for the best for all in that world.

Plus, they’re just so much more chipper than I feel many days. Dottie’s incessant happy humming is a balm to me, as is Rusty’s mooning me before bed. And, we’re here. Together. What a gift.

My heart goes out to everyone in Oregon and beyond who has suffered losses of all kinds this week or who are still living in limbo and uncertainty.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

Place your order:

Please select the vegetable items you'd like to receive this week, to total to your share size. If you order 2 (or 3) of something, it counts as 2 (or 3) items. Some items are limited, as marked.
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

Late summer surprises

Watering into the wind …

As I sit at the picnic table to write this week’s newsletter, a deceptively gentle “breeze” is blowing from the north-east. But if you’ve been paying attention to the weather reports, this breeze is predicted to bring some wild weather to our region over the next 24-48 hours — increasing to record-setting gusts and bringing low humidity and fire danger. According to the maps I’ve seen, the highest risk level is centering right over our region, with Grand Island practically at its center. Already it feels very dry, like a sauna, and the humidity is still going down.

So, summer is definitely not over, and in fact it still has some surprising power up its sleeves. Here on the farm, we’re taking all the usual precautions. We won’t be using an open flames, or even machinery, during this fire watch warning. Casey also set up a line of sprinklers along the northeast edge of the farm, which we’ll run continuously to protect houses and buildings (ours and some neighbors) against the possible spread of brush fires.

We actually had a fire in that particular field (visible in the distance in the photo above) a few years back. It started when a branch fell from a tree fell into the power line and broke it. The live wire landed in the brush and lit a fire. Thankfully, it was seen and put out quickly. But with more wind, that fire could have moved toward the houses in the area. That’s what we want to avoid potentially happening now.

Otherwise, we’ll be hunkering down and bearing through the heat. We don’t have air conditioning in our house, as for the majority of the year it is fine without it. We open windows at night to let the cool air in and then close everything up during the day and that keeps things mostly comfortable. We also like that our bodies acclimate to the seasons by being in a house that isn’t kept a perfect 68° year-round. But then when the real heat waves come, it can get less comfortable! We may well enter that territory this week. We will see!

I suppose this late summer heat wave really shouldn’t be a surprise. I’ve come to associate Dottie’s birthday (which was last Friday) with smoky skies and hot air. This wasn’t a Thing when we moved to the Willamette Valley in 2006, but now it definitely feels more like normal to see plumes of smoke in the distance and to have the sunlight colored darker orange. It always feels vaguely apocalyptic and is part of what eventually lets me say good-bye to summer without too many tears. Although late summer can be amazingly gorgeous (and is always delicious), these days of dust and smoke and heat and yellow-jackets do start to wear thin. Crisp mornings and sweaters and baked apples will be appealing soon enough.

I must admit that each new season brings less joyful anticipation than normal though, simply because I already know it will be empty of the usual festivities and many activities. This fall there will be no pumpkin patch on the island or trick-or-treating with the kids or large family Thanksgiving gathering. Even though pandemic-living is starting to feel like some kind of new norm, each new season brings its own unique sense of losses. It remains hard.

Friends and I have been reflecting lately about how we find ourselves sometimes just losing all our energy, seemingly for no reason, during this pandemic summer. We remind each other that under the conscious-level activities of our life, we are all also expending energy just living in these strange, uncertain times. Living in a pandemic takes energy — maybe not active, physical energy every day, but we expend creative and social energy navigating the new norms and trying to meet our needs and those of others while staying safe and healthy. Plus all the worrying. I know we all try not to, but quite frankly, there’s plenty to worry about.

Maybe it’s a relief in a way to be distracted by this immediate challenge of the weather. I wouldn’t want to romanticize this particular storm that is descending upon our region, knowing that it may cause damage in unexpected ways. But quite frankly, there is something nice about facing a tangible, basic, finite threat at a time when we’ve been worrying about so many bigger, complicated unknowns. If nothing else, it distracts a bit and gives us a purpose and work to do.

On the plus side, September is a most delicious month. This week’s vegetables bring the full taste of summer and the starts of fall. Take your pick on which season you want to experience more in each meal, or blend them for the true September experience! Stay safe and cool, and enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

Place your order:

Please select the vegetable items you'd like to receive this week, to total to your share size. If you order 2 (or 3) of something, it counts as 2 (or 3) items. Some items are limited, as marked.
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

The river’s respite

Dottie on our new paddle board.

The kids and I jumped back into our homeschooling routine again today. Much remains the same in terms of our rhythms and methods, but of course this year we’ll all dive into new subjects and topics as they grow older. It also marks the end of our official summer break, which is always a poignant moment for me, marking the turning of the years almost more than New Year’s does. As the kids hold their first-day-of-school slates for the annual picture, I can feel the time flying by. It’s so good and so bittersweet and hopeful all at once.

Goofy kids. ♥

This summer has been more complicated than many before. The pandemic cancelled much that we normally associate with this season: the outdoor theater and concerts; extra time to play with friends; swim lessons; farm school; making music with friends; family trips; summer camp; picnics with extended family … we really stripped it down this year, as we have taken a conservative approach to our potential COVID exposure. We’ve all felt the difference. While it has been a good summer, as always — the sparkle felt diminished.

But, one aspect of our summer stayed here for us — the beautiful Willamette River that flows around our farm, making Grand Island an actual island. We’ve gone down to the banks of the river as much as ever this summer. Just as each new school year brings new skills to the kids, each new summer brings growth in their ability to be on the water. It’s been several years now that they’ve each had their own little kayak, and they have become pros at maneuvering their way through the familiar currents and eddies of the river we visit regularly. They also know where the shallow places are and spend plenty of time wading, looking for agates in the tumbling rocks at their feet. They come home with loaded pockets from every visit. Our little rock tumbler will never catch up with the always-growing supply of genuinely cool rocks they find!

Just last week we added a new form of fun to the mix as we bought a paddle board — it’s mostly intended for me to use, but everyone has been taking turns and getting a new view of the river from the standing position. A physical shift in perspective can really change the way everything looks!

As always, we’ve had a ton of fun exploring, moving our bodies, cooling ourselves in the flowing water, watching herons and kingfishers hunt. The river always offers a beautiful respite from the dust and the heat, but this year it’s been so much more — more than ever, we’ve appreciated how quiet our stretch of the Willamette feels. Within just a few minutes of putting in our kayaks, we can reach sections of the river where we see no signs of other people. And in that span of time that we float and paddle past the willows beneath the osprey, we can temporarily forget about the stress of daily life in this very intense year. We forget about masks and testing and the building pressure of a presidential election. For a time, we are just us — our family, together on the river, floating in the timeless eternity of the present moment.

Even though summer break is over, we’ll keep retreating to the river to breathe, play, refresh ourselves. Eventually the weather will turn and we’ll put up our paddles for the season, but we’ll put that off as long as we can. In a year that’s been a trial to all — including to these dear young ones growing older amidst this uncertainty — we’ll cherish all the sources of joy we can find. May you find them too.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Payment reminder: If you still have any remaining balance due on your account, thanks for paying ASAP! You can bring a check to pick-up or mail it to us: Oakhill Organics, P.O. Box 1698, McMinnville OR 97128. You can also pay with any major credit card here: Thank you!

Place your order:

Please select the vegetable items you'd like to receive this week, to total to your share size. If you order 2 (or 3) of something, it counts as 2 (or 3) items. Some items are limited, as marked.
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

Humility and the earth

Potato in French: “Pomme de terre” … literally: “fruit of the earth” A very humble vegetable!

Did you know that the word “humility” originates from “humus,” or soil? I imagine that the tie between humility and the earth evolved as a metaphorical connection. We might also say that a person who is humble is also “grounded” or “rooted,” and I’d guess that in most cases we are talking about a grouping of related concepts rather than a person who literally has roots growing from their feet!

Without those concepts, however, humility actually can become hard to define. Humility is a trait that many people value — it is the ability to recognize one’s own limits or faults, the choice to acknowledge the needs of others and to see that the world is much larger than one’s own immediate needs/wants/existence. But those are just individual aspects of humility that help us understand a concept hard to describe without metaphors but yet so easy to identify in another human being.

Even if we think we admire traits other than humility — as so many people seem to do if we are to believe celebrity culture and the election of narcissists to office — I think that we all still recognize humility in others and find it a deeply comfortable trait to be around. I don’t mean “comfortable” in an easy, there-is-never-work-to-be-done way. But relationships with people who are humble are comfortable because we know they are people who will meet us halfway in conflict. We know that when work does arise, someone who is humble, grounded, embodying the metaphors of soil, will not be afraid or unwilling to dig into that work as well. That creates an inherent sense of trust, simply in sensing that in the people around us.

As someone who has spent a lot of time digging in the actual soil — even literally kneeling and crawling on it — the metaphors and connections between those valued human traits and the earth make sense to me. I don’t want to make the claim that I am humble (especially because, well, that’s almost an impossible assertion to make as it seems to contradict itself simply in the statement!), but I feel comfortable saying that I find working in the soil to feel humbling. I experience this humbling on at least two levels:

First, the sensual experiences of being close to the earth — face deep into plant matter, hands touching soil and leaf and stem, knees holding my weight — feels like the posture of prayer. It triggers the same feelings of connection, awe, wonder, and gratitude that I have at times also felt kneeling in prayer in church. I have to believe that the kneeling on the soil came first, and that we adopted it for worship later to pull on this deeply rooted posture and all that it evokes in us — being close to the body of the earth, our sustenance, the layers of the past that are buried below us, the bones of our ancestors, the nutrients of formerly living things, the star dust.

When I have spent a day kneeling in this way, I feel different. It’s a deep well I can tap into again and again. The feeling isn’t elation; it isn’t power; it isn’t pride. All of those feelings seem to pull a person up, and there is a place for all of them. Instead it is very much a pulling down, a reminder that I too will join the ancestors below, that I will become part of what I am kneeling upon. But that feeling comes with a sense of comfort too, because I am being held up by the earth.

Does this experience magically turn me into a better, more moral, kinder person? I wish! Certainly even with that truly humbling experience, I am a human being on a journey. But revisiting the soil and that posture work their magic on me over time, and it is safe to say that the combination of years of farming plus years of general living have changed me in ways I would call “humbling.”

Along these lines, the work itself is humbling. Please do not be mistaken — farming is skilled work. Even the most “basic” tasks such as weeding requires some level of skill. And yet, it is repetitive work. Much like the house cleaning and cooking, it is work that is never “done.” And, in our culture, such work is given lower status. It is also work that can simply feel defeating at times, knowing that even a well-weeded row today may need to be weeded again in a week or two. In spite of the skill involved, it can feel so basic, so rudimentary.

As Casey and I have acquired more skill and expertise and experience elsewhere, some days it feels odd to then spend hours simply hoeing lettuce (as we did this weekend). By society’s standards, that might not be the best use of our time if we are also capable of doing other, “more skilled” or “more critical” or better paid (or even more interesting) tasks.

And yet. This is where it all begins. There is no concert without food. There is no medicine without food. There is no legislative bill without food. There is no higher education with food. There is no culture or society without food.

To be clear, I’m not trying to put farmers on a pedestal here — that energy sometimes seems just as misguided as being dismissive of farmers. I think that all workers are important (essential even!) in our complex, modern world. But, I do want to speak to my experience of spending hours and hours of my life engaged in repetitive, physical tasks on the farm and how that has reminded me again and again where it all begins. I think it is a privilege to live my life so close to the source. I have to admit that over the years, I’ve grown a more complicated relationship with tillage-based agriculture as we practice it in western cultures (I’m just not sure it’s in any way sustainable!), but organic farming is the best way we know how to produce food at this point in time.

And, given that the majority of people through time have spent a majority of their working time engaged in procuring food, this repetitive work again ties me to ancestors going back countless generations. Tending to plants, preparing ground, planting seeds, harvesting — this is work my grandmothers a hundred generations back would recognize in some fashion. This is part of the human experience. Even if I somehow became skilled in a million other Very Important Things, this work of weeding and kneeling is still necessary. Someone needs to do it, and by doing it myself, I remind myself that all my skills — any expertise I ever gain — comes back down to this. To the sustenance of the earth and the plants and animals that share this home with us. That’s it.

To me, these are the root experiences of “humility” — or at least of being “humbled” — the metaphors made manifest. Can we live every day, all day with the awareness that I dip into when I’m deep in my work? Probably no more than it’s realistic to carry the calm of meditation into every waking minute. But, just as regular meditation or prayer can — over time — change the thoughts, emotions, and patterns of a practitioner, I think the regular visiting of the earth can change us over time too.

All this to say that I think there’s no mistake in the connection between the traits of humility and the roots of the word itself. Whether a humble person spends hours weeding or not, humility seems to require some acknowledgement of how simple our lives are … how dependent we are on the natural world and each other … how finite our existence is here.

Kneeling or bending over for hours can be painful work, and I think that many people come to humility through pain. While it can be beautiful to really know and feel our finite reality (and our infinite connections and dependences), it can also hurt. There is a part of us that does not want to give up our sense of the strong, independent, highly capable, important self. But often life provides the hard lessons we need to help us learn: sickness, accidents, loss of loved ones, failures, mistakes. Each time we’re faced with one of these hard life moments, we can choose to push away, to ignore the compost building at our feet; or, we can kneel in it, thank it for the lesson, learn, be humbled.

Easy? No. Romantic? Really, actually, no. I think to truly understand the meaning of humility (both in farming and life), one needs to move way past romance and into the reality of pain. This work is so hard that no one ever arrives. We can recognize humility in others, but we probably never really truly feel it in ourselves. Because humility comes from the trying. The trying to do the best for ourselves and others. There is no arrival. Humility comes from living in the real messy world of humanity, where the weeds we pull today will inevitably regrow next week. And we just acknowledge that (again and again) and get to work.

The world needs people willing to do this unromantic, painful, dirty work. Yet in a world where people in power have to project a brand and a cultivate an image as a basic part of communication, it seems like a big challenge for many people in levels of influence to dig in and do the work. They often don’t really have room for failure on the public stage, and that’s a hard cage to live and work within. But I don’t think it’s impossible, and I’ve been heartened to see examples of leaders working to stay grounded, to be kind, to consider the needs of others. We need those examples and that work right now.

This feels like such a critical moment in history, as the entire world needs to work together to keep humanity healthy and thriving. It’s a moment when we’re all kneeling on the earth, whether we acknowledge it or not. We are all mortal in this moment and that mortality is not something we can ignore. How do we respond? Do we turn away and ignore and build a cage of self-importance? Or, do we dig in, humble ourselves, find out what there is to learn, do the work that we might need to keep doing over and over again?

It’s not sexy. It’s not romantic. It’s not flashy. But it takes us back to our roots, recognizing where we come from and what we need to thrive.

The soil is made of our ancestors — human, animal and plant — and we will join them before too long as well. With that knowledge, how shall we live? How shall we live together? That is my question these days, as I once again go out to harvest or sow.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables.

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Payment reminder! I emailed CSA statements recently with balances due for the season. The final payment is due by this Thursday, August 27. You can bring a check or cash to pick-up; mail one to us (Oakhill Organics, P.O. Box 1698, McMinnville, OR 97128); or pay with any major credit card online here: If you have questions about your balance due, you can email me: farm (at) oakhillorganics (dot) com

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables: Wow. We really had to pare down the list this week, since All The Things are On. This is the simple version of our Very Abundant August Offerings … And salad is back in the form of beautiful frizzy frisée!

Place your order:

Please select the vegetable items you'd like to receive this week, to total to your share size. If you order 2 (or 3) of something, it counts as 2 (or 3) items. Some items are limited, as marked.
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

Green pepper hummus sandwiches

Green peppers!

I just want to start out by saying the title of this newsletter refers to a memory — not to a serving suggestion. Green pepper season always takes me back to my time as an eater and a cook at Holden Village, a remote retreat center in the North Cascades of Washington.

For whatever reason, at Holden in the late 90s/early 00s, we cooked and ate a lot of green peppers. They were a staple ingredient in soups, casseroles and salads — and volunteers like me in the kitchen sliced and chopped them almost every day by hand. Since in the summers, we were feeding hundreds of people three meals a day, I remember chopping gallons of green peppers at a time. Literally gallons — we stored chopped vegetables in 4 gallon buckets in the walk-in cooler. Sometimes we’d chop multiple bins full each day. Chopping that many peppers, the seeds would become a challenge as they’d inevitably build up on the cutting board and start to feel impossible to get off the peppers.

But my most salient green pepper eating memory at Holden is of the “sandwich bar” we’d put out every morning for people who wanted to pack a lunch to take on a day hike. I will admit now that our packed lunch offerings were sometimes pretty limited. We only served meat twice a week at Holden back then, so there were no cold cuts. Instead, there was always peanut butter and jelly for folks who liked that option on their homebaked bread (which was never quite salty enough). Or for people who wanted something more savory, there was cheese. And homemade hummus (which was never quite salty enough). And sliced green peppers.

So, I carried many a lackluster (not quite salty enough) green pepper and hummus sandwich in my pack as I hiked to sublime vistas and glaciers and mountain lakes. It was a funny combination of peak beauty and dull, somewhat disappointing food. But, when you’re really hungry from mountain air and steep inclines, even a (not quite salty enough) green pepper and hummus sandwich will taste (almost) good.

It was while working in the Holden kitchen that I first learned the mind-blowing revelation that green peppers are really just … immature red peppers! I’m not sure if I’d ever given much thought to vegetables at all before Holden, so it’s not as thought I’d actually wondered about the origin of green peppers. But still, this information felt like a revelation, as though someone had just shown me the man-behind-the-curtain of this common ingredient in our communal mountain diet.

Since that time, I have obviously thought quite a lot more about vegetables of all kinds, including green peppers. We had a CSA member in our first year who would skip taking any green peppers in his share, because — as he said — “green peppers pollute all food.” I guess he really didn’t like green peppers. His assessment stuck with me over the years, and I will admit that there were times when I definitely thought green peppers were the inferior precursor to the later colored peppers. Because obviously, if green peppers are just unripe red peppers, then clearly they’re the inferior vegetable. Plus, there was the memory of all those (not quite salty enough) green pepper and hummus sandwiches.

But as I’ve spent more time learning and working with vegetables, including years and years of reading seed catalogs and growing different varieties, I’ve realized that the “green-peppers-are-just-immature-red-peppers” theory isn’t quite true. Because many vegetables are savored at different maturity levels. For example, I would never say that green onions are just immature dry onions; or that summer squash is just immature winter squash. While those vegetables are the same species; they clearly have been bred and grown to fit very different culinary roles. Likewise, a fresh fava bean is a very different food than dried fava beans. And green beans are different than dried beans. The difference is more than just maturity level, and usually we grow different varieties depending on our culinary goal with all of these.

It is also true, that we can pick most of the sweet peppers when they are in their green state and they are quite delicious. However, there are varieties of green peppers that have actually been bred to be picked as green peppers! And from a culinary standpoint, green peppers offer something unique from a mature colored sweet pepper. A fully mature sweet pepper will generally be much sweeter than a green pepper, and this is course part of their appeal. I mean, people like sweet things. But if “sweet” were the only desirable flavor in food and drink, a whole lot of strains of wine grapes wouldn’t even exist since they are less sweet than others! But of course there is a whole thriving wine industry that exists to promote other flavor profiles.

What happens when we dial back the sugar in a food? We can better appreciate other flavors that might underlie the sweetness but be hidden by it. I think this is the appeal of many wines, especially those produced here locally, and for me it is also the appeal of green peppers. Certainly green peppers and colored sweet peppers could be used almost interchangeably in most dishes, but there are times when I really just want to use the green version because I don’t want to build up the dish’s sweetness level. I’ve grown to really love the unique green flavor (and smell!) of a green pepper — especially when it has been sautéed well with onions and garlic in butter. That’s a good start to almost any dish, in my opinion. Interestingly, I find that I tend to prefer to use green peppers when the peppers will be cooked and mature colored peppers when the peppers will be raw. Again, different culinary roles call for different variations in maturity and varieties. And experiencing variety and diversity is part of what makes local eating so interesting and delicious to me!

It must be said that of course quality matters here a lot. The green peppers we were chopping (and slicing and dicing and chopping) by the gallon back at Holden were shipped in large crates from who-knows-where. I’m sure the varieties we were eating had been bred at least in part for their durability in shipping rather than for their flavor or texture. That is unfortunately true with much of the food sold, especially when it’s destined to be shipped long distances to institutional kitchens or grocery stores.

As a farm that harvests one day in advance for a very local market, we are able to focus our seed selection on varieties that have specifically been bred for their eating quality (as well as for their ability to thrive in an organic system — an important feature for us!). We are also able to deliver them with utmost freshness to our eaters. All of these features mean that our green peppers are actually pretty darn different than other green peppers. It’s too bad that CSA member so long ago wasn’t open to trying them to just see if maybe his mind could be changed.

(But actually, no judgment. We have learned that people’s tastes are very individual and even the most dedicated vegetable lover may have an item or two or three that he or she just cannot learn to love. It’s all good!)

All this to say that at this point in my life, I love green peppers. Maybe not on (not quite salty enough) bread with (not quite salty enough) hummus … but sautéed with zucchini and tomatoes and eggplant at the peak of summer? Yes, please! Which is why I was so excited with last week’s very abundant green pepper harvest. I hope you were excited about it too!

Our harvest is still ahead of us this week, and I look forward to seeing which items really shine in their abundance and flavor. Late summer is such a delicious time of year!

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

P.S. I should add that we actually ate plenty of truly delicious food at Holden too, including vegetables and fruit from local farms — oh the fruit! Those local farms are why Casey and I ended up farming actually, but that’s another story. And suffice to say the sandwich bar was not necessarily the high point of the kitchen’s offerings back in the day …

~ ~ ~

A note about apples this year … friends, you may have noticed that our earliest apples have some new blemishes this year. We have noticed too and are disappointed. We are going to be doing some research to learn what we can do to prevent it in future seasons. So far we’re not seeing it in the later maturing apples, so we hope it will just be with these first few varieties. Since the Honeycrisps in particular are SO yummy, we don’t want to miss out on these apples. But because of the blemishes, we are going to increase the amount of apples we give out per item to make up for any bits that go uneaten. If you prefer closer-to-perfect apples, we understand. We’ll let you know when that time comes again.

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables: SO MANY OPTIONS THIS WEEK! We’ve broken down the tomatoes by type this week so that you have a choice. There are the slicers, which are larger tomatoes (some traditional red and some heirloom types); roma/plum style, which are great for sauce or fresh salads; and the orange cherry tomatoes.

You’ll also notice some early signs of fall — notably the first winter squash of the season: spaghetti squash. We taste-tested one last week, and it was so delicious. We served it with a tomato/meat sauce on top. Yum! I also consider the arrival of the prune plums as a sign that fall is on its way. These are great for eating or for drying.

We’re taking a brief break from straight-up salad — this hot time of year is challenging for tender greens. But we have more growing for harvest again soon. And we have the cabbage again for making slaw. I also recommend making chopped salads with tomatoes, cucumbers, and mozzarella cheese (I made a big batch this weekend and we ate it all through the intensity of the heat wave).

Place your order:

Please select the vegetable items you'd like to receive this week, to total to your share size. If you order 2 (or 3) of something, it counts as 2 (or 3) items. Some items are limited, as marked.
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

And then there was one

13 years ago this month … two cuties started following us around the farm.

2006 and 2007 were significant years of change for Casey and me. We completed our Master’s degrees, moved from Bellingham, WA to McMinnville, started a farm business, bought land, and built a house. Might I point out that each of these “items” represents a lot of work, investment, and uncertainty?

Yet, with the energy that comes from being young and enthusiastic, we made it through what was essentially One Very Big Year. We moved into our new house on Earth Day of 2007 and started the lifelong work of Putting Down Roots in our new place.

We still had plenty to do — it was only our second season farming at all, and our first season farming this particular piece of land. We were so engrossed in developing systems and building infrastructure and buying much-needed equipment. But then early in that summer’s market season, the universe offered us an unexpected gift when one of our regular customers walked into our booth carrying the sweetest little white kitten. He had orange ears and cap and tail, and my whole insides went “squeeeeeeeee!”

When I inquired about said adorable kitten, the customer said, “His brother’s in the car.” Two little white cats with orange heads and tails! And they were available to a good home. For the first time in our adults lives, we were settled down in one place, planning to stay there for the foreseeable future (or, in more romantic terms, “until we die”). Kittens suddenly seemed like The Best Idea Yet.

So, we traded some vegetables for kittens and our customer let us borrow her carrier to bring them home from that market day. We gave our kittens the names of some of our favorite carrot varieties (Nelson and Mokum), in honor of their orange tails. And, so began a long farm friendship with these two very sweet cats who stole our heart right away.

The carrot-cat brothers

I wrote a bit about the farm animals earlier this year, including these cats of ours. They’ve lived here almost as long as we have, and it’s hard to imagine the farm without their presence, especially as they are present with us so much — accompanying us on field walks, greeting our guests, hanging out nearby while we harvest. Their white color make them stand out in the fields, and it’s so easy to spot them hunting in the field even if I’m in the house cooking a meal. They felt like such a permanent part of the farm, but of course even the most awesome farm cats are, in fact, mortal.

Early last week, we noticed we hadn’t seen Nelson in over a day. At the age of 13, he had been slowing down, hanging out closer to the house more, and we doubted he would go on a long cat adventure without checking in. We searched for him on our property and called to him with the the special “kitty-calling” whistle that Casey and Dottie both can do so well (and Rusty and I kind of can’t). I checked with neighbors. But there was still no sign of him.

Finally on Saturday, our neighbor to the south reported seeing a cat in his orchard, just across the road from our property. Casey and he checked, and sure enough, there was Nelson’s body. We were so relieved to find him and have an answer, but we were so sad to give up the hope that he’d return to us whole and happy. We buried him right away, thanking him for a wonderful 13 years of companionship.

Kitten Nelson

In a year when so much we love has been stripped out of our life, it felt especially hard to lose this furry part of our family. We have felt especially sad for his brother Mokum, who has definitely noticed the absence of his companion as well. We’ve all given him extra snuggles, which has helped us and hopefully helps him too.

Maybe the universe has more kittens to send our way sometime soon — when we’re ready again. But for now we’re cherishing our memories and missing this sweet animal who walked with us through so many farm changes. Thank you Nelson for being a part of our farm and our life!

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Final CSA payment due August 27! I’ll be emailing CSA statements to everyone later this week to remind you about the final CSA payment of the year — this will include your balance due for the remainder of the year. You can bring checks to pick-up or mail them to us: Oakhill Organics, P.O. Box 1698, McMinnville OR 97128. You can also make your final payment with any major card: If you have any questions about your balance due, please just email me.

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables: We’re in full summer mode now. Enjoy all the delicious flavors, colors, and textures! Once again, I recommend the cabbage for summer cole slaw. I made a quick easy slaw for dinner last night. I pulsed a cabbage and carrots in the food processor to make small bits and then dressed them with a very simple dressing of equal parts apple cider vinegar, olive oil, and plain yogurt. It was delicious and so easy!

Place your order:

Please select the vegetable items you'd like to receive this week, to total to your share size. If you order 2 (or 3) of something, it counts as 2 (or 3) items. Some items are limited, as marked.
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment


Sunflowers in Dottie’s garden

Here we are at the beginning of August, facing another turn in the season. In the fields, the majority of the action turns from leafing and flowering to fruiting and maturation. Our planting and sowing work is almost over, and from here on out, we’ll be mostly focused on harvest, harvest, harvest.

Fittingly, we started putting a few items in the freezer for the winter this weekend. We’ve had some years when we spend a lot of energy on “putting up” food, but since we farm year-round and grow lots of storage crops (cabbage, apples, etc.), there’s really not much pressure to do much preserving or putting up anymore. Either way, as long as we keep up with our farming work, we’ll have food to eat. But it certainly is special to bake with blackberries in January or add corn to chili in February, so this year we’re at least putting a few items in the freezer for later.

A friend and I were discussing August’s energy today at length. It feels like a poignant time to me, tinged with the golden light that makes beautiful moments feel touched by nostalgia even while they are happening. There’s an awareness that the summer will end and in not that long. Even as harvests pick up, there’s a lazy feel in the air and a desire to soak in the activities that can only happen in this warm part of the year — notably, swimming in the river. We hear crickets now at dusk, and the swallows come out by the hundreds at the same time. All harbingers of changes to come. Not yet, but not too far away either. It’s time to prepare, for sure.

August’s glow can also turn harsh at times too — when there is dust or wildfire smoke in the air and the heat bears down on people and the landscape. I felt some of that (the dust especially) over this last week. They are reminders that if we kept on this trajectory, we would shrivel and dry up before too long. We need that return to the wet and dark in order to recharge the aquifers and keep the forests alive.

Also, in August the flavors and colors on our plates intensify with all the fruits of the late summer season. We hope you enjoyed the sampling of the first tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant of the year — what we anticipated as being a small item ended up being plentiful indeed! August can surprise us that way with its gifts of abundance!

Ratatouille …

One of our favorite ways to appreciate the flavors of August is by making a simple ratatouille dish. This is a classic seasonal stew that exists, in my mind, to honor and highlight the flavors that only exist in late summer.

My method of making it is very simple. Gather the appropriate summer ingredients: onions, garlic, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers. The ratios don’t matter much, because this is a fresh seasonal food intended to reflect the garden’s offerings. To keep it simple, I don’t even peel the tomatoes.

Chop everything. I always start by melting butter or olive oil in a large pan. Then I sauté the onions, garlic and peppers until soft, then I add the tomatoes and let them start to stew. Finally, I add the zucchini and eggplant and let the whole thing stew until the flavors are melded and the vegetables are soft. It’s a stew, so I like to cook things until they’re pretty mushy, but I’ve eaten ratatouille where the vegetables are firmer, and it’s delicious too!

Honestly, this simple dish is excellent because it starts with excellent ingredients. Your main job as cook is to not burn it (a good pan is key here, along with stir) and let the ingredients go through an alchemical transformation in your pan. Salt to taste and serve with cheese or bread or salad or steak (or all four!). It’s also delicious served over pasta, rice, or potatoes. Leftovers are yummy too.

To even further enhance the August-eating experience, I recommend eating it outside. Just watch out for yellow-jackets, because they are part of August too! I’ll be making ratatouille this August — how about you?

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

P.S. We also had our annual organic inspection this last week, and it went well! It always feels good to have that particular hoop behind us for the year.

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables: The hardest part of this week’s CSA experience is going to be choosing your vegetables! August is abundant in options! New this week: summer cabbage! These summer cabbage varieties are much less dense than winter storage cabbage, making them especially well suited to cole slaw. Our salad supplies are limited at the moment, so we encourage you to consider slaw for this week’s menu!

Also, carrots are back!

Place your order:

Please select the vegetable items you'd like to receive this week, to total to your share size. If you order 2 (or 3) of something, it counts as 2 (or 3) items. Some items are limited, as marked.


Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

So, you might homeschool this year …

What paths will the children walk this year?

Longtime readers of the newsletters will know that we homeschool our two children, Rusty and Dottie, and have been doing so for their entire education so far. I guess by today’s standards, my six years of home education experience would make me a “homeschooling veteran.” Homeschooling has been a very positive choice for our family (and one that pairs well with our farming lifestyle), but in recent years we’ve watched as our kids’ peers and their families have slowly made the decision to send their kids to school, shrinking our group of fellow home educators.

However, this next year is going to shift that tide dramatically, as we are hearing that many families (for various reasons) are choosing to homeschool this year rather than send their kids to school or participate in some of the hybrid programs being proposed. I want to be up front and say that I have mixed feelings about this! While our family has thrived with our choices, we are also supporters of all kinds of education and strongly support the public school system and want to see it thrive over the long-term as well. We support families’ choices to do what feels best in this tumultuous year, and we are also actively wishing the best for all the teachers and students in the school system.

That being said, there are now a lot of parents who are making this choice who are wondering how to make best use of a potential year of homeschooling their children. A lot of these parents have never considered homeschooling before and don’t even really know what it looks like in practice. I’ve been there myself! Homeschooling is inherently very different in form and function than classroom-based education — there are pros and cons to both forms of learning, and the key is to identify the strengths of being at home and work with those.

I’ve actually already written an essay for new homeschooling parents on my other website ( — an unfinished side project that always needs more attention than it gets from me), but that essay was directed at parents intentionally choosing these lifestyle for the long-term future. I feel like parents who are doing this as a survival choice during the pandemic have a different set of needs and I wanted to write out some tips here to share with any of our CSA members who might be in this boat or who might know someone who could use some help starting down this path.

Caveats: I’m not an expert or a professional consultant. While I have read plenty on the topic of home education for my own benefit, I only have the direct experience of my own students, the oldest of whom will be entering 5th grade this year. What works for our family won’t work exactly the same for any other family, so while I will mention a few of our Favorite Things (all secular programs), this newsletter is intended to provide more general ways of thinking about how to approach learning at home. In writing it, I am assuming a family who is charting their own course, but there are many variations of how to proceed, including participating in online-based homeschooling programs or hybrid programs. Obviously every family will need to carefully weigh their own needs as they go down this new path this year. Which leads me to my first piece of advice:

Determine your homeschooling goals. I encourage all new homeschooling families to be intentional about setting goals. Even if your ultimate goal is to keep an immunocompromised family member healthy, I recommend coming up with a positive framing of what you want to accomplish in your home education this year.

Do you simply want to keep your student at grade level? Do you want to help a student with dyslexia catch up with reading skills? Do you want to build special family memories? Take some time to dream here. Even if it feels overwhelming at first, a year of home learning is also an opportunity to be intentional about this stage of your student’s education.

Rethink what education looks like. This is always my biggest piece of advice to any new homeschooler. Few of us parent-teachers were homeschooled ourselves and so the classroom-based model is our primary example of how education works. I encourage you to let go of a lot of what you know from that model. A closer model to how home education actually works is one-on-one tutoring, which you may or may not have experience with but perhaps can imagine. In a context where there is one teacher for one or a small number of children, it is much easier to gauge a student’s progress without needing them to “make” a lot of things (worksheets, tests, quizzes, etc.). These systems work well for gauging student progress and keeping students engaged in a bigger group, but they can be exhausting to do at home. Likewise, neither you or your student would probably enjoy lectures in this context!

This point is one reason why I am personally very cautious about many online or school district-based homeschool charter programs. They often pack a lot more “deliverables” into a week than I think is really doable for most students and home teachers. They often do this because they are trying to replicate what might have happened at school but at home. The online and distance charter programs have the advantage of being free and convenient, which can totally make participating worth it. But remember that your job as the parent-teacher is to ensure your child is learning, which is ultimately a very different thing that ensuring your student is completing every worksheet, quiz, and checkbox. Don’t let the program’s expectations kill your family’s joy in learning.

So, whichever options you select, I would strongly urge you to always remember that the curriculum exists to serve your student — not the other way around. There are ways to learn without exhausting “busy work.” And of course some students love the progress they feel from doing a good workbook — every student is different! But a lot of students and teachers find it hard to keep up the same pace of classroom-style “deliverables” at home that is normal and expected in school. It just feels very different. If you choose a charter or online program, ask up front how much leeway you have for skipping assignments or tests.

Our family’s home education experience has been very light on classroom-style “deliverables.” We do a lot of reading together from quality “living” books (as opposed to textbooks). These are books on our subjects that are written with literary quality and are often suitable to being read aloud. We discuss what we’ve read or I have the children “narrate” or “tell back” what they read as a way to demonstrate comprehension and synthesis. Since Rusty is older, he’ll often respond to readings in writing to practice his writing skills as well. Much of this work happens cuddled on the couch or sitting at the kitchen table. Kids read on their own curled up in any place of their choosing.

Prioritize key subjects. If you are only planning to homeschool for the duration of the pandemic, then it probably doesn’t make sense for you as the one teacher to try to tackle every single subject they might have learned in school (at least, not in the same ways!). For example, science experiments at home can be challenging — it’s certainly not impossible and many homeschooling parents do incorporate lab-like science at home. Likewise, if you don’t speak a second language, teaching one can be difficult. But honestly if you’re homeschooling as a survival choice, I would recommend keeping your focus on the continued development of the more sequential learning skills that will help your student jump right back into their school-based education again.

So, to me that would be focusing on math, reading and writing skills. There are many excellent math programs out there specifically written for use at home (or that work well in that context). We personally use RightStart math, which has a very hands-on, interactive, game-based approach to building mathematical thinking skills. As the teacher, I love it because it’s entirely scripted, making it easy for me to use. This is an important element of keeping things prioritized and focused! The teacher can easily get burnt out trying to do too much as well! Other programs people seem to love in the homeschooling world are Math-U-See, Saxon, and Singapore. All of these meet common core standards. Ultimately much of STEM success comes down to basic grounding in math, so even if you can’t teach your child engineering or lab-based chemistry this year, if you can improve their math skills, they’ll be well equipped to jump back into any kind of science or technology course in the future. (Have the time and energy to do full-on science at home this year? Pandia Press has great offerings in their REAL Science Odyssey series for elementary and middle school.)

(EDIT — I forgot to mention another great easy-to-do-at-home science resource for Oregon kids grades 3rd-6th: Ellie’s Log and subsequent books introduce students to different Oregon ecosystems, concepts of ecological sciences, and nature notebooking. They’re SUPER sweet illustrated books that share the information through stories told from a child’s perspective. You can order all three from the book’s website as well as find useful supportive educational materials.)

For learning to read, our family has great success with the phonics-based program All About Reading. Even for students who can already read independently, I would recommend doing a combination of reading aloud to your student regularly and asking them to read on their own regularly. I still read aloud to my students every day even though they are excellent readers, because it allows me to expose them to language and ideas that are perhaps more advanced than what they might be able to tackle on their own. This keeps their language skills growing ahead of their current reading abilities. (Audio books can help with this too!) For an excellent evidence-based explanation of the power of reading aloud, I highly recommend The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. It also contains a wonderful collection of book recommendations for all ages and on many subjects. Really, if I were forced to give only one reading recommendation to every homeschooling parent-teacher, it would be this book. I really love the seventh edition but apparently the newer eighth edition has been updated with more contemporary book recommendations.

I would also recommend reading a combination of quality fiction and non-fiction. Again, there are good recommendations in the Trelease’s book, but there are good book lists on the internet everywhere. You can search by age or reading level or grade. I also sometimes use Amazon algorithms to find new books based on books we’ve enjoyed. I go to that book and scroll down to the spot where it shares what people who viewed this book also viewed. I’ve found some great books there (that I then check out from the library!).

Reading is also a way to incorporate more subjects into your learning, especially topical subjects such as history and science. While it may feel daunting to tackle science experiments, it’s easy (and wonderful!) to read books about science or technology. There are many wonderful biographies about famous scientists written for many age levels, and these can be a simple way to incorporate history and science into a year. For example, Jane Goodall has a wonderful autobiography written for younger readers. Joy Hakim has a two-part history of science written for middle school and up (we also love her American history series, History of US). For high schoolers, I’d recommend going straight for the plethora of excellent science books written for adult lay readers (for example, Andrea Wulf’s award-winning biography of Humboldt: The Invention of Nature; or Carl Safina’s ground-breaking book on animal emotions: Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel). Being immersed in quality texts is an amazing brain-builder, so if you can just read to your student and get them to read every day, they will grow academically.

Personally, I love planning our reading selections for each year based on the topics and historical eras I want to cover. However, choosing books does require some level of understanding of your student’s reading level, interests and ability. That’s definitely simpler when you’ve already been homeschooling. There are several excellent curricula for homeschoolers that take some of the guesswork out of the process. I have not used any of these personally, but I regularly see these programs highly recommended: Build Your Library (available for K-12), Blossom and Root (K-4), and Torchlight (K-4). All of these secular programs provide a structure around using quality books that you would buy independently from your local bookstore or even just borrow from the library. They’re very much “curl-up-on-the-couch” kind of programs. All offer a wide scope of ideas and learning opportunities in each level. Pair one of these with a good math program, and you’d have a solid year of learning.

But, again, remember that choosing the “perfect” curriculum or reading plan is not the most important part of home learning — it’s more important to be consistent with whatever you use and get your student engaging with quality texts every day. Those book don’t need to be from any particular planned curriculum in order to get the benefits! I just offer examples in case it’s a helpful way to plan your year. These programs also provide great examples of age-appropriate quality literature and non-fiction books, and you can see their lists on their websites to get more ideas.

Incorporating writing can be as simple or as complicated as seems appropriate to your student and their age. For folks who are only planning to homeschool for the pandemic, I would probably recommend thinking about writing more holistically rather than focusing on academic writing. For the youngest students, doing a page in a handwriting notebook (Handwriting Without Tears is a good program), a phonics lesson, and then narrating a text orally is probably sufficient daily Language Arts work. For the older elementary student, adding in a pen pal relationship, doing written narrations, or starting to write short stories can be a great way to expand skills. We haven’t used it, but many homeschoolers enjoy the Brave Writer program for extending writing practice. For students wanting to dive deep into academic writing from home, I’ve heard good things about the Institute for Excellence in Writing.

Develop a simple daily rhythm. Once you know the basic scope of your year, it’s time to think about how you want your day to flow. Again, this is an area where it’s important to think about sustainability, both for teacher and student. It’s also important to think about balancing inside sitting-still time with active outside time.

I find that starting our day works best if it doesn’t feel hard — it needs to feel organic and natural to begin our learning process each day or we will all stall starting in the morning … Also, as I said earlier, home education in the tutor-style is very different from classroom-based learning. It’s significantly more efficient, so most homeschoolers spend many fewer hours “doing school” each week than the hours students spend in the traditional classroom. But I find it’s still important to have a plan for how/when we make our more directed of learning happen (obviously, learning can occur during play or free-reading or anytime!).

In our family, this has worked out to a rhythm of doing school four mornings a week. This frees our afternoons up for other activities (music lessons, hikes) and following our individual interests (playing outside, reading graphic novels, doing puzzles, etc.). So far, that has been enough time each week for us to complete our educational goals over a 36-week school year. Typically we start each day reading together on the couch. Each week, I organize our readings in a basket in the living room, and all I have to do is say, “Reading time!” and the kids each choose a book before we all tumble on to the couch. It’s a very sweet, simple way for us to start our learning day.

After that, the kids each take turns with me at the kitchen table working on math and any other one-on-one subject work we need to do (for example when we were doing phonics or spelling instruction). The other student usually uses this time to take a “brain break” by playing outside, working on their independent reading projects, or practicing music. Finally, we come together for a little online Spanish practice. I try to make sure that each of them has an opportunity to take breaks but also remembers to return to focus. While we only spend a few hours four days a week on school, I want to make sure we’re all fairly focused in that time. While I encourage brain breaks, I also equally encourage staying focused when actually doing work. To that end …

Share your expectations. As you and your student(s) embark on this new adventure, be explicit about sharing your expectations of them (in an age-appropriate way). I like to actually draw up a daily rhythm for all of us at the beginning of each new school year so everyone knows exactly how the day will go and what my expectations are for their engagement. This seems like an obvious step, but it’s actually really easy to miss in the teaching relationship. And your student is as new to this as you are. They may literally need you to tell them that you expect them to sit at the table for ten minutes with you and pay attention for math.

It also behooves you to be realistic about your expectations. I’ve always tried to tailor our work sessions to my children’s natural attention spans, ending just before their minds start to wander. For young kids, this can mean lessons as short as ten or fifteen minutes! But if those minutes are focused and you do it every day, you can make a lot of progress over a school year.

It will take time to establish rhythms and expectations, so be patient and persistent and reasonable. This is a reason to keep things as simple as possible!

Be present for your student. On a similar note, in my experience many homeschooling teachers fail to realize ahead of time how present they might need to be for their students. Wouldn’t it be convenient if we could just hand off a math worksheet and walk away to wash the dishes? However, in my experience, that’s rarely how students work best. I still sit with my students for the entirety of their math lessons, even when they are working independently on a problem set. Being present and holding the space for our students’ learning is incredibly simple, very powerful and yes somewhat exhausting and boring at times. But I want to emphasize how powerful it is at helping students stay focused and accomplish quite a lot in a short amount of time. Paradoxically, if you can invest the time to really being present when needed, it can free up more time for other activities for both of you later. For parents who need to also work at home, it can be hard to invest that focused time with a student, but it’s really important if you can make it work.

I also think it’s super helpful to know how normal this is so as to avoid becoming annoyed or aggravated with our students (and be present might even be necessary for older students in certain subjects too!). Rather than “disciplining” them for not meeting our expectations, we can simply remember that they still need our help in this area and provide it as needed. This is really one of the biggest keys to making home education work — understanding the basic developmental levels of our students and helping to scaffold their learning. Being realistic about their abilities also helps us to …

Prioritize relationships. Ideally, your year of homeschooling will benefit and improve your relationship with your students! There really is much potential for positive intimacy and growth between a parent-teacher and student-child in the home education experience. If you can keep those education interactions positive, then it can be a really beautiful shared experience. My students and I have so many shared inside jokes based on books we’ve read together and we have all enjoyed having me be learning right along with them much of the time!

But it’s really important to keep the relationship in mind and step back if things get tense. Certainly, it’s important to share your [reasonable] expectations and help scaffold the learning so that student can meet those shared goals … and, some days even that simple concept might feel really hard. For whatever reason, some lessons will be trickier or some books not really well loved or some days just go funky. The learning progress happens over a whole year, so don’t get bogged down by days when it feels slow or hard. Remember: your ultimate goals are positive learning and positive relationships. Don’t let a curriculum’s goals overtake yours!

When things start to feel really strained, here’s my recipe for resetting the relationship and everyone’s moods: stop and go outside. Go play together or go on a walk or a bike ride or hike. Then, come back inside and curl up on the couch with a read aloud book that’s being read just for the joy of it. Start again with school goals the next day.

Follow the joy. As you plan your year, don’t forget that as home educators you can really do anything you love to do! Does your family have a particular passion or interest? Or something that you’ve always wanted to learn more about but haven’t had time? Do you want to learn something new? An instrument? A language? Does your family love to hike and want to schedule an entire day each week for exploring local trails and learning about native flora and fauna? Do you love playing board games? Does you child have an interest in primitive skills or learning to cook recipes from different cuisine traditions?

There are so many ways to learn and so many subjects that are rarely included in the traditional classroom curriculum. If you were to imagine a dreamy fun learning experience for your family, what would it look like? Give yourself permission to get creative and invest more time in the activities and subjects that really bring you delight. I always use my own joy as a big indicator as to whether we’re pursuing quality materials. The kids and I all really love history and music, so we read a lot of history and play music together. For another family, maybe painting every afternoon would bring joy and growth. What would help you and your student find delight in this unexpected adventure? Give yourself permission to emphasize those joys in your year!

Okay, I think that’s enough of a brain dump for now! I hope this is helpful rather than overwhelming at this point. Home education can be a wonderful adventure, and I really hope that everyone choosing that path can grow in positive ways this year. I am available for questions if anyone has specific quandaries that I might be able to help find answers to! Happy planning!

And, if you are a CSA member who is not homeschooling and you skipped to the end of the newsletter, here’s my usual wish for your week: Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables: Fun new items today! We’re going to take a break from kale as this kind of heat isn’t great for its texture. But we have the first of the year’s apples, a sampling of summer fruits (much more to come!), and new potatoes! Also, sunflowers — just for the joy of it.

Place your order:

Please select the vegetable items you'd like to receive this week, to total to your share size. If you order 2 (or 3) of something, it counts as 2 (or 3) items. Some items are limited, as marked.
Posted in Home learning, Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment