High summer mode

Planting fall and winter brassicas

This last week was 100% summer — which, to me, means life in the highest gear of the year. It was finally hot (even in the 90s!), and we farmed and played and all-around savored the season and its gifts. Some highlights:

I took the kids to the Yamhill County fair, where we checked on their horticultural entries. Participating in the fair is an annual tradition in our house and feels like it marks the high point of the season. They think ahead to their fair entries as early as February when they make their seed lists! They did well this year, earning three best-of-show awards and two sweepstakes between the two of them! Since we homeschool, I love that the fair gives them an opportunity to feel their hard work affirmed by someone other than a parent (they also have some great teachers in other areas of their life too).

We planted almost all of our fall and winter crops! Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and more. Just a few flats of starts remain up by the house, which we will plant this week in one of our high tunnels. Since we plant almost all season-long, reaching the finish line always feels like a very significant seasonal milestone. After the last few flats, we will have a break from transplanting until after the New Year.

We processed firewood for the winter! A very large, heavy limb fell from an oak tree at the weekly farm school program the kids attend, blocking the driveway to the classroom. We spent a hot part of Saturday chainsawing rounds and hauling branches — exchanging our clean-up labor for high quality firewood.

We attended two wonderful outdoor arts events: As You Like It at Stoller Vineyard (we love summer Shakespeare!) and a house concert by friend and harpist/poet Bethany Lee. As the hot days mellowed into warm evenings, we marveled in the magic of sharing music, laughter, and awe outside with others.

Dry fields at Baskett Slough

The kids and I hiked at Baskett Slough, where we were astonished at how very dry the landscape appeared. Our “sense” of the season is that we’ve had more rainfall than normal (which is true), and yet still here in the Willamette Valley summer drought prevails. Aside from the Queen Anne’s Lace flowers, most of the field plants and flowers were long past blooming and had set seeds, matured them, and were completely dry and brown. As we leaned our ears off the trail in one location, we could hear seeds popping out of dry pods (perhaps from vetch? It’s hard to identify all the plants at this stage). We also watched a very lethargic-looking bumblebee feed on a Queen Anne’s Lace and were able to see its tongue reach out for nectar from the flower. I had never seen a bumblebee’s tongue before!

And, we spent another wonderful day playing with friends at the river. The kids each have their own little kayaks this year, and they have both become so competent at paddling around the river, making smart use of eddies to go upstream and then riding the currents back down. They discovered a patch of soft sand on the far bank from our swimming spot and have spent the last three weeks building sand castles there, within adult eyesight but with a new level of independence from us too. It’s quite the jump in their freedom to be across the river from me, playing with their friends. We’ve spent every summer of their childhoods learning and practicing water safety, which helps make this possible for them (plus, life jackets!).

Last evening, we hosted a small group of folks for a farm tour, organized by OSU Extension (part of their summer “Crop Talks” series). We were delighted to meet farm-y types from around the region and share our story with them. We always provide lots of caveats when we show people around, making it clear that our farming journey has been just that: a journey, and one that we are still very much on. Things that worked for us in our second year on the farm might not be relevant anymore. And, likewise, what works for us might not work the same on another farm. But, nonetheless, there is so much value in connecting with other people who fundamentally love the land and this work. We shared a potluck afterward and enjoyed learning more about the kinds of projects other people are working on and what they dream of doing on their land in the future.

That’s a full week!!!! And just one week out of a wonderfully full summer. I love this time of year. I know I couldn’t sustain this level of activity year-round, but I don’t have to. The shifting of the seasons will bring a natural easing into new rhythms not too long from now. But I am going to savor every special summer activity while they last.

May you too be filled with the vibrant, golden joy of summer this week! And enjoy this week’s abundant summer vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Akane apples — This is a special treat! We first ate Akane apples in Bellingham, and we fell in love with this distinctive early apple (which is ready closer to the equinox in that more northern locale — right around when we would be back in town for fall quarter to start at school). When we put in our first orchard, we knew we wanted some of this special variety in the mix, but we’ve had years of disappointment. They just don’t do as well here as they do in Northwestern Washington. They mature too quickly and don’t develop the same sugars or flavors that they have in cooler climates. The trees themselves have struggled too. BUT! This year has been wetter and relatively cooler overall, and the result is that some apples are different this year, the Akanes included. They are, in fact, delicious! Enjoy!
  • Salad mix
  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Eggplant
  • Basil
  • Kale
  • Golden chard
  • Cucumbers
  • Zucchini
  • Potatoes
  • Shallots
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Summer’s monster!

Giant spiky leaves! Watch out!

Friends of ours have been hosting monthly potlucks with a twist: each one features a seasonal vegetable “theme,” giving attendees an opportunity to consider how they might creatively feature the main ingredient. This month’s veggie was zucchini! We ate oodles of zoodles, zucchini salads, zucchini bread, curry zucchini stew with lamb (our contribution), and more.

Before we ate, our host gave us all the opportunity to share our own personal stories about this vegetable, and it seemed everyone had something to share — mostly stories about zucchini gone wild and growing to mammoth proportions or about the lingering pain on the hands and arms after picking them.

Yes, zucchini do have spines on their giant leaves! And, they will certain leave a mark that can sting for many hours. And, the fruits grow amazingly fast. We pick ours at least twice a week, even though the CSA is only once per week. If we didn’t, we’d have gigantic fruit for pick-up, and we know that many people prefer to more moderate sizes (which usually feature fewer seeds and thinner skin, making them desirable for certain preparations).

Inevitably, however, we do miss a fruit or two at each picking. The dark green zucchini are especially good at blending into the shade of the plants, and by the time we get back to the planting, they will have tripled in size. Back at Cedarville Farm, where we trained in Bellingham, we used to call these missed zucchini “zucchini babies,” because they often ended up being about the weight, shape, and length of a large bundled human baby. On one particularly goofy day (probably fueled by the consumption of donuts and a blend of instant coffee and hot cocoa that we called “jet fuel”), we wrapped several zucchini babies in towels and drew on baby faces with a permanent marker, then rocked them in our arms and laughed and laughed.

I think there is something naturally hilarious about a vegetable that can seem so monstrous — spikes! rapid growth! and prolific! oh my! This humorous aspect is what inspires so many “leaving-zucchini-on-the-neighbors-door-step-and-running” type of jokes in August.

But, you know what? I love this vegetable. Both for and in spite of its hilarious features. I love how it produces and produces and produces, the living embodiment of a season that seems to provide us with endless abundant gifts. Practically speaking, I love how versatile it is. I will admit, I am a fan of “mushy” food. I love well-cooked stews with complex flavor profiles and things of that nature (when I first tasted Indian food as a child, I thought I was in heaven!). Zucchini is so well suited to such applications — it can carry the flavor of whatever seasonings you desire to add (Italian, middle eastern, Indian). It can also be roasted or cooked to be al dente too, in a pan, oven, or on the BBQ. Zucchini pairs naturally well with many other summer season vegetables too: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, onions, cauliflower, potatoes … we’ll begin making regular batches of ratatouille soon — a summer favorite for us.

Tomorrow we’ll mark the halfway point of summer (celebrated as “Lammas” by some). Sunset is already coming earlier, but we are at the peak of what will be a long harvest season here in Oregon. In honor of zucchini and summer’s abundance, here is one of our all-time favorite poems of the season:

The Arrival
Wendell Berry

Like a tide it comes in,
wave after wave of foliage and fruit,
the nurtured and the wild,
out of the light to this shore.
In its extravagance we shape
the strenuous outline of enough.

Now is the time to celebrate and offer our gratitude for these gifts — zucchini included! Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Shiro plums
  • Chehalis apples — The first of THIS YEAR’s apple crop!!!!! These are our earliest apple, and they are just now maturing into deliciousness. We’ll offer these for several weeks, and you’ll get to taste and experience how the flavor and texture will change as they continue to mature on the trees.
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers & eggplant
  • Salad mix
  • Red Russian kale
  • Golden chard
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower & broccoli
  • Zucchini
  • Cucumbers
  • New potatoes
  • Shallots
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How do we spend our time?

Casey, harvesting salad in the morning

Do you think much about how you spend your time? This seems to be a big topic for discussion and analysis between my friends and I, as we juggle quite a lot of responsibilities and goals in this stage of our life. One friend and I in particular will have long conversations about how we structure our weeks and our days, always working toward what might be the best possible rhythm for balancing work with leisure and everything in between.

But, of course, if there’s just too much all around, then that juggling won’t ever achieve a magic balance. Or, even if there’s just the perception of too much, it can be hard (or impossible!) to ever feel the satisfaction of being done for the day.

I’ve been thinking of this a lot lately from several angles. First, still from the question of how patterns and rhythms to the days — especially as we move toward the start of the school year, I wonder how to best order our days and weeks to accomplish our homeschool goals, social needs, and my work load on the farm. It is possible! I know, because we’ve done it several years before! But, from the standpoint of July (when the farm work seems endless), it’s hard to always trust that a fall rhythm is doable.

But I’ve also been thinking about it in terms of distractions and discipline. What I mean is: I’ve been thinking (again!) about screens and their role in my life. I can plan all day long to have a productive day doing x, y, and then z, but if I get distracted by something bright and shiny on social media, all my plans can be thwarted! I know that I’m not alone in this. It’s a conundrum.

Perhaps for this reason, I love reading books and articles about the latest research and analysis about screen use. How have these technologies changed us as people? This fascinates me! I also find myself perpetually envious of people who take extended “social media breaks” or whatnot. I often feel nostalgic for a world before smartphones, when our networks were based more on real-life interactions. Nostalgia can be distracting and misleading too, of course, but I’m just being honest about how my heart feels some of the time.

Recently I read two books purporting to help readers find a healthy relationship with digital communication technologies: How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell, and Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport.

In How to Do Nothing — a book I mentioned in an earlier newsletter as well — Odell herself explores the question of how to resist through several extended essays. Her closest thing to an “answer” is the pursuit of bioregionalism — that is knowledge of and interaction with the specific places where we live. She concludes that we can’t just create a vacuum by cutting ourselves off of social media but we need to replace it with something richer and fuller. She herself enjoys bird watching in her native bioregion, the Bay Area. I love this idea (and fully embrace such pursuits in my own life), but I find it a bit naive to think that pursuing something wonderful, such as bird watching, will be sufficient to reduce a person’s engagement in the so-called “attention economy” of social media notifications and 24-hour news cycle websites, etc. Bright and shiny (or alarming!) things tend to overrule the more everyday, less “in-your-face” world of reality. Alas!

I did enjoy Newport’s take on how to be a “digital minimalist.” He is more interested in creating structures and discipline for oneself, and not surprisingly his approach is reminiscent of Marie Kondo and her popular brand of minimalism! Rather than just trying to “cut back” on our internet use throughout the day, he proposes that we schedule when we use the internet (or check email or social media or whatnot) to limited times. Furthermore, he suggests limiting what forms of such technologies we use to those that have clear benefits for us (rather than just assuming that every new app or social media will be beneficial). So, for one person maybe that means having an Instagram account they check every other day, but no Facebook or Twitter. Or, reading one good aggregate news website once a day rather than checking several websites throughout the day. Either way, he definitely recommends physically cutting back of the types of exposure one regularly has. His advice is akin to suggesting that someone not keeping foods in the house that he is trying to avoid — remove the temptations by deleting unwanted accounts and clearly scheduling use of others.

It’s all great advice! But just the last two days I’ve found myself getting sucked into extended text back-and-forth conversations that bypassed all of those kinds of intentions. There were things that needed to be sorted out; plans to be made; unexpected challenges to be addressed. So there I was, in the piano studio texting to Casey during the kids’ piano lesson; in the fields, texting with a friend; in the kitchen, texting with an acquaintance. From one perspective (such as Cal Newport’s strong thesis that we need lots of uninterrupted time to do good work), those were failure moments. I was definitely interrupting myself each time to respond.

But, again, they were absolutely necessary conversations to have. And, that’s the thing: a lot of what we do via our phones is maintain and build relationships. Not all of it — I know people do a lot of scrolling, and I certainly get sucked into that occasionally (but I highly recommend installing a Facebook feed blocker to anyone who wants to spend less time unintentionally scrolling!). But most of the time that I spend on my phone is time navigating the topsy-turvy world of people and relationships: making plans, changing plans, figuring out challenges, etc.

When any of us sit down to write out our ideal work schedules for business or home, I think it’s so easy to forget all of those relationships. On paper, life can be so productive! No interruptions! But real life is every so much more complicated. Washers break (this happened here this week!). Kids get splinters. People have questions all around. I mean, sooooooo many things happen in daily life that need attention at home, on the farm, in the workplace.

I don’t know to what extent communication technologies have allowed us to increase the pressure of relationship demands (if at all), but for me it’s important to remember not to blame my phone for every distraction that comes along! Or to dream that without it my life would be simpler. I do love to entertain that possibility, but that misses the point that life is complicated. Relationships are complicated.

And wonderful too, of course. Casey and I feel so blessed to live in a thriving community, with friends and family nearby. We love being involved in projects that foster community in real life, even if that involves spending time interacting digitally. It’s really and truly ALL GOOD.

So, when I return to my ideal weekly and daily rhythms with that perspective, it’s easier to see that over all the tidy blocks of time, there are other layers happening all the time too. I can block off three hours for school with the kids in the morning, and I can also realize that some of this time may be simultaneously used to sustain other connections. I can schedule to harvest for the CSA, knowing that I may field questions about another part of our life during that time — and I will still finish the harvest! Is this layered approach to life the “most efficient”? I’m not sure! But does it work? It seems to!

Perspective then can change so much about how we allow ourselves to rest into the reality of juggling many things. Gratitude for our relationships can help us feel content at the end of a full day, even if not every task on the list got completed.

Summer is always a good time for this kind of analysis for me, when the days are literally longer and often very full. May you too find some fresh perspective this summer on the reality of your life — in all its distracting blessings and work and play.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Plums
  • Apples
  • Salad mix
  • Green beans
  • Basil – Big bags of basil this week! The plants have been loving the extra heat we’ve had in the last week, so there’s plenty! Pesto time!
  • Beets
  • Zucchini
  • Cucumbers
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Golden chard
  • Potatoes
  • Fresh shallots
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All weather has impacts

Casey picking plums for this week’s CSA — his shirt makes a great soft spot for landing plums!

What a summer this has been so far! Or, hasn’t been.

What we have experienced: significant rainfall in July! What we have not experienced: dusty, dirty skies; intense heat waves; intensely dry days.

So, it’s different than what we’ve come to expect here in the Willamette Valley for July (which usually full of those things I listed above). Most folks I talk to seem to be rejoicing in the more comfortable season, and I can definitely see the effects of it in the environment around us. Trees that might be showing the earliest signs of drought stress are still mostly just green. In our orchards, we can see that our earliest apples are maturing more slowly, which might actually lead to better quality, as sometimes the summer heat can be too intense for them. We had almost perfect germination in our fall brassica sowing and field-sown carrots — which often struggle to germinate on hot mid-summer days. Not this year!

There are of course also expected slow downs in the maturity of all kinds of crops. Our tomatoes are just now starting to ripen, later than our typical early July (for cherry tomatoes). Overall, our harvest lists remind us more of late June than mid-July. But, unexpected seasons such as this certainly keep us on our toes, always watching and learning from the farm and our larger environment!

I do hope that we still get some days warm enough to invite dips into the river (which hasn’t been overly appealing just yet). While the heat can be hard on us humans, it also provides those unique summer opportunities that I hope we’ll still get to enjoy to some degree this year. It is, after all, only mid-July.

Beautiful plums!

But, even with the feeling of delay in the fields, we’re excited about this week’s share, which leans more heavily on the warm-season fruiting crops: green beans! plums! zucchini! cucumbers! We also have lots of salad mix for summer salads and lots of new potatoes (perhaps for summer potato salads???). Overall we chose to harvest fewer individual items, but there are ample amounts of what we do have, and it’s all top-notch quality!

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Plums
  • Green beans — The first of the summer green beans! What is your favorite way to eat them? We love to sauté them with onions and eat them plain or add meat to make into a main dish. We also love to roast them in a pan with butter and garlic.
  • Cucumbers
  • Lettuce mix
  • Fennel
  • New potatoes — A mix of types!
  • Cabbage
  • Zucchini
  • Fresh onions
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On potatoes

Potato blooms!

There’s so much I could write about this week, not the least of which is this July rain that’s surprised us the last few days! But the potato plants are in full bloom now, and in their honor, I thought I would share some random potato facts with you all this week.

First of all, yes, the potato plants are blooming, but just in case I confused anyone with this detail, I will clarify that potatoes are tubers — they grow under the ground, at the ends of roots from the plant. It’s actually quite fun to dig through the loose dirt and find potatoes, such as this afternoon when Casey and I harvested beautiful bright pinkish red skinned potatoes from the brown earth.

Potatoes are propagated from cut potato tubers too, which are buried in the ground and then reburied as the plants begin to grow, forming a loose “hill” of earth in which the tubers can form easily (and loose enough to dig through at harvest time as well). As we dig for the fresh new ones, we still see the remnants of the cut pieces of potato that we planted this spring (with CSA member help!). But though the blooms don’t end producing useful (to us) fruits or seeds, the flowers still signify a certain level of maturity of the potato plants. We know that when we start seeing blossoms, we can begin digging for potatoes.

Though there are enough good-sized potatoes for us to dig this week, the plants will continue producing bigger and more potatoes for several weeks to come. As the season goes on, the volume of potatoes that we will dig from each plant will increase until the plants themselves reach their maturity and then begin to senesce at the end of the season. The plants will begin to lose their vitality and will eventually be killed by the arrival of cold.

Before the plants finally die, they will have produced a large handful of potatoes per plant, and even after they are doing growing potatoes, the potatoes benefit from extra time in the ground to “cure.” This is simply the extra time between maturation and harvest, which allows the skins on the potatoes to grow slightly thicker so that when we harvest them for winter storage they won’t mar in our handling. The texture of the inner flesh also changes during curing and then again in long-term storage, which is why “new” potatoes (such as we have in this week’s share) have a different texture than winter storage potatoes. In our house, we love both variations and are glad for the difference experience over the season.

Potatoes originally came from South America and were only introduced to European diets in the 16th century. It took years before European farmers and eaters embraced the new crop, which is fundamentally different than familiar grains, both in terms of its cultivation and culinary value (though it has a very similar macronutrient profile, being primarily a source of starchy carbohydrates). In 19th century France, King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette helped popularize the potato by wearing the flowers on their person (Louis in his buttonhole and Marie Antoinette in her famously coiffed hair).

Today, of course, it’s hard to imagine a diet without potatoes! Potatoes are certainly a staple in our house, especially for the kids. We almost exclusively roast them, slicing them into halves or quarters (or more pieces if large) and then placing them in a deep pan with liberal amounts of butter. We especially enjoy the results when we roast them in our convection oven at a very high setting (450° or so). We stir them a few times, and by the end, they are crispy on all sides — sort of a simple version of home fries.

As farmers, we love potatoes simply for their miracle-like growth and for their human-scale production. We tried growing grain crops years ago, and while they grew well on our farm, the harvest never felt simple. We often hired neighboring farmers to combine the grains, and we still then had a crop that needed further cleaning or processing in order to be edible. Oats, for example, grow well here, but they also need to be removed from their stalk (which a combine does) and then have their hulls removed. That process is called threshing and winnowing — which we learned is hard to do by hand on any volume or with very good results. We often found that our “cleaned” grains were still much less clean than what someone can buy at the store. Plus, then oats really should either by ground into flour or rolled for quick cooking. That’s just one example, but many grains have a lot of steps before the final product! I’m sure we could have fine-tuned some systems if we’d needed to, but ultimately we were convinced that grains are better suited to larger-scale, mechanical production.

In contrast, potatoes can produce a lot of the same kind of food on any scale, including our small scale. We can drop them into the ground by hand, planting as many rows as we need. And we can dig them quickly and easy by hand, needing only to wash them before putting them into storage. They do require cold storage for long-term keeping, but again that’s something we have achieved easily at our farm’s scale with two different home-constructed walk-in coolers that we run with hacked air-conditioning units wired to CoolBot devices. Along with a few other more starchy vegetables like winter squash and zucchini, potatoes allow us to grow vegetables that can really fill out a meal (and fill up the eater).

Grow, potatoes, grow! Enjoy this week’s vegetables, potatoes included!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Methley plums — The earliest of our plums! These are a reddish-purple round cling-stone plum that is for fresh eating.
  • Cucumbers
  • Zucchini
  • New potatoes
  • Fresh onions & shallots
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage
  • Seasonal salad mix
  • Basil
  • Kale
  • Chard
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Celebrate!

These blooms look like mini firework exposions, don’t they? I love watching the bumblebees in phacelia flowers, a crop we grow for its beauty and for its delight to a wide variety of beneficial insects!

Happy 4th of July, everyone! This is a big vacation and celebration week for many people, so we hope most of you can still tuck picking up veggies into your Independence Day plans. We’ll be at the pick-up as usual, 3:00-6:30!

Since I assume you’re busy preparing for a BBQ or to go camping or buying fireworks, I’ll keep this week’s newsletter very brief! May you have a safe and fun holiday!

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables: Lots of good summer things this week!

  • Apples
  • Basil
  • Lettuce mix
  • New potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Cucumbers
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage
  • Kale
  • Chard
  • Zucchini

 

 

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Water IS life

Casey harvesting salad mix between rain showers this afternoon

If you walk into our house on any given summer day right now, you’re likely to notice a small white scrap of paper with the handwritten message “WATER” written on it, sitting on our kitchen counter, surrounded by lots of space, right where it’s hard to ignore.

What “WATER” means in the context of this reminder note varies quite a lot. Some days, Casey put one out to remind himself to turn off the irrigation well before bed. Other days, it’s a reminder for me to turn on the irrigation well for the farmers renting a small bit of our land at the south end of our property. Other times, it’s a reminder to me to water in the new perennial flower plants I’m getting established in the bed in front of our house. And, other times, it’s a reminder to us to remind Rusty to water starts for our renters (a task he’s been helping them out with).

But, it’s almost always there, greeting us as we come and go — “WATER” — a reminder of the natural element that makes life and growth possible for us here in this region with our predictable summer droughts and warm temperatures.

We greeted the Summer Solstice last Friday, welcoming this season of the sun and all its glory. This is truly the season of fire as the air feels thickly alive with the life-giving rays of sunlight. But, its also the season of water awareness, when even the non-gardeners or farmers become conscious of how important water is in this time of year. Perhaps a daily walker now carries a water bottle to beat the heat, or a dog owner double checks the outdoor bowl of water multiple times a day, or a parent schedules trips to the splash pad with their toddler, or a hiker seeks out trails that end at refreshing lakes or rivers. We instinctively seek water now, hopefully honoring its role in our life through our attention and pursuit.

MaMuse in concert!

Last night, I had the delight of attending an outdoor concert in Philomath of the group MaMuse. As we sat beneath the towering oaks, and listened to the crickets and Swainson’s Thrushes between songs, I found myself noticing the image of water arising again and again and again in the songs:

Every time I feel this way
This, old familiar sinking
I will lay my troubles
Down by the water
Where the river
Will never run dry

(from “Hallelujah”)

. . .

Blessed river, polishing stones,
She is polishing our hearts, we are claiming our thrones,
To sit side by side in our awakened homes.

(from “Prayer for Freedom”)

. . .

Hear that river calling
Calling us into our calling
Wade out in that water
Dream the dream the river’s dreaming

(from “River Run Free”)

And there were many, many more!

I don’t think any of us in the audience ever tired of this water imagery. Rivers, specifically the Willamette, have a big presence in my own life. Every year, I feel as though I learn new things about and also from that one river, which flows around our island home.

This week has been relatively mild here in Oregon — even with rainstorms this afternoon while we harvested — making for a sweet gentle transition into the new fire-y season of summer. But still, even now, we remind ourselves daily of the necessity of water, through handwritten notes, through song, through gratitude!

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

P.S. Next Thursday is the 4th of July, also known as Independence Day! We know this is a national holiday and we pondered how to best address pick-up. We considered moving it one day forward or backward but worried we’d lose folks by making a change (either because it’s not part of their routine or because of a scheduling conflict), so we decided to just leave it as is. So, pick-up will be on as normal next week, 3:00-6:30 at the storefront. Hopefully the majority of folks will be able to make it sometime in that window!

~ ~ ~

Reminder: next CSA payment is due this week! Just a friendly reminder that your next CSA payment is due this week. I emailed statements to everyone last week with balances due. Please let me know if you have any questions about your account! You can bring a check or cash to pick-up tomorrow, or mail to us: Oakhill Organics, P.O. Box 1698, McMinnville OR 97128. Thank you!

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Apples
  • Cucumbers
  • Fennel/kohlrabi
  • Zucchini
  • Broccoli
  • Cut lettuce mix
  • Basil
  • Chard
  • Kale
  • Carrots
  • Fava beans
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Checking out, temporarily

Peace and quiet at Silver Falls …

Our family has a tradition of going camping with friends sometime in late spring. It often feels ridiculously challenging to make these simple two-night trips happen, given how much activity happens on the farm at the start of the season! But, it’s always worth the crunch we feel on either end to get that one full-day of blissful disconnectedness in the woods — beyond the reach of cell phone service, with a campfire to sit around and trails to explore.

This year we went to Silver Falls, and it was as relaxing as always to step away. And as challenging as ever too. When I finally plugged my phone back in, it binged binged binged with the many text messages and voicemails I’d missed during my time away.

I feel like Casey and I are both relatively low users of screens, since much of our farm and family work focuses on direct physical interactions (with the land, with our kids, etc.). However, social media and online communications are tools that we use in many roles in life. As County Commissioner, Casey has finally joined the world of social media, realizing that Facebook is the default digital “town square” where many people go to voice their thoughts and opinions about community matters. I use Facebook and Instagram for the farm and for various other volunteer work I do in my personal time.

The thing is, as much as these technologies can be useful tools, they can also be so intrusive too. I’ve read a few people suggest lately that Facebook is optional, and I have to wonder what world they live in! It no longer feels optional if a person has anything they need to advertise or promote. We learned this during Casey’s campaign, when social media played a big role in how we got the word out about his platform and campaign events. It was pretty powerful stuff, but boundaries on our time are important. Many of us live “on call” to our work, family, and friends (not to mention, “on call” to the latest news, causes, outrage, memes, etc!). It can be hard to find moments of true quiet and recharge in such a context.

I’m currently reading How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell, which dives deep into how our constant connectedness has stripped away privacy and personal time from our lives. Odell herself is an artist and a Millennial who grew up in the Bay area, the physical heart of our new digital era. Though she is very much what would be called a “digital native,” she is pushing back hard against the negative implications of social media on our humanity.

Although I am older than Odell, I grew up in a house of early adopters, using a computer (and then a modem!) before most of my peers. In my adult life, I’ve worked hard to establish useful boundaries for myself around screen use, because I have enough time away from screens to remain aware of how they change the way my brain feels (let alone how they can suck my productive time away).

I think this is something many of us wrestle with today — how to balance our use of these powerful tools without losing control of our brain, emotions, and time in the process. I look forward to reading more of Odell’s thoughts on this modern conundrum, and I’m also grateful for the opportunities we have to fully step away, even just for brief spells. One thing she notes up front is that there is no full retreat — i.e. no longer really an option to live a life completely removed from the reality of our contemporary connected world!

But, we can certainly take breaks. Summer weather provides great opportunities to seek out those more remote places outside of cell phone range. I hope that all of you will find hours or days to be out of touch somewhere beautiful and peaceful.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

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Second CSA payment due next week, Thursday, June 27! Watch your email inboxes, as I’ll be sending out CSA statements soon to remind folks of their next payment. For most people, it will be half of their remaining balance, but I’ll provide more details in the emails. You may bring cash or check with you to pick-up or mail us a check to Oakhill Organics, P.O. Box 1698, McMinnville OR 97128. If you have any questions about your balance due, you can ask me at pick-up or email me: farm (at) oakhillorganics (dot) org.

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Strawberries
  • Apples
  • Basil
  • Broccoli
  • Fava beans
  • Beets
  • Fennel bulbs — “How do you eat fennel bulbs?” This is a FAQ of the farm! This European vegetable is much simpler to prepare than it seems. The bulb is the primary edible part (although many people use the fronds as well for flavoring). A simple way to include fennel in your meals is to trim off the butt and then chop the tender bulb into small pieces. Sauté them with butter or olive oil and onions/garlic (or on their own) until soft, then use this as a base for any kind of cooked vegetable dish. Fennel goes especially well with zucchini, so you could add chopped zucchini and sauté until to your desired texture. Add basil for a full flavor profile. Or, go a different direction and cook chard with your sautéed fennel. Serve with meat (steak! pork chops! fish!) or a pasta dish or just with a big slice of bread and butter!
  • Cut lettuce mix
  • Zucchini
  • Cucumbers
  • Kale
  • Chard
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

Destruction & creation

Unmowed field ahead; just mowed swath of field to the right

This weekend, I spent a solid half a day mowing the acre plot where we over-wintered vegetables from last fall to spring. This is always an essential planting for our long-season CSA, providing us cabbages and greens in the earliest days of the season. We like to milk it it as long as possible into the late spring, because spring itself can be so unpredictable! Some years bring us dry, warm springs and planting in the fields feels easy. Other years, such as this one, late snows, flooding, and cool weather, can set us back. Which is why we’re grateful to have the overlapping insurance plan of over-wintered veggies and high tunnels for early planting.

But, then there’s a time when that over-wintered stuff is very done. When we’ve long picked the last of the tender rapini and the over-wintered brassica plants are over our heads with maturing seed pods. By that point, the planting contains little that’s tender or edible but instead features lots and lots of flowering and seeding plants — again, many of them taller than us. In between all these plants grow the many weeds that have taken advantage of our attention being elsewhere (or gotten established during the months when weeding is just an impossible muddy mess). Grasses join the mix of seed heads, along with prickly lettuce and dock.

And, so, we mow! This particular late spring task is what inspired us years ago to buy what is definitely our burliest, most powerful individual farm implement: a six-foot wide flail mower. How does one take a veritable jungle and turn it back into a field (potentially one that might even be ready for working up again in the same season)? It takes a lot energy to do that — we learned early on that a “rotary cutter” (i.e. a mower with a circular moving blade horizontally above the soil surface), just leaves giant stalks on the surface of the ground, which dry out into hard woody debris that can’t biodegrade because it’s sitting outside the range of the vibrant microbial and fungal life that is in the soil. On our farm, we don’t “make” compost in piles but instead let our soil life do the work by integrating debris and cover crops into the soil itself. But, first, we have to make that possible!

Enter, the flail mower. Flail mowers employ multiple rows of knife-like teeth that spin vertically over the soil surface, chopping and mulching in one powerful pass. If you look at the photo above, taken from the tractor seat, mid-mowing, you can see the dramatic work it can do — reducing seven-foot tall mustard plants to a fine layer of “mulch” on the surface of the soil. Even this is a thick enough layer that integrating it will taking plenty of effort and time, but it is an impressive change in the state of the biomass! Chopping the matter in that way, makes it immediately more available to microorganisms, thus closer to contributing to future soil organic matter and fertility. This tool is a big part of our farm’s long-term soil management plan, as we use it on nitrogen-fixing cover cropped fields as well, allowing us to tap into the free energy of the sun to create biomass and nitrogen that we can then integrate into the soil.

And, we are so grateful for this tool and how it lets us build our farm’s fertility cycle based more on sun and seed inputs and less on off-farm inputs, such as manure or other animal by-products. We do use these kinds of organic inputs but in limited quantities, as needed. Our first choice is always to foster the natural systems and give each field lots of time to build organic matter and fertility before farming it in veggies again.

But, there’s something rather awesome and humbling about using this tool as well. When we are driving the mower through our fields, we are endowed with a profound amount of power to change our environment very quickly through an act that can feel destructive. In part of one day, I razed a dense field that was a teeming biological jungle of flowers and seeds, providing food and habitat to all kinds of small insects and animals. We always try to mow early enough in the season to avoid nests being built in the over-wintered vegetables, but it’s still clear that those plants provide plenty of shelter and food to birds anyway. As I mowed, I watched flocks of Goldfinches dancing ahead of me, feeding on the fluffy seeds from the prickly lettuce plants. Whole life cycles of plants and insects were cut short by my mowing. The act always feels necessary (so many weeds and plants going to seed!), and yet it feels like a significant thing to choose to destroy such dynamic life. We approach it with gravity and purpose, not taking our role on this farm lightly.

Homo sapiens sapiens, almost by definition, seems to be an animal with a unique urge to shape our environment. In its worst forms, this “shaping” can lead to degradation of landscapes and other populations of plants and animals. I am just finishing Andrea Wulf’s biography of Alexander Von Humboldt, The Invention of Nature, and it is fascinating to read about the work of 19th century naturalists — such Humboldt himself, Charles Darwin, George Perkins Marsh, and John Muir — who were among the first modern Europeans to recognize the interconnectivity of life on the macro and micro levels. And, then of course, to recognize the layers of long-term, deep level impacts human efforts such as industrialization, mining, and agriculture can have on landscapes. These scientists witnesses such changes first-hand during an era of increased industrialization across the globe. I can only imagine how terrifying it must have been to be among the first of their world to cry out in alarm at rapid degradation.

Casey and I are “descendants” of that era of industrialization and colonization. We live and farm land that was previously the home of the Kalapuya peoples, now a completely different landscape than the one they would have known. The Willamette Valley today is shaped by tools such as ours: powerful tractors that can till and mow. The cultivation emphasis in the valley is mostly on annual crops or short-lived perennials (with some very erosion-prone orchards in the mix too). Soil erosion is a thing in the Willamette Valley, my friends. It’s a big thing that you can see in the dust in the air in the summer and rivulets cutting through bare fields or orchards in the winter. Contemporary farmers actually have learned from those early voices about conservation, and many farmers do employ soil conservation methods today. But, the landscape is still one that is being shaped by our tools and methods, and these choices have consequences for other life and future generations.

But, contemporary farmers are not the first homo sapiens sapiens to shape this landscape. As part of our home learning life, the kids and I emphasize learning a lot about this place where we live: about the flora and fauna and the history of the people who lived here before us. From what we have read about the Kalapuya peoples, I try to imagine how our valley might have looked 300 or more years ago. They too cultivated the land for food production, but growing very different crops and using very different technologies. European settlers in North American didn’t even recognize Native American cultivation techniques because they were so radically different from the tillage methods employed in Europe (not to mention the absence of fences, private property field boundaries, and straight lines!).

Here in the Willamette Valley, the Kalapuya peoples cultivated many annual crops, such as camas and tarweed, in long-term plots that were nurtured and tended to keep them producing year after year. These crops, along with open pasture to promote wild animal populations, were maintained (and sometimes even harvested) using controlled, intentional burns. It’s my understanding that these plots were also maintained by not harvesting every singly plant, but instead leaving enough bulbs or rhizomes in the ground, essentially creating perennial patches out of plants with annual life cycles.

Reading Charles C. Mann’s book, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, really helped me better understand the fundamentally different cultivation paradigms at work in a place like the Willamette Valley before European settlement here. Now, when I walk through forests and observe so-called “wild” berries such as Thimbleberries or Salmonberries, I have a better appreciation for the role humans played in maintaining these populations over countless generations of people living in the region. “Hunting and gathering” was not a lifestyle of random wandering through a “coincidentally” edible landscape, but instead an intentional fostering of edibility within a familiar landscape, through which one moved as seasonally and cyclically appropriate. I think the difference here is still hard for modern people to grasp, but it is a reality I feel like I have tiny glimpses into after living here for over a decade. As we’ve built our mental maps of where certain berries grow in the forest, or where there are patches of mushrooms in the fall, we go back again and again with a real knowledge of what we will likely find. And, we do things like leave mushrooms behind on new logs, in hope of seeding new patches. Imagine if an entire community shared a vast mental map of the edible landscape, built over generations. And if each year, intention was put into fostering more of that edible abundance. Just imagine.

I love to picture how fundamentally different this region would have looked under the management of people with very different technologies and paradigms about their relationship to the land and how to care for it. Where we now have dense, scrubby brush, I picture prairies with tall trees, intentionally fostered as a home for all kinds of life. I picture a meandering Willamette River with Wapato growing along its banks and Lamprey eels swimming along its bottoms (and so many salmon).

People lived here for thousands of years, shaping the landscape with human ingenuity, but in ways that sustained and fostered health of the entire ecosystem. This fact deeply saddens me, knowing the hard stories of how that balance came to be lost. It also, however, inspires me, giving me hope that Homo sapiens sapiens can make use of our creative energy to shape our world in ways that promote life. The knowledge exists both in ancient traditions and also in cutting-edge science, as people today work to incorporate different paradigms of sustainability into contemporary life, and specifically food production.

It feels like a tragically slow road to walk toward sustainability, especially in light of what knowledge and practices have been lost or set aside in the meantime. But I feel like it is an essential part of that journey to acknowledge our dual role as humans: both as creators and destroyers, and to acknowledge that often one leads to the other. The creation of industrialization led to destruction, but destruction can also be an integral part of creation too — such as the extensive use of fire by the Kalapuya people.

When we get on the tractor to mow with the goal of building soil and keeping our fields weed free for future crops, I hope that our actions lean more heavily toward destruction as an act of creation. That our modern methods of cultivation promote an overall increase in the dynamism of this place, which to us can be measured or observed as diversity and abundance and fecundity. (Although, as an aside, I think it’s important acknowledge that in the diversity of ecosystems around the world, there are sometimes other measures of ecosystem health.)

Our goal as food farmers is to steward the soil and water we have here, and our goal as naturalists living here is to foster the lives of other plants and animals too. We’ve planted hundreds of trees on our land and actively maintain wild buffers that can act as habitat and corridors for animals and birds. Our farm is just one small chunk of land in the larger world, but we take our responsibility here seriously. When our work here feels like it requires destruction, then we remember that this is sometimes a part of creation, but it must always be balanced with that goal. As humans, we have such power. We have flail mowers! Not to mention, tools powerful well beyond what Casey and I have at our disposal. If I could have one wish for humanity, it would be for greater awareness of how much responsibility comes with these kinds of power and these technologies. Hopefully, each generation of the modern world will move closer to finding that balance again through intention and humility and increased dedication to truly leaving every place better than when we found it.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

P.S. In related farm news, we received our certification paperwork for the Oregon Department of Agriculture this week! Folks may remember that last year, our former certifying body went out of business mid-season, leaving us in a bit of a lurch. We reapplied this year (this time with the ODA), and now we’re good to go! Oakhill Organics is certified organic! Woo hoo! I could write more about how the meaning of the certification process for us, but I think I’ve written enough words for today …

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Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Apples
  • Strawberries
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Zucchini
  • Cut lettuce mix — An all-lettuce salad mix this week! We have two lettuce options for you, and you’re welcome to take both! (Some people like to eat their cut lettuce mix first and then the head lettuce later in the week, since it sometimes stores better.) With this heat, who needs to cook for dinner? Make yourself a Big Green Salad with loads of toppings and slices of bread on the side!!!!
  • Head lettuce
  • Kohlrabi — How does one eat this strange-looking vegetable? It’s easy! We just peel it (usually with a paring knife), and then slice it and eat it raw! It’s a great “dipping” vegetable if you have hummus or other dip around. A really easy, cool snack for a hot day.
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Chard
  • Fava beans — See last week’s newsletter for a reminder on how to prepare fava beans!
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

The rhythms of (almost) summer

One of the sweetest parts of early summer!

Summer is almost here, but here at the farm we’re slipping into the season’s rhythms already. In some ways, summer feels like an expansive season. The kids and I take a break from our daily school routine, giving us more time for working in the fields, swinging on rope swings, exploring new trails, and paddling on the river. The long summer days feel like they have so much space for life to happen!

And yet summer brings very steady rhythms in our farm weeks too. This time of year, we set aside most “project-based” work (such as infrastructure improvements) and really focus on the pressing seasonal work. Which falls into very regular patterns: plant, move water, weed, move water, harvest, move water, CSA pick-up, move water, mow, move water, work fields, move water, plant, move water, weed, move water, harvest … you get the idea!

In early June, those rhythms and patterns start to feel almost like a heartbeat in our week, with the steady beat of moving water (usually daily) and the pulse of harvesting (once per week).

Even though it adds up to a lot of physical work, there’s also something restful about settling into the farm’s heartbeat. There’s less need to think through each day, as the patterns mostly feel intuitive and steady. If the idea for a project or improvement arises, we add it to ever-growing list of “to do eventually” and continue keeping pace with the flow of planting and harvesting that is the growing season.

It seems fitting then that this summer, I’m also bringing rhythm into our lives in other ways, as kind of a personal/family/kid project. Both kids began taking piano lessons at the start of 2019, and they’re doing great. To me, music is its own kind of universal language (akin to math or physics), through which we can deepen and enrich our experience of the world and other people. I truly believe that what we call “music” (the patterns of pitch and rhythm) is so much bigger than any one culture or even humanity. I believe that when we make or listen to great music, we are moved because we are tapping into something cosmic. Plus, making music can be a form of personal meditation (the mind has to stop wandering when it is working hard to maintain rhythm and pitch!) and a way to connect with others through group music making. Making music can be worship or prayer. Music can be a way to process emotions or celebrate. Music is … enormous and rich and endlessly interesting and challenging. Amateur though I am, I love making music — and I want our children to grow up with basic musical literacy so that they can joyfully engage in the process of making music — alone or with others — throughout their life.

So, as we go into the rhythms of summer, I’m bringing more hands on rhythm into our lives too — pulling out the drums and percussion instruments that sit in a basket in our living room. Dottie, especially, could use some work on really feeling a steady pulse, and there are a million fun ways to work on that together even on our expansive summer days! I’m relearning all those fun playground hand clapping games (and learning some new ones), which are such a great place to start working on steady rhythm. Those games just don’t work if the partners aren’t in sync and holding a steady beat! But we’ll also be bringing our drums and shakers and things to hopefully many summer campfires, to accompany some singing. Perhaps we’ll shake an egg to one of the kids’ favorites: “Bringing home a baby bumblebee” (which is also a great ukulele tune). Our version of this campfire song involves some barfing references, so it’s definitely a favorite.

Since summer feels like a different season to many people (not just farmers and folks on school calendars), it is a great time for working on little fun projects like this one. Really, I’m not sure why people put so much emphasis on New Year’s Resolutions — perhaps we should all make Summer Resolutions instead! But, to fit with the feel of Summer in general, they should all be fun resolutions (involving perhaps your own personal equivalent of hand clapping games or songs with barfing references). As you slip into your own summer rhythms, what fun learning or growth could you layer into your days and weeks?

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

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About fava beans! If you’ve never eaten fava beans before, definitely read this before you prepare them the first time. Fava beans are the original European bean (in the small family of beans that existed in Europe pre-contact with the Americas). They are also called “Broadbeans,” and they require a different approach than, for example, green beans.

Begin by shucking the inner beans out of the big fluffy pods (check out all that white padding! I always think these are like cozy cradles for bean babies!). Next you have a choice: in Italian cooking, they would traditionally next remove the soft white outer skin to reveal the inner bright green bean. There are two ways to do this: 1. carefully peel the skin away from raw beans, or 2. blanche beans in boiling water, then “shock” them in cold water, and then pop the beans out of the skin. In the first scenario, the resulting beans will be raw (and you’ll want to lightly boil and then sauté them), and in the second, they’ll be mostly cooked.

A wonderful simple preparation is to mash the cooked green inner bean with some butter or olive oil (and maybe some garlic) and then spread it on small pieces of toast (like bruschetta). Or, you can throw the cooked beans into a pasta dish right as you are serving it. Or, use them as a salad topping.

If you don’t want to do all that work, you can just cook the beans and eat the outer skin. It’s totally okay! It just doesn’t create quite the same refined result, but the beans are delicious either way (again, toss them into pasta!).

If the beans aren’t too mature (I think these would still work), you can also roast fava beans whole (yes, in the pod!). This is honestly our favorite way to eat them, simply because of the ease. Make sure you put them in a single layer in a pan and then roast them at a high temperature until the insides are soft and the outside crispy. Use olive oil or butter and plenty of salt. These roasted fava beans can be kind of messy to eat. It’s definitely “finger” food (and probably not suitable for a first date, unless you think a big messy meal would be a good ice breaker!).

About once a year, we’ll take the time to prepare a dish with just the inner green beans, because it is such a treat. And then the rest of the season, we’ll roast ’em. Your choice!

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Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Strawberries
  • Apples
  • Fava beans — See note above for more about fava beans!
  • Sugar Snap peas
  • Lettuce
  • Summer squash OR cucumbers
  • Broccoli OR kohlrabi
  • Kale
  • Chard
  • Potatoes
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