The joy of planning

Weeding at the right time — now that the rain is done, we can weed out all the little plants from around our crops, such as this basil! With the sun, it’s going to just take off now!

Rusty has gotten really in to Dungeons & Dragons this spring. He first learned about the imaginative game at the farm school program the kids attend and fell in love with all the possibilities of it. When he learned that there are expensive manuals that he could buy to learn more, he worked hard to earn the money and bought them himself. Now he spends hours pouring over his Monster Manual and his own notebook, drawing up characters and charting out potential adventures for he and his friends to imagine their way through.

It’s just the newest manifestation in a lifelong love of his: poring through books of information, making lists, drawing maps, and crafting narratives with all of it. He used to do the same with animals and plants; then historical events and people; and now: monsters!

At the same time that he’s been deep in D&D research, I’ve been doing lots of planning of my own for next year’s school year. We’ve been homeschooling for four years now, and I’ve gotten into the habit of picking our books and planning everything out in the spring so that I can be fully present and enjoy the summer. Plus, often I find myself full of ideas in this season, inspired by the creative energy of the world around me as trees leaf out and flowers blossom.

Some families use pre-planned curricula (which can work well!), but I find that Rusty and I have this love of planning in common. I deeply enjoy the process of planning our year: I love making my own lists; previewing potential books to schedule; and imagining how it could all fit together into another rich year of home learning for the kiddos.

I’m done with the bulk of my planning now, and as I was printing out our reading schedule for next year, I told Rusty that I’m like the “DM” for our house’s learning experience! (The “Dungeon Master” creates and then guides the players through their D & D games.) I’m not sure if he thought that was as funny as I did, but it was interesting for me to see the parallels in our activities and consider how the behavior that we call “play” in children really does slowly develop and mature into other purposes as we grow into adulthood.

Although, I still consider much of the planning Casey and I both do “play.” For example, I wouldn’t continue to homeschool the children if I didn’t also enjoy the process, but as a lifelong learner and book lover, it is a deep joy to be the one to introduce them to the world of learning: to literature, art, history, music and more! Likewise, Casey and I “play” on the farm all the time.

Our farm has been our canvas for the last thirteen years. We bought a mostly bare piece of farmland and have spent our life dreaming and planning about what is possible here, and then working to bring those plans into reality. We drew maps of our parcel and envisioned how to best divide the spaces into usable units. None of this is obvious at first, and each bit requires thinking through so many questions:

How big do we want our fields to be? Do we want to run our rows north-south or east-west? Where will we run our irrigation mainline? Where will we develop our access roads? Where will we locate a well, our orchards, our house, other infrastructure? How will each of these look? What materials will we use? How will we budget for these expenses? What order will we build/develop them?

Questions upon questions upon questions to consider, and we have! We’ve built a house, a shed, a pole barn, many greenhouses; planted two orchards (well into production now) and many other [now tall!] trees … beyond the visible landscape, we’ve also planned out our systems, our marketing, our rhythms for our farm. We’ve planned each season individually: what to grow and how much.

Casey and I have spent hours and hours poring over maps, lists, spreadsheets, seed catalogs — by the fire in winter and at the shady picnic table in the summer. Cups of coffee in hand. Cups of tea in hand. Babies on laps. Kids on laps. While we plan, again and again, solving each new puzzle that comes our way, keeping our work fresh and the farm a thriving, abundant and dynamic place.

Friends, it’s been really, REALLY fun. And, it’s still fun. Maybe even more fun than ever, as I (Katie) have been able to move more back into the daily management of the farm, and we once again feel like the partners who started the farm together in 2006, in our pre-kid days. And, the growing kids themselves bring more fun into it too, because they’re now old enough to have thoughts and opinions on such questions as well. They each have their own garden plots that they plan out and (mostly) tend (mostly) on their own (mostly).

So, when I look over at Rusty curled around his notebook and pencil, I see that we’ve clearly passed on our love of creation — of taking genuine interest in the world and imagining our potential creative role in the great dance of it all. Maybe today that looks like rolling dice and assigning characters to friends; maybe tomorrow it will be drafting a novel or starting a company or coming up with new solutions to old problems. Or, maybe just having productive fun in a small but authentic way that I can’t even imagine for he or Dottie just yet.

Life is a great adventure! And, we are blessed to be on the journey we are on, here in this place. May you too be filled with gratitude for the opportunities you have to imagine and create change in your world: whether that be in your workplace or in your garden or in your family … or, maybe even just in your kitchen! Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Strawberries — More of these delicious Hood strawberries!
  • Head lettuce
  • Kohlrabi — We like to peel our kohlrabi (I usually just use a paring knife), then slice it and put it on the table plain for nibbling during our meal. If you want to make it more fancy, you can serve it with hummus or any kind of creamy dressing for dipping.
  • Zucchini — The first of the zucchini is ready in the high tunnel! This is, of course, just the beginning. People always joke about the abundance of this vegetable, but we love it more every year and are always sad to see it go in the fall. We are very excited to have it around again, and — yes — the volume of it will increase as we get more into summer itself.
  • Carrots
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Chard
  • Kale
  • Potatoes
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Spring work and spring waiting

We had more kinds of helpers than expected with last week’s potato planting!

Last week, we got many of our “main season” crops planted or watched them germinate in the fields: potatoes, winter squash, tomatoes, and more! Because of our CSA’s long season (typically 40 weeks, although this year is shorter), we plant many times over the year rather than just once or twice at the beginning of the season. We sow/plant in late winter for early spring crops; we sow/plant in spring for summer and fall; and we sow/plant in late summer for fall/winter harvests. Each of those batches will actually be spread out over many weeks, so that we rarely go a week or two without some kind of planting or sowing project somewhere on the farm.

But, the main season garden — which is probably the closest to what most people grow in their home gardens in terms of types of crops and the season timing — is a big project every year. Several of these crops — such as winter squash, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and potatoes — will actually feed us all well into the winter. But many are just for summer enjoyment, such as tomatoes and zucchini. Either way, they make up a big chunk of what we do every year, even with our extended seasons. So, it feels like a seasonal milestone to see them now growing in the fields!

The spring hasn’t been a fast or warm one — a few years ago we seemed to have several very early springs and summers in a row, putting us in the mind that the season starts very early in these parts! But this year feels more plodding. Plants that we planted during the last extended warm spell are growing … but not particularly fast. This last week has returned to gray, rainy, mild, and even a bit stormy at times (thunder and lightning!), which definitely affects the speed at which these new crops can take off.

We’re okay with that, for now. Everything looks healthy. There are places where we need to weed, which we will once the soil is dry enough again. But while we wait, we’ll continue to sow starts in the greenhouse (Casey just sowed a whole bunch of fall brassicas this weekend: more broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage!), tend to what’s in the high tunnels, and begin thinning apples in the orchard.

This is spring! Periods of waiting punctuated by periods of intense activity, followed by periods of waiting, and so on.

Two new fun items in this week’s share: spring beets and strawberries! With some of these spring delicacies, we will need to put limits on them for now. Abundance is coming in general though. Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Hood strawberries! — The first of our delicious Hood strawberries! These are the best tasting strawberries around. They will be limited this first week to one item only so that everyone who wants to can enjoy!
  • Apples
  • Sugar snap peas — We have so many peas still! Hoorah!
  • Beets — Spring planted beets are a two-fer! You get a delicious sweet root and tender cooking greens! The greens are even tender enough that you could make them into a salad.
  • Carrots
  • Radishes & salad turnips
  • Chard
  • Kale — This week’s kale is very tender, suitable for cooking or fresh eating as a salad!
  • Potatoes
  • Leeks & green garlic
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Farmer spring cleaning

Freshly washed spring carrots glow!

May is a busy season on the farm — probably one of the busiest of the calendar year, as many different activities seem to overlap: lots of planting and seeding, harvesting for the CSA, working up ground, mowing, and farm tidying in general.

The last two items feel like they’re the farmer equivalent of spring house cleaning. This time of year, the grass grows faster than at any other time, and so we need to mow to keep roadways clear and general keep the forest from returning (which is the energy we feel out here sometimes — we routinely “weed” out Cottonwood trees as tall as us at the end of a summer!). During last week’s dry weather, we got a lot of all of this kind of work done, bringing the farm to one of its tidiest states in many years. It has helped a lot that I (Katie) have been pitching in more than in recent years, doing some share of the mowing and clean up. We now only have one field left to tend to in some way this spring, and that’s our field with our over-wintered vegetables. Most of them are long gone to seed, but there’s enough good stuff left there that we’re going to wait a few more days or weeks before mowing and working it up to prepare ground for planting or cover cropping.

We’ve also been doing some more hands-on kinds of cleaning as we’ve been cleaning out some of our over-winter storage spaces now that we’re moving into the main farming season. It’s inevitable that every year we end up with a few bins of apples or winter squash that we never needed and then went “funky” in storage. So, it’s part of the spring work to haul that out to fields, where it can be worked into the fields and become food for future vegetables!

Loading up very old, torn row cover (we got many good seasons out of it though!)

We have also been walking the fields, picking up stray bins and row cover from the fall or winter. “Row cover” is a wonderful light material that we sometimes use to cover plants to protect them from cold weather or insects. When used correctly, it can be almost miraculous in its ability to increase yields, improve crop quality, and save our crops from damage. However, as we pulled up some old row cover last weekend and found it ripping from age in our hands, we were reminded of why we’ve come to really love our high tunnels — which serve much the same purpose but without the same “clutter” effect in our fields. We will continue to use row cover judiciously, but we’re glad to be less wedded to it than we were before we built year-round high tunnels. The high tunnels now serve as the main space for our earliest crops. But, this week we also row covered some corn we’d sown to help it germinate quickly (and without being pecked up by birds). We’re grateful to have many tools for use in growing organically!

And, later today we will plant the potatoes! I’m writing the newsletter a little earlier than usual so that I can be fully present for the potato planting party (and potluck)! We’re looking forward to getting this crop in the ground, knowing that it will become a staple part of the CSA from late summer through next spring! We’re always planning for several seasons ahead!

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Baby carrots
  • Apples
  • Sugar snap peas — We have sooooo many peas this week! There will be big bags of sweetness!
  • Seasonal salad mix
  • Radishes & salad turnips
  • Kale
  • Chard
  • Potatoes
  • Leeks — Some of the leeks are beginning to “bolt,” i.e. send up a flower blossom. The upper green bolting part can also be a tender addition to cooked foods. Chop up any part that’s tender and add it when you sauté. Watch for a slightly woody core inside the lower leek, however. That can be a side effect of the bolts. I still use them, but I generally add them to simmering or slow-cooked foods in larger chunks to add flavor and then pull them out later.
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Dispatches from the house

PEAS! Enough said.

The kids are 6 and 9 now, old enough to play by themselves for long periods of time with minimal parental intervention (which, by the way, still feels like a miracle after those long early years). This shift in family life has opened up more opportunities for both Casey and me to get work done in ways we just couldn’t a few years ago. These are, after all, ages at which town kids might start taking off on bikes alone to visit a neighbor friend or walking themselves to and from school — safe opportunities to begin the long process of more and more autonomy as they grow older.

However, even if they’re fairly independent and can make themselves snacks, etc, they’re still kids. And they like knowing an adult is available to help if needed. They like being able to ask us simple questions.

Last year, when they were becoming more independent, we’d get them set up somewhere in the yard or nearby us in the fields and try to get some work done. Which worked reasonably well, but not being able to access us easily could sometimes create stress for them (and consequently us too).

I know, from experience with trying to communicate with Casey, that it can be stressful to have a simple question to ask a person who is 700 ft away from the house, at the other end of the fields. This was a big reason why we went from having one cell phone that we shared to each having our own phone soon after Rusty was born. I’d be sitting in the house, nursing little Rusty, with some kind of urgent question (but not an emergency) to ask Casey, and he’d be in the far orchard pruning apple trees! My, that feeling of not being able to easily reach someone can be frustrating!

This recent Christmas, my mom gave Rusty a set of two-way radios (aka “walkie-talkies”) as a present, and they have given us all a new freedom to be together on the farm — in easy contact — but not as physically nearby. So, now if I go out to do a farm chore and the kids don’t want to join me, we each take a radio in case anything comes up. Mostly, things don’t really come up, but at least once or twice, one of them will check in with the usual kind of kid questions: “Can I have a snack?” “When will you be done?” etc.

Casey and I have rarely had opportunities to talk to our kids on the phone, and we both have really enjoyed having this new relationship with them where we can hear their voices in a different way. Even though these radios represent a new kind of maturity for all of us, they all sound younger over the airwaves than in person — which is a nice reminder that this growing up thing is not linear but is more of a push and pull: they take two steps away from us and then one step back. They don’t need us, and then they do.

I’ve also enjoyed hearing what they find to be important enough to reach out. Usually it’s just checking in about logistics. They keep us abreast of what they’re doing:

“I’m back from doing the animals chores with Mimi!”
“I’m going to go pick a bouquet now!”
“I’m going to go ride my bike!”

But, sometimes it’s just one of those random kid questions that seems to come out of nowhere but needs to answered NOW, such as when Rusty called me to ask, “How do you spell ‘squirrel’?”

More often than not, one or both kids still wander out to say hi or help (especially when we’re picking something yummy like sugar snap peas!), but we love that we all have the freedom now to choose our activities a little more freely from each other during the flex parts of our daily rhythm of life and learning on the farm. We’ve grown a long way from those early days of me cradling a little one in my arms for hours while Casey works in the fields! I even got on the tractor again for the first time in years and years, which was exciting for me and really deserves its own newsletter.

… Oh, and also, did you see that picture (and mention) of peas!? This is also an exciting part of the week: the first, quite abundant, harvest of the year’s sugar snap peas. More good new spring treats to come in future weeks too, thanks to all this wonderful warming sunlight!!!! Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Potato planting party coming soon!

Join us next Wednesday, May 15. Come out at 5 pm to help us plant our year’s potatoes. This is relatively easy work, but please note that the footing in our fields is uneven! After we’re done, stay for a potluck dinner! Let us know at pick-up if you plan to join us, so that we can plan food and work accordingly!

Directions to the farm: Take HWY-18 to the Dayton exit. Drive straight south through Dayton and stay on Wallace Rd for about seven miles. Turn LEFT onto Grand Island Rd. After the bridge, turn RIGHT onto SE Upper Island Rd. Our driveway is the first on your LEFT. We share the driveway, and our house is the 2-story brown one toward the back-right. If anything comes up, Katie’s cell number is 503-474-7661.

~ ~ ~

Big Green Salad season!

We have lots of salad mix for this share, so we invite you to make yourself a Big Green Salad (BGS) for a meal this week! A Big Green Salad is a salad that’s the main course, usually made so by the abundance of the greens on the plate (fill it!), a good dressing (creamy and filling can be great), and profusion of toppings. Some toppings that we enjoy (although perhaps not all at the same time): dried fruit, cubed or crumbled cheese, diced salad turnips, chopped sugar snap peas, chunks of meat (cold chicken or tuna), and/or nuts. If you need a little more to fill you up, a nice slice of bread can round it out. Big Green Salads are a staple meal for us when the weather gets warm and eating something slightly lighter (that doesn’t heat the kitchen) sounds perfect. Maybe this weekend?

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Sugar snap peas! – As a reminder, this style of pea is intended to be eaten whole (rather than shelled for the inner peas). The varieties we grow have been bred to have sweet, tender pods as well as tasty peas. We usually just eat them as is, putting a bowl out for a snack or at a meal time. If I can get my hands on a creamy cheese, I enjoy dipping them in that (hummus is good too). If you want to include them in a cooked dish, they’re delicious roasted or chopped and sauteed.
  • Apples
  • Salad turnips — These white, spring-grown turnips have very little in common with the big storage turnips of the winter! They have been bred to be very tender, juicy, and sweet. Much like the peas, we often just slice these and eat them raw on their own or with a meal. They also make great salad toppings, which is how they got their name!
  • Radishes
  • Seasonal salad mix
  • Kale
  • Chard
  • Potatoes
  • Leeks
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Happy May Day!

Lilacs blooming by our front door!

As usual, I’ve been marveling at the sights of this late spring season: blossoms galore everywhere. I especially love to spot the unexpected pink and white blooms in hedgerows all around the county: plums, cherries and apple trees hidden amidst the foliage for most of the year.

May arrived this week, in a world full of flowers, blue skies, and … frost? Yes, we’ve had several light frosts this week, along with steady northern winds during the days. It’s made for quite a mixed welcome to the first plants we transplanted in our field this Sunday. Sunny and warm during the day, but not as overall cozy and easy as we sometimes prefer … but they’re out there! Hoorah!

Up until now, all our plantings have been in our high tunnels, as the spring was an slightly rainier (and floodier) one than we’ve had recently. But now that the ground is worked up, more and more will be planted in the field as we work our way toward summer — including the potatoes (see note below about our upcoming potato planting party).

Exciting news: we ate the first of our sugar snap peas this week too! It was just a handful to start, but we have ten rows of peas between two high tunnels, so before long there will be pea abundance!

Welcome, May! Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Potato planting party coming soon!

Join us for our first of two farm events this year on Wednesday, May 15. Come out at 5 pm to help us plant our year’s potatoes. This is relatively easy work, but please note that the footing in our fields is uneven! After we’re done, stay for a potluck dinner! Let us know at pick-up if you plan to join us, so that we can plan food and work accordingly!

Directions to the farm: Take HWY-18 to the Dayton exit. Drive straight south through Dayton and stay on Wallace Rd for about seven miles. Turn LEFT onto Grand Island Rd. After the bridge, turn RIGHT onto SE Upper Island Rd. Our driveway is the first on your LEFT. We share the driveway, and our house is the 2-story brown one toward the back-right. If anything comes up, Katie’s cell number is 503-474-7661.

~ ~ ~

To stem or not to stem?

When faced with loads of cooking greens, as we are in these spring months, a question hovers in the kitchen duties? Do we prefer to remove the leaves from the stems before cooking? Or, do we prefer to chop the whole darn thing to cook and eat.

My answer depends a lot on the particular green and the season. In general, I’m an “eat-the-stems” cook myself. Did you know that in Europe, historically Swiss chard was cultivated specifically for its stalks and stems? That part was considered the primary vegetable! True story! Stems and stalks are not just there to hold the leaves together, they are really a vegetable in their own right.

In that tradition, I like to cook our greens until they are well wilted, including the stems. I like what stems add to our dishes — they are more vegetabibily and less leafy. So, as long as the stems are tender-ish, I’ll just chop the whole thing up to put in the pan — although I will sometimes trim off the very end of the stems, since these will sometimes dry out after a day or more in storage. But sometimes when I chop to trim, I’ll notice that a few stems in my bunch have a white central core — a visible sign that perhaps the stem has an inner woody core that won’t become soft when cooked (note that this white core can develop over several days in storage, even if a stem is tender when picked). If that is the case, I might set those stems aside and just remove the leaves to cook.

Some people, however, really just love the texture of leaves and only leaves. No judgement! There is no right or wrong answer here, but if you’ve never thought about what you do and why, I invite you to be intentional this week as you consider how you prepare your greens!

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Apples
  • Radishes
  • Arugula
  • Salad mix — Lettuce heavy mix this week
  • Escarole — Another salad option for your week! Escarole is a fresh-eating green related to chicories or radicchio, which means that it has a slightly different texture and flavor than lettuce. It can handle a more liberal coating of dressing.
  • Chard
  • Kale/rapini
  • Potatoes
  • Leeks — Little freshly harvested leeks from the greenhouse!
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Staying put and being glad

Apples are blooming in the orchards!

Friends, on beautiful days like today, anything seems possible.

I’m so glad that spring is spring! I’m so grateful that when our work begins to pick up in earnest, the world provides the spirit of wonder and energy of the returning sun to help carry us into the season. Which of course attributes some kind of causation in the wrong direction — the season itself brings the work! But, I remain thankful that it all comes together, in this seasonal package of effort and inspiration.

This year has been a topsy-turvy one for us in some ways — perhaps no more so than any other year, but by being this year it feels more intense and close-up. The last 14 months or so have brought a lot of unknowns into our life. Last year, we spent most of the year not knowing what the outcome of the fall election would be and how that would affect all aspects of our life. Casey is now four months into his new role as County Commissioner, and we’re just now seeing the pieces of everything fit back into place. I imagine that at the end of the season, we’ll have an even better idea of what it means to shift our purposes and loads to make room for this job, but right now it is 99% clearer that it was even at the New Year!

We’ve done a lot of “thought experiments” in this time. For example, what would it have looked like for our family if we dramatically changed how we farm? Even, for example, ending the CSA? We really dug into that idea, embodying it and trying our best to “feel” the difference in our life, and we decided that the CSA remains an integral part of our life and who we are and probably will for many more years to come! But, thirteen years into any business, I think it’s valuable to take those pause moments to really truly consider how the changes in all areas of life might possibly change other areas. We are filled with gratitude to continue doing this work.

In 2006, we decided to put down roots here, and in doing so we have been nourished by this place, literally as well as metaphorically. It has been a source of inspiration, comfort, challenge, learning. It has been a place where we can build community. There are many other wonderful ways to live, but this is the way we’ve chosen, for our efforts to start here and work outward toward the rest of the world, always tethered in a profound way to the experiences of working and living in this ever-changing spot.

Now, as we go into the glory that is late Spring, it feels as though our life is re-rooting — like we are finding our sure footing again and finding ourselves on familiar ground. Gratefully so.

I think it is useful (and a wonderful blessing) to always remember that we have options in life. That we can truly change our course and find a new path. This can be healthy and life-giving! (Or, necessary and life-saving in other cases!) But what a blessing it also is to be here for another unfolding spring, watching the pink apple buds burst forth and the Goldfinches return to the bird feeder. The beauty of the season is confidence-building. Really, when the sky is blue, how can we not soar with anticipation for all the good things to come?

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

We’re on Instagram and Facebook! … kind of

Do you enjoy social media? If so, you can follow the farm on Instagram and Facebook. When we started the farm back in 2006, such things didn’t yet exist, and I committed myself then to using our farm’s blog (which was cutting edge, by the way) to keep people connected to the farm online. I still love this long-form writing style and love writing our weekly newsletter, but since I finally got a smart phone last summer (thanks to the campaign) I also now post random photos mid-week too on IG and FB. Not always, but sometimes! So, follow us and you might see the first of the sugar snap peas in your feed very soon!

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Goldrush apples
  • Radishes
  • Arugula
  • Salad mix
  • Mustard greens — A new green this week! BIG bunches of mustard greens (leaves and rapini). Be warned: mustards are hot when raw (do not juice these!). But, they mellow out delightfully when cooked. We prepare these the same way we do kale or chard — sautéed in butter or olive oil until wilted. For the meat eaters in the crowd, they pair well with pork (think bacon or ham). But they’re also great as the base for a simple breakfast: cook some mustards and then top them with a fried egg for a powerfully nourishing start to your day!
  • Kale — This is especially tender kale, suitable for eating raw as well as cooked.
  • Spinach
  • Kale rapini
  • Chard
  • Potatoes
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The flood & the beaver

Our lowest ground at the peak of the recent flood event — check out the fence posts that are almost submerged!

After taking several months off from CSA harvest and subsequently also newsletter writing, I have been surprised to resume the rhythm and remember just how full one week on the farm can be! This week was especially eventful because of the recent flood we experienced. I mentioned this was happening in last week’s newsletter, but at the time I was still hoping that it wouldn’t be that big.

But actually by Thursday morning, we were really hoping that we could actually get to the first CSA pick-up of the year, because the water kept rising and rising, and the predicted crest was going up too — and quickly! Over the years of occasional high water events, we’ve carefully observed how water rises here on Grand Island. For us, the lowest field in my parents’ property gets wet first and slowly fills more and more full as the river rises. Next comes a sliver of our field along the creek, which eventually cuts through the orchard closest to our house. At that point, we cross our fingers that it doesn’t go any higher, because the next step is our low hoop houses. Those did in fact flood this last week (in fact they had several feet of water at the peak!). Around the same time that our greenhouses fill, water goes across the road that connects us to our land on the other side of the creek. The timing of that cut-off used to be important when we had animals on pasture over there, but now we rent out that land to another organic farmer.

Finally, the big thing we worry about: the water goes across our road between us and the bridge off the island. On Thursday morning, that road was still open but the river was still rising. It was still clear Thursday night, and we went to bed grateful that we had made it through the first CSA pick-up of the year, but we both had full off-island schedules for Friday! What would we wake up to?

We woke up to water over the road! In the morning it was still shallow enough to drive through, but the river was still rising. So we all left the island with our fingers crossed that we’d be able to get back home. Casey literally brought our tandem kayak and life jackets with him in the back of his pick-up, just in case we would need to paddle our way home.

That evening I was hosting a party for a friend in town, and I was so happy to actually make it to the party I’d been planning for weeks! But, about halfway through the party, my mom texted with an update that the water was higher (and rising), and trucks were struggling to get through. So we said early good-byes and drove both our pick-up and my SUV back to the farm, parked my SUV above the bridge at a generous neighbors’ house and then very carefully approached the water just at dusk not knowing if we’d be wading or paddling or maybe not even getting to our beds at all that evening.

But, hoorah! The pick-up truck made it through, and I can’t remember feeling so grateful for my own bed in a long time.

The water stayed high for a few days, but that was definitely the crest of the event. It peaked at 27.35 ft in Salem, slightly lower than the biggest flood event we’ve experienced back in 2012. (If you’re curious to see the NOAA prediction graph we follow, you can check it out here.)

When the water is high like that, the entire landscape changes and it is beautiful, startling, fascinating and tragic to some. Several of our farmer neighbors suffered losses because of the flood: spring crops that were ready to harvest went under water for one farmer; bee hives for another. Other neighbors who live past certain early-to-go-under roads spent almost a week sleeping away from home — a majorly unplanned interruption in life! We saw some spring-planted crops go under, but now that they’re back out they seem to have survived (and for the most part they weren’t ready to harvest yet anyway). We mostly enjoyed exploring the changed island, especially once we knew we’d met our obligations off-island and could just be home and be present for the event.

Rusty found an exciting discovery in our orchard though during the flood: an injured beaver that was lying, mostly immobile, between two rows of our trees. Without Rusty’s regular rambles, we likely wouldn’t have found it for days and it would have probably died without our noticing it. It had injuries all around its neck and face and seemed to be in a lot of pain. I wasn’t really sure what if anything we could (or should) do for a beaver in this condition, but I reached out to our neighbors to ask. They connected us with Turtle Ridge Wildlife Center in Salem, who explained that I’d need to transport it myself.

I wasn’t immediately comfortable with the logistics of handling a very injured beaver, both not wanting to be injured myself but also not wanting to inflict further harm (or trauma) in my efforts. Thankfully, one of our neighbors (who used to volunteer at Turtle Ridge) offered to come help, and together we loaded her into a kennel and our neighbor drove her to the center. The folks at Turtle Ridge suggested the injuries looked like they were likely from another beaver, and we wondered if the flood had forced her (and potentially other beavers) out of their dens and created situations where beavers were needing to more actively defend their territory than usual. Sadly, her injuries were ultimately too severe for rehabilitation.

Finding, watching, and then handling a beaver on our property felt like a rare opportunity to interact with these mostly shy animals that co-inhabit this place alongside us. While I feel okay about letting nature take its course in such scenarios, I also realized that this opportunity to try and help rehabilitate injured wildlife is a blessing for people as much as for the animals themselves. It felt like an honor to be close to her.

I was also grateful for the opportunity to connect with a neighbor whom we rarely see. Living in a rural area, we have always been stymied by how to naturally interact with all our neighbors as the road is our only shared space and people tend to be private. But events such as floods (and injured beavers apparently!) do provide opportunities for all of us to connect, even if it’s mostly through social media. Although everyone on the island is very unique, we all share the reality of living with a bridge connection to the mainland, and during a flood that’s some important common ground.

And, now? Most of our field is dry or draining. And, the cherries are blooming! And, the sky is blue! And, the spring grass is so so so wonderfully green! Casey and I thoroughly enjoyed harvesting for the CSA together today, rejoicing in the mild weather (after a pretty cold spring!) and the knowledge that we would for sure be able to drive off the island for tomorrow’s pick-up!

We have some beautiful vegetables for you again this week — a continued mix of over-wintered items, storage crops, and spring-planted veggies from the hoop houses. The peas are putting out their blossoms already, and the spring will continue to be an ever-changing season, rich in greens and other good things!

We hope you all enjoyed the first week of our 2019 CSA! Please let us know if you have any questions about your experience so far. Also, we do still have room for more folks if you know someone who is interested!

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

A note about plastic bag usage (& how to reduce them!):

Folks may have noticed that several our items were distributed in plastic produce bags at last week’s pick-up. Over the years, we have researched many options for distributing items in a way that is convenient for our members and also keeps the produce (especially tender greens such as we have now) in the best possible shape. Because most vegetables need to be stored in some kind of container or bag in the fridge, they are ready to pick-up and take home for storage.

However, while we find that plastic bags work well for keeping veggies in good shape during transport and storage, they represent a resource and eventual landfill material. So, to that end, we have several suggestions for people as to how they can reduce their plastic use and still keep their veggies happy.

First, if you choose to take our bags, we ask that you re-use that bag as many times as possible for other uses! That’s a great way to reduce the overall plastic in the world.

Alternately, you could choose to not take a plastic bag. If you bring your own previously used plastic bags (or cloth bags), Casey is happy to fill those for you at pick-up. We have many members who do this weekly, and it requires a slightly longer wait time for them, but they just factor that in to their pick-up. Or, some people just transfer items from bags that are already in the bins to their own bags or basket. If you leave the fresh bags with us, we can re-use them right away.

Thank you for thinking about the best way for you to reduce your plastic bag usage! Please share with us other ideas you may have too!

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Goldrush apples — Have you tried this unique apple variety yet? These are an incredible storage variety that we discovered when we went to put in our orchard. They are a new variety (with loads of good disease resistance) but with the complex flavor profile I expect from heirloom types (which often are susceptible to blight and scab). They also store really really really well in our cooler, meaning that we often eat them more in spring than in the fall when all our other apple types are still available. You can eat these fresh (they are sweet!!!!) or use them to cook (they have good texture that doesn’t just fall apart). Highly recommend you trying these at least once.
  • Radishes
  • Seasonal salad mix — A mix of tender lettuce, arugula, mizuna. Some of the leaves are larger and could benefit from chopping, but the leaves are very tender so don’t over-dress!
  • Arugula
  • Mizuna
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Pretty chard!

    Rainbow chard — Casey and I have been farming now for fifteen years if you include our training, and I am still amazed at the vibrant colors possible in a good planting of rainbow chard. This week’s harvest looked especially bright in the soft morning light. It will be delicious too!

  • Kale rapini
  • Carrots — Don’t let the imperfect exteriors of these carrots fool you! Give them a quick peel and trim, and they are beautiful inside, with delicious flavor suitable for cooking or just eating as sticks (“Ants on a log,” anyone?).
  • Potatoes
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We’re baaaaaaaaaaack!

Willamette waters rising in the orchard …

Hello, friends! Long time, no see! (Except of course that we live in a very small community and see current and former CSA members every.single.day every.where.we.go.)

We are SO happy to be getting back into the weekly rhythm of harvesting for our CSA community. For a couple of years now, Casey and I have been talking about the need for a sabbatical from the farm. In any profession, beloved or not, there comes a time when it’s healthy to step back from the routine, breathe, and get re-inspired. I have to admit, however, that I think we had been picturing a long winter of camping in the desert (or something similar) rather than a winter of Casey adjusting to a new, very responsible, role in our community.

But that’s about right for us. We’ve never been good at taking breaks, finding our joy and energy in the doing parts of life. Maybe next winter we’ll plan a shorter camping trip in the desert. (Also, in the scheme of what’s “normal” for farming, not harvesting from October to April isn’t really much of a break … but it’s the longest break from the CSA we’ve had since 2007!)

Either way, here we are, back in the fields and looking forward to restarting our regular weekly date with all of you!

We haven’t made many changes to the program this year — in fact, if anything, our brief stepping back highlighted to us how well we’d fine tuned our CSA system over the years into something that feels like it works really well for our farm and for our farm members. We still love the flexibility we offer our members to build their own shares each week, based on their preferences. We still love having a special pick-up space that is comfortable for everyone to linger if they want to visit with us or friends. We still love that our CSA offers a unique mix of annual vegetables and perennial fruits, all from our farm. We like the niche we’ve formed in the wider food community of Yamhill County!

One change returning members will notice is that the storefront itself has been made-over. We’re sharing the space this year with Suzor Wines, who will be using it on different days for wine tasting events. We appreciate the work they did this winter to upgrade parts of the space (sealing the floor, exposing more of the cool brick wall, covering up the drop ceiling panels, etc.). With how we’re sharing the space, the functionality and flow for our members will remain the same, but with some new touches.

Also, folks may remember from last year’s newsletters that our former organic certifying body closed shop mid-season (!!!!!!!). At the time, we felt too overwhelmed by summer work to apply fresh with another certifying body, but we have now submitted our certification materials to the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA). So, if all goes as it should, we’ll be officially certified again in a few weeks/months. We’ll let you know how that goes!

In other current farm news, after several dry and uneventful years, we’re in the midst of a “high water” event here on Grand Island — funny timing with our first CSA pick-up of the year! You know what they always say: April downpours bring April floods! (That’s it, right?)

Anyhow, the Willamette River is at so-called “action stage” right now, meaning that we now have a waterfront view from our house! Over the years, we’ve experienced many such events, including an event that actually qualified for the label “minor flood,” so we knew what to expect when the National Weather Service began predicting a rise. We pulled out our “flood notes” folder and looked at what we observed in past events: at what level does the river cross our fields? fill out lower greenhouses? move through our home orchard? cross the road off the island?

Given the timing with our first CSA pick-up, Casey and I were a little less than enthusiastic this time around. A high water event in, say December, is way more fun for us farmers than in early April when we’ve got two lower greenhouses full of well-tended plants (we’ll pull the lettuce and re-plant with zucchini after the water goes down). But, the kids have filled in for our lack of enthusiasm. It’s been long enough since we’ve had high water that I think it feels very fresh and exciting for them to monitor the water’s rising in the fields. Each time they wake up, or we come home from town, they run down to the lowest part of our field to note how the water has changed.

Last night, they hauled Rusty’s kid-sized kayak and lifejackets down to a safe spot at the edge of our field and paddled around for awhile before bed, keeping alive a tradition we started years ago of going out on flood waters in boats or on surfboards with wetsuits. We figure that if we’re going to have the river in our backyard, we might as well have some fun on it! We also love watching the water birds during these events. The ducks especially always seem delighted with the extra space. Yesterday the kids and I spotted three ducks and a couple of Canada geese, looking — to us humans — like they were having the time of their life on what was (and will be again) a field of organic grass and mustards.

The water will recede soon enough — when we get wet it is because the river is high, but our soil is still well drained — and the bulk of our fields and greenhouses are still safe and dry. And then we’re hoping we jump right into late Spring warm growing weather! It was a colder late winter and early spring than we’ve had for years now, and we’re getting antsy for those days of super growth! They will come!

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Have you made your first CSA payment yet? We ask for one-third of your total or the full value by the first CSA pick-up. You can bring a check or cash with you if that works best! I’ll have account details at pick-up too, so you can always ask me questions when you come to pick up your veggies.

Put these dates on your calendar! You are invited to join us at the farm on Wednesday, May 15 at 5 pm for a potato planting party and potluck, and on Saturday, October 12 for our annual pumpkin patch open house featuring live music, farm tours, cider pressing, and a veggie/fruit tasting. While we aim to grow fruits and vegetables that are delicious and wonderful for their own sake, we also know that a CSA is also about connection and community. That’s why we’ve built a pick-up style that encourages interaction, write weekly newsletters with farm news, and also host these regular on-farm events. We hope that you’ll join us for one of them, this year or in the future!

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables: April is an interesting time of year to begin a CSA, since it is so much of a transition between winter storage/over-wintered crops and newly planted greenhouse crops. In the coming weeks, you’ll get to eat some of both as we slowly eventually shift to all spring-planted and then finally get into the main season field crops.

  • Radishes
  • Apples
  • Rapini — For those of you new to seasonal eating or our CSA, let me introduce you to one of early spring’s fun treats: “Rapini” is the word used to refer to the edible flower buds put up by biennial brassica plants after a winter. Each kind of brassica has its own unique rapini, but they are all tasty! We treat them like any leafy green vegetable, usually chopping and sautéing with butter (and maybe some kind of onion or allium if we have them). You can also roast rapini so that it’s slightly crispy (similar to how one might make kale chips — make sure your pan has a single layer for best results).
  • Kale
  • Chard
  • Salad mix — A mix of many kinds of green growing in our field right now! Expect a wide range of flavors and textures, all of them delicious! We find that cooler season salads stand up well to more liberal dressing. We especially love using a creamy dressing that isn’t too sharp so that we can load it up and enjoy. To make a salad a meal, top with nuts, cheese, and chunks of meat.
  • Mizuna — Mizuna is an Asian green suitable for eating as a salad or for throwing into a pan and very lightly sautéing.
  • Spinach
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
Posted in Weekly CSA Newsletters | Leave a comment

A sabbatical of sorts

Beautiful recent snowy morning on the farm!

Hello, farm friends! We miiiiisssssssssss you! We are now halfway through February and still enjoying our “winter break” — the longest we’ve taken from the CSA since 2007 when we were building our house! I’ll be honest: it’s felt … strange (and even disorienting in some ways) to be missing the regular weekly rhythm of harvesting and delivering seasonal produce to our community. Over the last 13 seasons that rhythm has become such an integral part of our life, and we are excited to jump back into that on April 11 as we begin our 14th CSA season.

But, at the same time, this break has been healthy for us and for our family too. The farm is such a year-round endeavor for us that it’s been positive to step back and breathe and take a long look at this farm project we’ve built over a decade. Even though Casey’s new position as Yamhill County Commissioner is what spurred this sabbatical, it’s been important for our relationship with the farm too. It’s also given us time to catch up on some “life stuff” that just never seemed to find its way into a life full of farm rhythms, including re-thinking how we set up our office (paperwork is also a part of farming!). We’ve also had time to get Casey adjusted to his new role and start planning how I (Katie) will step into a bigger management role on the farm again, which inevitably involves rethinking some of how we approach homeschooling the kids. This stage of life feels a little like one of those puzzles where you can only move one piece at a time, and so having a break from the CSA rhythm has given us more time to move those pieces, one. at. a. time.

Pea shoots! They’re now much bigger and growing in the greenhouse.

Along the way, we’ve also been doing the usual winter work: cleaning up our greenhouses, sowing seeds, pruning the orchards, working on winter paperwork (taxes, organic certification forms, etc.), transplanting into the greenhouses, beginning ground prep in the fields. We also celebrated the holidays, learned to play lots of new games (Dottie is a big fan!), played in the small amount of snow we’ve had down here in the flats, played outside as much as possible (the kids have dug a pit fort at the edge of our field), visited with lots of friends, and more. Actually, there’s one thing this winter hasn’t been much of, and that’s a rest. I imagine there are many ways to use a sabbatical — to rest deeply or to put energy into something that’s different than one’s normal job responsibilities. I’d say this “break” has fallen much more into the second category than the first. In many ways, settling back into farm rhythms will probably feel restful and familiar after months of working on the random projects of life and work.

Ordering seeds for the kids’ garden!

We still have almost two months before that begins, which will give us time to continue this work we are doing (as well as time for all those transplants to grow to maturity!). The sabbatical to do list continues! But we wanted to take a pause and check in with you all — our connection to you, our eaters, feels like a critical part of this whole endeavor. We look forward to more face-to-face time (and eating time for you!) soon! In the meantime, a few CSA business-y bits I want to share:

  1. Yes, we still have room in our 2019 CSA! Aside from the later start, it will be the same successful model we’ve operated for years and years. You can find out lots more info here.
  2. First CSA payments are due by our first pick-up on April 11, but if it works for you to mail your payment to us earlier that would be appreciated! This time of year has a lot of costs: certification fees, seeds, soil amendments, advertising expenses. So, our little sabbatical is putting a bit of a temporary crunch of farm finances in a way that most years don’t! So, thank you if it works for you to mail us a check! Payments can be sent to Oakhill Organics, P.O. Box 1698, McMinnville OR 97128
  3. We’ve slightly lengthened the pick-up window time for 2019 to better accommodate some schedules (particularly those of parents picking kids up from school) — we’re going to be open 3:00-6:30.
  4. Also, if you want to keep up with the farm beyond just these farm newsletters, I’ve been posting occasional photos and small bits of news on Instagram and Facebook! If you enjoy using those social media platforms, please follow us! @oakhillorganics and facebook.com/oakhillorganics

We hope that you too are having a fruitful winter and enjoying the magic of a season that brings the opportunities of darkness and inside time. Spring is just around the corner and already starting to show up in daffodil shoots and pushing buds!

Thinking of you all! Doing work on your behalf too … always!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

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Winter update

It’s been a fall of surprisingly beautiful and dramatic skies …

Hello, friends! Since we ended our CSA in October this year, it’s been awhile now since we’ve sent an update out into the world. It’s been a full fall. After the CSA ended, we spent most of our time making a final push on Casey’s campaign for Yamhill County Commissioner, culminating in news that I imagine most of our CSA members and regular readers probably already heard: he won! It was the most exciting outcome, and we were overjoyed to share that evening with a room full of friends and supporters and other people who were also awaiting election results that night. So many people had worked so hard toward this goal, many of whom had never been involved in local politics before, and we were perhaps above all else so grateful that their commitment was affirmed in this way. Not only does Casey now have a new role in local politics, but we think many other people do too, as we know they will continue to stay involved now that they know how much their work really and truly matters. What a huge achievement for our community!

Casey after hearing of his significant winning lead on election night!

Casey’s work began almost immediately, as his schedule began to quickly fill with meetings. But, since that BIG (!!!!) news in early November, our family has also been quietly regrouping and taking the time to reconnect with each other and then assess how this profound shift in Casey’s role will affect everything else we do. It’s been a time of a lot of ups and downs, to be honest. Much like with many positive passages in life (graduation, birth of new babies, marriage, etc.), there can be twinges of grief buried in the abundant joy. Because new things inevitably mean letting go of older things: older dynamics, familiar roles, former freedoms … Not everything goes away, but things inevitably shift, often in unexpected ways. We were now facing a load of such shifts, needing to make some big decisions about how we would intentionally shape the new reality to fit what we’ve loved best about the old one. Also, we were very tired after a full year and took lots of time to rest as well. And celebrate! This season of the year is so full of family get-togethers for us, and we were happy to give thanks with our families and also celebrate Rusty’s ninth birthday last week!

Nine years after his birth, this big kid is still changing the way we think about our farm spaces! Our strawberry greenhouse is now doubling as an archery range while it takes its winter rest!

After all this time spent pondering and talking and weighing our options, we are approaching 2019 with a clear vision of how we want our new life to look. We wanted to keep things as simple as possible going forward, with the emphasis falling on the things we love the most. Casey will move into his role as Commissioner officially on January 7, but what would we continue to prioritize as a couple, as a family, and for me as an individual? And, after our family, the farm and our CSA remains a deep source of joy for us. We have plans in place now for sustaining that core venture as we go forward, with me moving more into a leadership role. Now that the kids are older, this is possible, plus I’m planning to hire a few helpers as needed seasonally. I’m excited to once again have that extended community feel of having a small crew coming and going!

In terms of things that we’re letting go, Casey has decided to pause his law studies for now. Originally the idea was to study law in order to someday run for office, and then the eventual goal was met sooner than expected! We are also not going to renew our OLCC grower’s license in 2019, freeing us from another set of regulations and procedures to think about!

2019’s CSA details!

What will all this mean for you, our valued farm members? We will move into 2019 smoothly, with a strong sense of continuity for you: the “market-style” CSA system we’ve fine tuned over the years will remain the same, in the same convenient and welcoming storefront location. This year we’re going to be sharing the storefront with a local winery (who will be hosting wine tasting on the weekends), so the space will get some updating in its decor while the layout and functions remain the same.

We will begin our CSA on April 11 this year, later than has been typical, in order to provide plenty of time and space for the transition. However, we will once again run through mid-November (for a total of 33 weeks) and will be planting a winter garden with plans of returning to our long 40-week season in 2020. We love having an almost year-round CSA, and continuing that experience into the future is a high priority for us (and our future farm team!).

The only other change is that we’re offering a new CSA option with extra flexibility for folks who need that because of work travel schedules or other commitments. With our new “a la carte CSA” option, you can put credit onto your account that you will then deduct from on the weeks that you come to pick-up based on the number of items you take that week (items cost $3 each). Because we still want this option to function with a CSA level of commitment, we ask for a minimum of $300 for the season and any remaining credit disappears at the end of the season (but you can add more credit if you run out before the end of the season!). We still think buying a set number of items per week will be the most convenient option for most of our members, but we also know that the “a la carte” option will help keep some people connected to the farm even if their lives are feel less constant from week to week.

We’re also going to again become certified organic in 2019. Last year Stellar, our former certifying agency shut down mid-season leaving us with the hard decision about whether to drop our certification or start fresh with a new certifier — we chose to temporarily drop our certification so we could focus on the paperwork part of the farm in the winter. Now that we have time for such work, we will begin that process again in January, most likely working with the Oregon Department of Agriculture as our new certifying body.

Again, most of our CSA will feel very familiar going forward: pick-up will continue to be Thursday afternoons, 3:30-6:30, with Casey and me both present to answer your questions and socialize. We will host two on-farm events this year: a potato planting party and potluck in May and a pumpkin patch in October (this year with live music, an apple tasting, AND cider pressing!). Each week, you’ll receive a thoughtfully written farm newsletter with news from the farm and information about your seasonal offering of vegetables. You’ll get to enjoy a full range of seasonal, organic fruits and vegetables grown here on our farm, by us and crew. You can find out more nitty-gritty details about the 2019 CSA (prices, dates, and all that) and how to sign up here.

After all these years, I still marvel at the beauty of this model of growing and eating produce. It’s so simple and yet so effective at providing freshness and quality for the eaters and stability and enjoyment for the farmers. It’s the model that drew us to farming to begin with, and many years later we’re still hooked.

Mailing our winter cards to friends and family takes several evenings of quiet work!

We hope you are too! We are very excited to spend another year growing food for you! Many of our existing customers have already committed for 2019, and we are in the process of mailing out your 2019 invoices (with more CSA details) along with our annual family holiday card. If you receive a card without an invoice it means we probably still need to hear from you about your CSA participation in 2019! You can email us your desire to participate at farm (at) oakhillorganics (dot) com, and we’ll get you signed up. If you have any questions, you can email the same address or call me at 503-474-7661. We are taking new members as well, so spread the word!

Once we have our cards and invoices all sent out, we’ll be focusing exclusively on holiday gatherings for a couple of weeks. Christmas celebrations with multiple families, caroling with friends, an upcoming visit from distant friends … and then the New Year will bring with it many new adventures, fresh focus on the farm work, and a new role for Casey.

We feel humbled by the many experiences we have been gifted so far in life. We have had the great fortune to be able to pursue so many of our passions and to build wonderful relationships along the way. We wish you blessings on the next year of your own journey. May we all walk forward into the future with humble hearts, open to the unknown blessings ahead!

Enjoy your holidays, and Happy New Year!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

P.S. Our Winter Holiday Harvest is happening this week as well! Place orders by Monday evening! More info and list of available veggies here.

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