Roles and responsibilities

Casey: farmer, employer, father.

The kids have both been sick lately. The parents out there will read that one sentence and sigh knowingly. For those of you who don’t know what this means, I’ll make it more explicit. When the kids are sick, we experience: a lot less sleep, more cranky tantrums, longer time to get anything normal time, more crying, less time for anything luxurious (like talking) … have I mentioned more crankiness?

In the midst of bouncing  a baby and wiping a boy’s nose (and coughing myself), I’ve been reflecting a lot on what it means to be a responsible adult. As we become independent people, we can choose to take on any number of roles in life, which bring with them more or less responsibility. Casey and I have chosen a few doozies for ourselves: farmers, parents, and employers.

We were farmers before parents or employers, and certainly this carries some big responsibilities. Care for the land, commitments to our customers, bills to be paid, etc. Honestly, it’s hard in retrospect, to appreciate our stress level back then. Time passes, and we become more comfortable with these kinds of responsibility, so that fulfilling them becomes almost like breathing. Similarly, Casey and I spend very little time contemplating our roles to each other as husband and wife — thirteen years in, and we know this relationship quite well. But, in the early years of our marriage, there were many challenges. Married at 19 and 20, we were among the first of our peers to tie the knot, and we counseled many others along the way: “The first year or so is really tough. But it’s worth it.” Now, almost by instinct, we know what kinds of small changes we need to make and when to keep it strong (good knowledge to have with littles in the house!).

Now, there are new relationships and responsibilities to learn and grow into. The three that take up much of our energy and mental energy are our roles as: parents, employers, and animal farmers. Again, I don’t want to dismiss the stress we may have felt in early years of the farm. I know that there were some very hard moments indeed (one that stands out in my mind is learning in mid-summer that our irrigation well had broken beyond repair!!!!!), but time does soften such old pain. However, one big difference between our roles today and back then: our time was ours to spend as we thought best. Certainly, we had work to do, and the seasons dictated much of it. But, on a day to day basis, we set our schedule and filled the hours with work (or rest) as we thought best. In the winter, Casey might still have gotten up before light (because he is naturally as early riser), but then he would lazily build a fire, make some coffee, and sit with the newspaper for an hour. I’d join him a bit later, and we wouldn’t necessarily rush outside until we deemed it necessary (maybe 8 am or maybe 10 am).

Oh, how our daily life has changed. Gentle flexible rhythms of our life have solidified into necessary routines and schedules. Rusty wakes up at 6 am (or earlier, but Casey lets him get out of bed at 6). Work starts at 7:30 am sharp when the employees arrive. Lunch sometime between noon and 1 pm. Work ends at 4:30 pm. Dinner at 5:30 pm. Bed for Rusty at 6 pm. Dishes and Dottie’s bedtime routine after. And, then, maybe (if Dottie isn’t sick or teething), an hour or two of time for Casey and me to just be together before we head to bed at 9 pm. Lather, rinse, repeat.

It may seem rather rigid to outsiders, but having a clear expectation of the day is how we survive, because in every day there is just so much to do. Animals to be fed. Fences to be moved. A baby to nurse. Laundry to be washed. Meals to be cooked. Employees to be taught. A boy to be read to. Vegetables to be harvested. Trucks to jump start. Noses to be wiped. Strong emotions to be soothed. Bills to be paid. Cows to be milked. Etc etc etc.

While parenting, tending animals, and managing employees are all unique responsibilities, they have much in common. Children, animals, and employees are thrive on having clear expectations for their days, feeling well cared for, etc. But, above all else, they all require Casey and me to be our best possible selves all the time. And, we have to constantly be making our best self better — learn how to best communicate with others, how to manage our own reactions and emotions, how to keep up with it all, etc. If something is amiss in any of these scenarios, roles, relationships, it is ultimately up to us to initiate fixing things. There are plenty of days, when kids are sick (and maybe one of us too), and when we are so tired, that part of us still wants to say: “Phooey. I’m going back to bed.” Or, to throw a tantrum of our own.

This Sunday morning, we woke up (after a very sleepless night) to a cranky Rusty and stormy weather outside. As dawn slowly arrived, Casey looked out to see our sheep out of their paddock (it had partially fallen over in the strong wind). Yes Rusty and Dottie were both crying, and yes Casey and I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet, but the sheep were out, and they needed to be in. So, Casey put on his boots, and I put on a volcano video for Rusty and sat down to nurse Dottie. Because, if we did go back to bed, the sheep would still be out (at least until our weekend employee showed up), and the kids would still be crying. Fifteen minutes later, thank goodness, Casey and I were seated and eating breakfast in a mostly calm house. These things pass.

As will this season of our life. Or, more accurately, our children will grow a bit more independent and meanwhile we will grow more competent in our roles — a double positive direction. When we gather with our far-flung farmer friends at Breitenbush in February, I am always happy to look at the older farmers — the ones who raised families on their farms and have managed hundreds of employees over the years. To me, they seem so calm about it all. I know that this calm is hard-earned — they have felt frustrated with their inability to properly communicate; seen animals die from mysterious causes; lost crops to frosts and floods; and survived infinite childhood tantrums. They still deal with challenges, but with deeper perspective — the kind that can only be gained through time spent in the trenches of life.

I see a similar dynamic to ours in the life of our friends and peers. The collision of career and young kids and keeping house is a challenging one in any form and at any age. We are past that hard work of finding identity, purpose, and mate (oh, how I don’t envy those much younger than me!), but now we’re deep in the dirty work of getting it all launched and keeping it moving (and maybe staying sane too).

It’s hard work. When kids are sick, it feels extra hard (all of it). But, without a doubt, just like the early years of our marriage, it all feels more than worth it. We are laying a foundation in all of it — loving, caring early years for our children; healthy systems for healthy animals; a community of people who sustain all of this work on our farm. Relationships are worth it. We are not just laboring for labor sake but to enrich the farm, our family, the community. Our lives are richer for taking on these roles, and we hope that we are enriching the lives of others as a result too.

And, certainly, they are not one-directional relationships. We deeply appreciate and enjoy the people who work on our farm these days — we so appreciate the laughter and energy they bring to the farm every morning. They do absolutely wonderful work, often coming up with ideas that surprise us and benefit the farm. They allow Casey to take weekends with our family, with the knowledge that the farm is still be cared for well. Our farm is fundamentally a more alive, thriving place because of these people who have chosen to work here with us. Yes, it is more complicated than when it was just the two of us doing the work ourselves, but that complexity is what allows our farm to produce a wide variety of abundant food. It’s pure magic.

And, the children … Oh, the children. What joy. I feel bad at times when I read my Facebook feed, which is often full of funny or serious posts about the challenge of parenting — I am sure it can frighten a childless adult out of ever making the leap into parenthood. It’s true that parents (especially of young children) enjoy sharing our hard times (misery loves company) … but even children as young as ours (3 years and 7 months) already contribute to the world and their families. Yes, yes, yes, having children makes our lives more challenging at every single step (brushing my teeth is harder, for goodness sakes!). It’s so true. But, our children are these amazing, thriving people who force us to be less self-centered and slow down and cuddle a lot. Sometimes Rusty’s observations on things are the most accurate. When all four of us are together, he will stop and note: “We are all here. We are a family!” I think he is seeing the same thing that Casey and I experience at these moments — that in our togetherness, we become something bigger and more beautiful.

So, there are definitely moments when we just want to take a sick day to lie in bed with a snot rag and watch “Downton Abbey” all day — which we don’t get to do. But, it’s a good season of life with amazing rewards, here in our house and on the farm. We feel insanely blessed by all this beautiful chaos.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Cabbage, kale, turnip rapini
  • Purple sprouting broccoli
  • Mustard greens — These are spicy when raw but mellow out when cooked. Our favorite way to cook all greens these days is to chop and put them in a cast iron skillet with some good quality stock or bone broth. We let it simmer until the greens and cooked and the broth is reduced almost to the point of being dry. Then we stir in some good butter to melt, and serve! This method works well with all greens: mustards, kale, chard, cabbage, rapinis, etc.
  • Salad mix
  • Potatoes
  • Carrots — Precedent says I’m about to blow your mind — at least, our friends always seem surprised by this revelation … we peel our carrots. Every time we eat them (even cooked), we first peel them. We first started doing so after eating them peeled at my parents’ house and realizing how much sweeter and refined they taste without the skin. Also, often there is dirt that is very hard to scrub off but easy to peel. We think it’s always worth the extra effort, whether we’re putting the carrots in soup or eating them raw.
  • Beets
  • Cabbage
  • Leeks
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