Sprinting to the finish line

… a post in two acts …

Act one: the house

Silence on a blog can mean one of two things: complete lack of activity (thus having nothing to say) or overwhelming activity (life in a tornado or other such image of frenzy and chaos). If our previous posts led you to assume the latter during the recent lapse of posting, you would be entirely correct.

The last few weeks (& months) have been packed with physical/emotional/mental exhaustion. Mostly related to building our little house. There have been no true disasters (in which case the earlier tornado reference may be considered insensitively exaggeratory), but lots and lots of distracting and sometimes frustrating problem solving/fixing/putting together/taking apart type of tasks. The final throes of house building surprised us with just how painful they could be. We’re almost done and yet we’re more impatient feeling than ever.

Now we understand better why building a house together is one of those ‘make it or break it’ experiences for a marriage or partnership. Fortunately for ours, we’re still doing fine, but building has been a bigger stress than just about anything else we’ve done so far in our life together.

That being said, you’re probably tapping your foot now in impatience: “Get to the point, Katie!” Okay! As I’ve alluded, the house is almost done. As of today, we have about two tasks left before we can have our final building inspections, which we hope we will we pass, although we’re scared that we’ve overlooked major things in our inexperience. We shall see!

Since our last post, we have closed in the walls, installed a downstairs ‘farm kitchen’ (we have hot and cold running water to wash our hands with during the workday!!!!!!!! a true farm luxury!), and done a million things to the upstairs apartment space. Rather than just list it all, here are a series of photos & explanations from the last few weeks of building activity:

Our amazing and talented dry wall help crew! Against pretty much everyone’s advice, Casey and I decided to install and finish our own sheetrock. It seemed like a daunting task, but we calculated that we could save a few thousand by doing it ourselves. But since we were still somewhat uncertain about it, we asked a few more experienced friends if they’d volunteer an afternoon to help us get started. These were our wonderful friends who came the first day we worked on it. Some of them helped actively and others provided moral support. Can you guess who did which?

Day two of hanging sheetrock … two of our saviors in the process—another friend and the sheetrock lifter we rented from Hertz (probably the best $50 we ever spent).

Progress shot of a living room wall, after the insulation but before we’ve hung the sheetrock (it’s already on the ceiling, however, in this picture). Hanging the sheetrock immediately changed how the space felt—the most dramatic interior shift since the beginning of the framing. Finally we were able to get a real sense of the space, and fortunately we liked it!

The same wall with the hung sheetrock. We spent the next week mudding and taping. Overall we were glad we did this phase ourselves, despite the cautions from others. The end result is far from perfect, but that’s okay with us. And we didn’t actually mind the work that much—perhaps because our standards were lower for the smoothness of our walls, but also because it was a nice break from loud, heavy work. We were able to work together and actually carry on a conversation. And, on the bright side, we will always know where studs are when we go to hang pictures, shelves, etc. Ha ha.

After we finished painting, Katie’s parents spent a weekend helping us with some of the finishing tasks. Here Katie’s dad Steve is installing a piece of trim around our bathroom window. He helped us with the trim, because that is one of his specialties, and it certainly looks cleaner and nicer for his involvement! Our trim was another phase in the building process when we were able to save some money, because we took a very unconventional route: we used utility grade 1x4s that we sealed with polyurethane. The finished effect is rustic but we were able to afford more wood than if we had actually purchased trim-grade lumber.

Katie’s mom Kris washing a window, another task we finished on the window trim day.

Our living room wall (the same one from earlier photos), as of today! There’s a gap of activity between this and the last photo that includes installation of lights, switches, outlets, sinks, counters, cabinets, range, fridge, interior doors, handrails and other exciting things, but this is a good photo to end on for now. As you can see, our woodstove is installed (almost fully—there’s no chimney out the roof yet), and our floor and baseboard trim is in (we went with the same inexpensive materials here as on the windows: fir 1x4s and 1x6s).

Many of these finish items (except the woodstove) we purchased used at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore and other places. Considering that we were confined by our tight budget, we are quite pleased with the resulting ‘look’ and ‘feel’ of our new little house. It suits us in its rustic, worn-in appearance. And it certainly doesn’t look cookie-cutter new, since none of the finish features are any way standard. In conclusion, we like it a lot, even with its bumpy walls and crooked sinks. And, we can’t wait to move in.

We’re hoping we’ll be ready for the final inspections by early next week. So if all goes well, maybe we’ll move in at the end of next week? ……….. ack! This is the part that makes us feel slightly sick right now, because it’s such a huge uncertainty. We’ll keep you updated!

… end act one.


… a view of our farm, today, taken from our living room window!

Act two: the farm! & further meditations

While the building has been progressing, we have also been actively farming on our new land. And the good news is that we LOVE farming. Obviously we already knew this, but in contrast to building, we REALLY REALLY REALLY LOVE farming. We can’t wait to focus all of our energy on the farm again, rather than trying to balance it with the house building.

And the other good news: we LOVE our new land. LOVE IT. Have I mentioned yet that we can’t wait to live out here? If not, I’ll say it again: we can’t wait to live out here.

So, why all this ‘LOVE’ for the farm? (Besides the fact that the actual farming activities are infinitely preferable for us to building activities.) This spring is exceeding our expectations. As with anything in farming, it’s not perfect and it certainly hasn’t been without the ever-present, almost spiritual worry and stress. For example, two weeks ago we had a hot stretch with no rain and our irrigation system isn’t ready yet (since we’re still new here)—that certainly caused some big time stress since our plants wilted and tried to die on us.

But overall things are just gorgeous here. The land is so well drained that it makes us want to weep with joy. This time last year we were still stressing about how we would get our ground prep done in time to plant. Our first transplanting was still two weeks out (May 1) and when we finally did transplant it was into choppy, grass-filled beds.

This year, in contrast, we direct sowed on March 15: carrots, radishes, spinach, greens of all kinds. The beds were well worked and beautiful. We sowed more the next day: carrots, herbs, beets, fava beans, and peas. We transplanted for the first time on April 2: peas, fava beans, cabbages, spinach, lettuce, and mustard greens. We transplanted again last week: kale, collards, green onions, cabbage, lettuce, beets, broccoli, fennel, and sowed more radishes.

Here are some pictures of the fields:

Some of our direct sown beds, soon after sowing and before germination.

Cabbage transplants in the field.

… and now having expressed our excitement about our recent farm activity, I want to be quick to add an important caveat: none of this is revolutionary. Farms all over Oregon are already harvesting bins full of salad mix and other tasty treats to sell at markets in Portland and Eugene. But for us, this is like a revolution—it’s just so different from last year. A lot of that is our personal timing. Last year we moved to Oregon from Bellingham, Washington at the end of March—and that was when we first started building our farm, which is quite late in the season. So, this year we were obviously able to get an earlier start since we were already here and had systems in place and ready to go (although we did have to move them and rebuild them out here).

But the land is different too, and that makes us excited for the long-term future. We feel like we’ll be able to meet our goal of providing locally grown food year-round on this new ground. Of course this has been an especially dry spring, so we might not always get out there to work up ground as early, but we feel good about our ability to grow here in the sometimes ‘iffy’ shoulder seasons. Nothing is certain, but we’re hopeful anyway—which is about the best you can ask for in farming.

We have been enjoying other less business-related pleasures and beauties out here as well this spring. Grand Island itself is simply gorgeous, and we love being here as we work. Being surrounded by the Willamette River, we find ourselves farming amidst a dynamic and thriving river habitat. Birds are abundant, and we often stop to watch turkey vultures overhead or migrating geese. The river is forming a sort of habitat for us as well. Claiming that we might possibly ‘belong’ or ‘inhabit’ this place in any real way would be presumptuous and preemptory at this moment, but we feel that it could happen—that over time we might ‘fit’ here, in a deeply spiritual ecological sense. That ‘belonging’ moment is years, maybe decades, down the road. We still need to prove ourselves worthy, but we’re hoping that our mission of feeding people from this land sustainably will build trust between us and our place.

Maybe this sounds ‘woo woo’ compared to our usual meditations, but I think this is the natural shift in our approach as we’ve taken on the responsibility of land ‘ownership’ and begun planning a long-term, hopefully lifetime, farmscape and home here. With the few free moments we’ve had this spring, we’ve intentionally pondered how we can humble ourselves before this land and our new ecosystem community—on all levels. We’re joining a new interconnected community of organisms, including other species but also other families and farms. And interacting with some of the members of our new community has been humbling already.

But we’ve also had early tastes of deep joys, which we hope will be repeated and added to into the future: conversations with new neighbors over wine and salad, bike rides in deep afternoon shade, silent moments by the river’s shore, the smell of cherry orchards in bloom … We feel blessed to soon live in a beautiful place. Honestly, it is more than we ever imagined. Farming has been a distinct goal for us for the last few years, but this island was a surprise. Again, we hope we live up to the gift and responsibility we’ve been blessed with in land ownership.

And in this new walk and approach, we find ourselves facing a huge and most welcome shift in our perspective. Before we found a place to farm (or were farming at all, for that matter), everything we did felt urgent and pressing. We were young, yes, but two years ago our farm dreams were still in the future, and we didn’t know whether that future was one, two, or twenty years out. We were grasping.

Today, we’re farming. And we are blessed to legally ‘own’ a small piece of land. These two enormous changes has given us another unexpected gift: time. Whereas before we worked in the ‘now’ and looked at the immediate future, now time is stretched out before us. Our goals have also stretched out before us as we realize that we don’t need to do everything now. Annual vegetable growing is relatively instantaneous in its goals and gratifications, and last year we lived in that time schedule: thinking about days to maturity and next week’s harvest. Now we can see months, seasons, years, decades before us, and it allows us to slip more easily into the ‘organic’ growers’ perspective on long-term soil health and fertility. We have room to breathe and watch. Today we’re planting a few future shade trees around our homesite—none of them will provide anything for years. But now we know that such long-term planning makes sense. Our new long-term vision is a wonderful privilege that frees us to act more responsibly.

And once we move into our house, we’ll feel fully present and able to dig our own personal roots deep into this soil. We’ve moved nine times since we were married seven years ago. All of those moves were between and within just a few communities (Bellingham; Holden Village in Chelan, WA; and the McMinnville area), but we’re tired of it nonetheless. Our last move felt all too familiar as I collected boxes from the liquor store. We’re very good at it by now, but it doesn’t get ‘easier’ even if we know where to find the correct sized boxes or how to most efficiently pack our books.

So, hopefully this week (or next) will be the final days of our transient period. We’re lucky to be so close to its end, since much of America lives this way permanently (in various degrees of poverty or affluence)—constantly moving from one community to another (or street corner to street corner). I suppose that not everyone minds it (at least those with the means to choose otherwise), but we do. We want to commit to one place and community for a long time. That’s part of what most appeals to us about the Community Supported Agriculture model of growing—the mutual season-long commitment between farmer and eaters. And, even further, the CSA allows commitment from season to season. We’re looking forward to serving this community, by growing food, for many, many years …

In closing (if you’re still even with me in this long meandering catch up on the last few weeks), I want to finish with the CSA thought and remind everyone that the first pick-up day is approaching! May 22 is only 34 days away—barely a month! We can’t wait to see everyone again after a winter apart, and we’re excited to meet our new members.

Also, for those of you who take your time making decisions (or who easily lose track of paperwork in your own busy life), we do still have room in all three seasons this year. We’ve expanded the size of the program for 2007, so we welcome new and returning members to sign-up if you haven’t yet. The vegetables are growing, as is our eager anticipation for the many good meals awaiting all of us this 2007 season! We hope to hear from you soon or see you again at the CSA pick-up or market (beginning May 31).

And, until then (or until the next post), thanks for being part of our extended farm community, whether you read this blog from your home in McMinnville or watch from afar. As we’ve been through this winter’s trials (all of our own making), we have been more aware than ever how much we lean upon the support of this community. There’s a Wendell Berry poem we love in which he humbly states, ‘May I be worthy of my meat.’ Similarly, may we be worthy of our many blessings, most especially you all. This year has been the culmination of many years of ‘taking in’: through our formal education, farm training, mentor friendships, friends’ hospitality and help, our families … we hope that this year marks a turning point where we can begin giving more than we receive—in terms of hospitality, friendships, food, and experience. Not that we won’t continue to receive as well, but perhaps just not in such an out of balance manner as the last few years of young adulthood.

We’ll see …

For now, we’re humbly as ever your grateful farmers,

Katie & Casey Kulla

P.S. Today we also did our first official harvest from the new land! Baby spring radishes:

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7 Responses to Sprinting to the finish line

  1. Lisa Betancourt says:

    It was wonderful to see an update from you. I’m so glad that things are settling down a bit and you are looking forward to a long and rewarding future!

  2. Sara says:

    What a lovely bouquet! Also wonderful to see the folks helping out (a happy hello to S and K!) and the cozy little spot that you have made. I can’t wait to be there myself!

  3. alexis says:

    you guys are true inspiration- building your own home and living off your own land!

  4. Tara Romero says:

    Katie…you are such a writer! I cherish your word choice (always the teacher, I am). My body is cravin’ some veggies! I can’t wait! I want to see where Grand Island is on a map, but I can’t find it. Any thoughts?


  5. Sara says:

    Your radishes look fabulous. I live in England and have planted some radish seeds a few weeks ago. They have now germinated. I hope they look as good as yours.


  6. Jeroen says:

    Just finished reading your whole story from the beginning. That feeling of wanting to farm and having to build a house I know. Allthough abeing a good builder I always try to escape to the garden.

    Greetings from Holland!


  7. ernesto says:

    Greetings from the Philippines… Mabuhay…
    Its so inspiring reading your farm stories… the photos and all the farms stuff it makes me alive everyday… someday soon i wish i would have a little like yours… More Power…..

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