20-acre, family-run farm on Grand Island, just south of Dayton in Yamhill County
What They Seed:
certified organic fruits, vegetables, livestock & eggs for CSA and Yamhill County restaurants
Where You Can Find Them:
CSA: Information online
Retail: Oakhill Organics Storefront in McMinnville, Harvest Fresh
Feeders They Supply:
Restaurants: Thistle Restaurant, The Blue Goat, Community Plate, Valley Commissary
Nothing in farming is certain and being adaptable is a key component to success. Casey and Katie Kulla of Oakhill Organics in McMinnville, Oregon have seen their Yamhill County farm through various stages of growth and progress since starting in 2006. Now, along with two young children, they are raising animals, growing vegetables and fruit on 20 acres, managing their CSA and the farm all themselves.
Casey and Katie Kulla met as freshmen in college in Washington state and married just a couple of years later. Until Casey read a book by Wendell Berry neither had even considered life on a farm. It took a few more years to convince Katie that this was their destiny, but spending two years working on an organic farm while pursuing graduate degrees in Ecology (Casey) and Create Non-fiction (Katie). After that experience they knew that they had discovered their true passion. With that, they had to find a farm and Oregon’s Willamette Valley seemed to be the perfect place. They rented a tiny, one-acre property, started growing and organized a CSA that year. By the year’s end they realized they had already outgrown their property. A property search led them to 17.5 acres on Grand Island in Yamhill County. The property had everything they wanted and needed, including water rights, class-1 soils and a home building site. The price seemed out of reach, but their dreams became reality when Katie’s parents came down to visit from Seattle, fell in love with the area and the idea of supporting the young couple’s dream. Katie’s parents helped to buy the farm, with an additional loan from a college friend. Purchasing Oakhill Organics farm was a community effort and one of the biggest blessings of their entire lives. Sometimes in farming a combination of luck, hard work and making others believe in your passion develops into more than a dream.
After buying the land, Katie and Casey built their farmhouse, with the help of friends, family and CSA members. For the first three years, Katie and Casey were the only full-time farmers in the fields, but in 2009 they had hired a lovely couple to work side-by-side with them. They also decided to stop going to markets and really focus on their growing CSA. By the end of that year many other pieces of the puzzle fell into place and they wound up buying another neighboring parcel of land plus Katie’s parents bought the farm next door. They suddenly found themselves living next door to Katie’s parents and owning/renting over 100 acres of land! Never in their wildest dreams did they consider that these things would happen in the span of a few years.
In 2009 and 2012, two adorable children were born and helped make their little house a home and a true family farm.
Fast-forward a few years and the farm had developed into a true farm and less of a garden: orchards, berry patches, pastures, nut groves, fields of grains and wild areas at all the edges.
Oakhill Organics is USDA certified organic. Given the large acreage, they have fostered a holistic farm system, where fertility and pest/weed management is incorporated into the rotations of crops and animals, all of which encourages ongoing soil health. All of their animals are raised solely on their land and fed only the food they have grown or feed that is also certified organic. Their practices create clean food for the CSA and a clean, healthy environment for their family and employees.
Animals and organic material from cover crops provide the primary fertility for the vegetables. Casey and Katie add off farm amendments as necessary in the form of organic-approved products such as fishmeal and calcium sources such as lime. This helps keeps the pH low, which allows plants to increase fertility and fight off pests and other diseases naturally.
In their experience, annual crop growing benefits from some tillage. It is their belief that seeds need to have space, water and sunlight to grow bigger and bigger. Tillage is helpful and necessary to help the seed along. Pastures and orchards are kept as undisturbed as possible each year. Casey and Katie believe in a gentle method of tilling. They turn the soil but always mindful of keeping the layers of soil undisturbed in the top and down relationship. They do not want to overwork the soil, causing erosion or overly disturbing the valuable bacteria and fungal lives in the soil. They believe that this method and planting cover crops on unused or resting land adds to the vibrant ecosystem of health. Every choice is made with health in mind; health of the land, animals, farmers and eaters. Read more about Oakhill Organics’ growing practices on their website.
The peak of Oakhill Organics’ enterprise, employees and acreage was in 2012-2014. While business was successful and rewarding, it got to a point where they felt a strong pull to simplify in both the farm and their lives.
At the end of the 2015 season Katie and Casey said goodbye to their last employee and began decreasing the amount of acreage under their direct management. While they loved the wildness of their farm adventure over the years, they decided to recommit themselves to the craft of growing and the attention to detail that is possible when they do all of the work themselves.
The CSA continues to be the heart of Oakhill Organics. They serve about 90 families a year, some of whom have been members “forever”, says Katie. Since 2014, they have had a one day a week storefront in McMinnville, where members can pick up their shares in a “market-style” CSA. They also offer their meat and eggs for sale to members and to the public. A number of Yamhill County restaurants source from Oakhill Organics, with Thistle in McMinnville being their most consistent customer over the years.
Since the beginning Katie has documented their farm adventures on the Oakhill Organics blog, which was one of the original farm blogs. She appreciates it as a writing practice and as telling history of everything that they’ve been through over the years.
Oakhill Organics is a thriving farm. It represents the thoughtful, caring mindset of Casey and Katie. Respect and love of the land radiates in all they have achieved.
From the Oakhill Organics website:
“These acres that we walk and explore and farm are the foundation of our experience. They are our responsibility and home. We love them more and more every day, and increase in our understanding of them with every passing year.
Every day here humbles us. Every day here brings challenges. Every day here teaches us about the abundance of the universe, as we experience the power in nature and the generosity in people and their connections. Every day here is an honor. Every day we learn more about what it means to be rooted here — all the complications of staying put and loving a little corner of the world so hard.”
“We were at the front of a wave” – Katie on starting their organic farm in the Willamette Valley in 2006; “We attended the Small Farms Conference in 2006. There were about 150 people there and less than 10 were under 40 years old.”
“We’re profoundly grateful for the vegetable CSA. Some members have been in it forever.”