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Featured Farm Craft: Kookoolan Farms

What is the name of your Farm, Ranch, or Homestead?

Our farm is Kookoolan Farms in Yamhill, about an hour southwest of Portland, Oregon. The name is special to us because it carries many layers of meaning. The short answer is that “Kookoolan” was Koorosh’s childhood nickname. But the name means so much more than just that…Cu Chulainn is Gaelic (Irish/Celtic) word, so its not pronounced quite the way it looks. On an Intel business trip to Ireland in 1997, so this is three or four years before Chrissie and Koorosh met, Chrissie got to take in a live theater production of the Cuchulainn legend, or Ulster Cycle. Basically Cu Chulainn was a medieval Celtic epic hero/bully, a half-human, half-god who had some trouble learning his own strength. At the time, Chrissie had just begun making mead as a hobby, thought Cu Chulainn would be a cool name for a meadery.

The Cu Chulainn Legend (short version, thanks to Wiki)

Our hero was born with the same Setanta. As a child, he killed the chief Culann’s fierce guard-dog in self-defense, and so offered to take its place until a replacement could be reared. Note that the guard dog’s main purpose was guarding the chief’s cattle — cattle were a high-status possession indicative of wealth and power. In other words the child Cu Chulainn became the guardian of the cattle herd.

At the age of seventeen he defended the kingdom of Ulster single-handedly against the armies of queen Medb of Connacht (her name Medb, or Maeve, is cognate with the English word “mead”, meaning “she who intoxicates) in the famous Tain Bo Cuailnge (“Cattle Raid of Cooley”).

It was prophesied that his great deeds would give him everlasting fame, but his life would be a short one. He is known for his terrifying battle frenzy, or riastrad, in which he becomes an unrecognizable monster who knows neither friend nor foe. (Note that the highly-tattooed Scottish tribe the Picts, whose name gave us the English word “picture”, would become drunk on mead prior to battle for the same purpose.)

There’s a lot more but that’s enough to give you the general picture. It’s an obscure story. Unless you’re Irish and/or a literature major, your unlikely to ever have heard of him.

But it would be a cool name for a meadery. Well, except that it’s hard to spell, hard to pronounce, hard to remember, and already had zillions of theater and literature references. So the thought was tabled, until…the first time I heard Koorosh’s older brother call what my ears heard as Cu Chulainn, I nearly fell out of my chair! How could these two Persian men have heard of Cu Chulainn? Well, of course, it turns out they hadn’t. “Kookoolan” was just a pet name variation on “Koorosh”, just as you might call your child “David-Wavid” or “Georgie-Porgie.”

When it was time to name the farm, there was never any other name on the table. From the first moment we talked about having a farm, it was only Kookoolan Farms. So, the man of my dreams came along and solved the problem of what to name my meadery. Kookoolan World Meadery is married to the farm’s name, but still has the connection to Irish legend. About once a year someone actually notices the similarity and asks about it!

As in “cuckoo-land farms”?? It annoyed us at first, but we’ve embraced it: many people first hear “kookoolan” as “cuckoo-land.” Whether thats because we’ve always had birds on or farm or whether its because we may be a little crazy is up for debate. We hadn’t anticipated this version of meaning, but both interpretations have some truth in them!

Oh and the other important attribute of the name Kookoolan is that in 2005 if you did a Google search on the word, absolutely nothing came up. Nothing. Zero. In fact, if you do a google search on the word now, very little comes up except what has to do with our farm. In a world where very few names are unique, this one actually seems to be.

The final unexpected result is that everyone seems to find the name easy to say, easy to remember, fun to say, and…theirs. We’ve had people ask us whether the name is Australian or African or Dutch or Japanese. We love thats its a name everyone finds to be friendly and accessible. Because Kookoolan Farms is not just our farm, its your farm too.

From the time he was a young boy, Koorosh wanted to be a farmer. Somehow he got derailed along the way with degrees in physics and an engineering career at Intel, but he always wanted to have a little farm. Now that he’s been retired from Intel for more then five years, if you ask him today what he does for a living, his complete-sentence-answer would be Kookoolan Farms!!

How and/or when did life as a farmer, rancher or homesteader begin for you?

Honestly, if only one of these stories was true we probably never would have done it. It required all of these different motivations and reasons coming together to make it happen.

As described above, Koorosh had always wanted to have a little farm. He was thinking a hobby farm, just a beautiful place to have a few animals, garden and a small orchard. But, Chrissie never knew this.

Meanwhile Chrissie, at age 40 and managing an engineering team at Intel Corp. had several of the low-level illnesses associated with high stress desk jobs and the standard “healthy” American diet of low-fat, low-protein, high-carb, no red meat: poor digestion and sleeping, asthma and allergies, incredibly high cholesterol, and incredibly low “good” cholesterol. She was taking a whopping seven prescription medications daily. She was looking for a way to become healthier, and was trying to find grass-fed and pasture-raised meats. This was the early 2000’s and there simply weren’t any. In a fit of temper tantrum, Chrissie decided she would just have to figure it out herself.

When Chrissie and Koorosh (both working in the same department at Intel at the time) fell in love, they were moved to different departments and were no longer able to work together. So we knew that we needed to start some kind of business together if we wanted to be able to work together. We kicked through several ideas, and the idea of starting a farm resonated most with us.

Finally, during this same time of looking for other employment opportunities, Koorosh got a solid offer from Aerospace Corporation in Los Angeles, to “investigate the feasibility of putting a nuclear reactor on the planet Mars.” It was an incredibly exciting offer, but Chrissie just couldn’t bear the idea of living in Los Angeles. This was an existential crisis for our relationship. Then Koorosh said, “buy me a little farm and I’ll stay.” Here’s the funny part: the farm he asked for, the farm Chrissie said “yes” to, the farm we bought and started, and the farm we have now, are all completely different from one another!

What do you grow and/or raise?

Kookoolan Farms had celebrated its 15 year anniversary on October 17, 2020!! We offer 100% grass-fed and grass-finished beef and lamb; pasture-raised and organic-fed poultry both for meat and eggs; sustainably wild-caught, sushi-grade seafood; and honey, mead, and wine. We’re a fully licensed winery with a small Pinot Noir Vineyard. Over the years, we’ve had Jersey Cows for raw milk and a Vegetable CSA. For ten years we were weekly fixtures at the Hillsdale Farmer’s Market in Portland, Oregon. For the past five years we have both been exclusive full-time farmers with no off-farm day jobs, and we no longer do any Farmer’s Markets, commercial accounts, or deliveries. Everything we offer is available only at the farm, and we only accept cash and check for payment. No farm can start this way, and it took us 15 years to get here, but these days the farm is stronger and more profitable and more fun than ever!

What traditional methods do you use on your farm to grow your crops and/or raise your animals? 

We endeavor to keep our animals outdoors on clean grass and clover pastures as many days of the year as possible. We use rotational grazing. We don’t use synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or fertilizers. We use our own animals’ composted manure to fertilize our own orchard, gardens, and vineyard. We just have household trash collection for the entire farm–we do not have commercial sized trash removal, so we make everything fit in a small household waste pickup! We re-use the waste water from our small on-farm poultry abattoir to irrigate our arborvitae perimeter hedge and our fruit orchard. We allow our egg-laying hens to roam freely over the entire property.

What is one of your favorite farm-infused recipes you wish to share? 

Here is Farmer Chrissie’s own recipe for roasting a large pastured meat chicken. Note: pastured chickens do not retain and then exude water as do confinement raised chickens that have long acting antibiotics administered to the unhatched fetus, and the chickens have a higher ratio of Omega-3 fats with a lower smoke point. So cook pastured birds gently at lower temperatures, and for a longer period of time, then you would a conventionally raised chicken. The recipe can be found in Chrissie’s self-published book “The Art of Mead Tasting and Food Pairing,” page 268.

Provencal Slow-Roasted Chicken

Recipe is Paleo, Gluten-free, and Dairy-free if you skip the sauce. Many recipes from Provence use an herb blend that includes lavender leaves and lavender flowers. It takes a little longer to roast a chicken at low temperature, but the flavor and texture are so worth it.

Equipment: covered roasting pan, or an open roasting pan, aluminum foil and a meat thermometer.

Time 90 minutes

Hands-on 5 minutes

Yields 4 servings

Ingredients:

1 whole roasting chicken. I’m partial to large ones (5 to 6 lbs) that have more fat marbling. Please try to find a local, pasture-raised chicken, or an organic, free-range chicken. It does make a difference. The chicken in this photo was 6 lbs; I rarely waste my time on anything smaller.

2 Tbsp salt

1 tsp pepper

1 Tbsp minced garlic

1 Tbsp dry Herbes de Provence

Olive oil

3 Tbsp butter

3 Tbsp all-purpose flour

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

Instructions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 275 °F. In a small bowl, combine the salt, pepper, garlic and thyme to make a spice rub.
  2. Rinse the chicken and pat dry with paper towels. (For a crispier skin, you can do this step several hours in advance, and leadve the chicken uncovered in the refrigerator for up to 8 hours to dry the skin. This is like dry-aging steaks: the evaporation of excess water concentrates the flavors.)
  3. Massage the chicken all over, inside and out, first with the olive oil and then with the salt rub. Place the chicken in the roasting pan and bake , uncovered, for at least an hour before checking.
  4. The chicken is done when a meat thermometer inserted deep in the thigh reads 165°F, or when the juices are clear rather than pink when you poke at the thigh with a small, sharp knife. Expect this to take about an hour for a small (3-1/2 lb) chicken, or two and a half hours for a large (6-lb) chicken.
  5. Remove the chicken from the oven; set the chicken on a serving plate and allow it to rest for ten minutes. Please do not skip this step. Your chicken will not get cold. This allows the muscle fibers to re-absorb moisture lost through cooking for the most tender and delicious chicken ever.
  6. Meanwhile, make the sauce: melt the butter in a small saucepan. Once melted, whisk in the flour and cook over medium heat until the flour is blond in color and no longer smells like raw flour. Add the mead, mead vinegar, and all of the meat juices from the roasting pan, and whisk until smooth. Increase the heat to medium and cook until thickened. If desired, you can additionally season the sauce with salt, pepper, and more Herbes de Provence.

How to serve: serve the roast chicken whole from the serving plate, sliced at the table. Nice accompaniments would be roasted honey-glazed carrots and new red potatoes.

What is at least one farm tradition you uphold? 

The farm tradition we are most proud of is handshake arrangements between neighbors. Kookoolan Farms is not just the 5-acre property owned by Koorosh and Chrissie–we outgrew this property about 15 minutes after we signed the papers on it! If “it takes a village” to raise a child, then that is doubly true for running a farm. Each animal species has its own fencing and watering needs and its own husbandry expertise. Caring for live animals is a full-time job and so is processing and marketing them. Kookoolan Farms has extended its reach into our rural community by including a half dozen or so neighbors in our loose co-op, and by creating new and additional jobs not only in our direct employ but, also with our meat processor and neighbors endeavors. Small farmers in Yamhill County are not in direct competition with each other but rather in a symbiotic partnership of referrals and networking. It’s a beautiful place to live and work!

What inspires you to continue a farm lifestyle? 

Every day, we have customers tell us that what we do matters to them. That they feel safer in a chaotic world knowing they have several weeks or months worth of food in their freezer. That they feel empowered that nutrient-dense foods are part of their strategy of strengthening their immune systems. That they feel good spending their money in the local food shed, knowing it will be re-spent locally. Almost every day a customer will post a photo of their fully-loaded freezer with a thank you note. Our customers inspire us every day!

What words of inspiration or uplifting wisdom to you hope to impart on the future generation of farmers, ranchers, beekeepers, and homesteaders? 

2020 has been a tough year for everyone, all over the world. Farming reminds us that growing plants and animals, nurturing the pastures and woodlands, is something real and tangible that we as farmers can do to mitigate the effects of global warming and forest fires. Producing nutrient-dense foods is something we can do to nourish our communities to build stronger immunity. Producing and distributing locally-raised and locally-processed meats is something so important that small farms all over the country were able to do when a nation’s industrial food processing systems broke this summer. We farmers, ranchers, beekeepers, and homesteaders do important work every day, in not adding to the problems but also in meaningful contribution to their solutions.

Where can people find you/your products online?  

Learn more about us on our Facebook and Instagram pages!

Visit our website for so much more! Kookoolan Farms can ship wine or mead to most states, but all other farm products are available only at our on-farm farm store in Yamhill, Oregon.

 

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