Farm Profile: Rainshadow Organics

Author: Dana Martin

Publish Date: Winter 2009

Sarahlee Lawrence has lived an eventful life following graduation from Redmond High School in 2000. She’s traveled the world touring New Zealand, South and Central America and Africa. She has worked as a river guide, exploring the Nile River and leading adventures through the Grand Canyon. While floating the Colorado River, she was involved in an invasive species project.

During this time, Sarahlee also earned a degree in Sociology and Environmental Studies from Whitman College and a Master of Science degree in Environmental Science and Writing from the University of Montana.

Through all her adventures, Sarahlee never lost site of her dream to return to her Central Oregon family farm, located about 10 miles down Lower Bridge Road in the Terrebonne area.

“I wanted to return to our family farm but I wanted to do it differently,” says Sarahlee, referring to her parent’s hay operation, which David and Chris Lawrence have farmed for the past 30 years.

While Sarahlee’s husband, a West Point graduate, is deployed to Iraq, Sarahlee and her family are busy diversifying their 130-acre farm. Sarahlee is composting horse manure and involved in a vermiculture project. She has planted one field in winter peas and is experimenting with growing Quinoa as well as Safflower. Her pickup has been converted to run on recycled vegetable oil and Sarahlee is in the process of constructing a fourseasons greenhouse.

Her goal for the family farm, Rainshadow Organics, is to eventually develop an organic vegetable and grain CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) operation.

“I want to grow healthy, local food for my community in a sustainable way,” says Sarahlee. “We have a three-year timeline to get Rainshadow Organics converted to organic. Our goal is to be in operation by the summer of 2011.

Sarahlee has done her research. While she is willing to explore new, innovative techniques for farming, her business plan is very practical and straight forward. She plans to improve their soil, create an efficient infrastructure and explore different crop options.

“The first thing we need to do is fortify our soil,” she says, noting that this year, Rainshadow Organics will turn 150 tons of horse manure into compost. “We are exploring various methods in order to conserve water, a critical consideration in our arid region.”

Sarahlee has also partnered with a neighbor to conduct intensive vermiculture experiments on the farm, utilizing an old potato storage cellar to house the worm bins.

“We will turn worm castings into a worm tea and then spread it on our fields,” she says. “We are experimenting with ways to harvest worms and their castings as well as looking for efficient ways to turn the castings into a nutrient-rich tea, which will be used to improve the health of our soil.”

Sarahlee is working with a local irrigation company to better manage water on her farm. The district is currently piping 10 miles of canals in order to save water for local endangered fish, while also creating a pressurized water source for farmers. Most of this work is being done through volunteer labor.

Next year, she will be field-testing Quinoa, an Andean grain that is gaining popularity in the United States. It will be planted on a two-acre field and closely monitored to see if it is feasible as a crop in Central Oregon.

After attending a recent ‘Cultivating Our Local Food Economy”, coordinated by the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council in cooperation with OSU Extension Service, Sarahlee is excited about the connections she made with other farmers in Central Oregon.

“A recurring theme at the conference was the need to form a cooperative where local producers can pool their resources to meet local demands and share knowledge,” she says. “Through a local cooperative, those of us with small farms could possibly work together to purchase equipment and supplies and figure out ways to market our products. In order to make this happen, we need to have a viable system to exchange information.”

Sarahlee is actively seeking funding opportunities that will allow her to develop a website for people involved in the local food movement. Through this community resource, producers and consumers could connect, share ideas and increase communication.

“This website would be a resource for all farmers interested in working towards a sustainable farming and ranching community,” says Sarahlee, noting that she has always had a love for environmental stewardship. “I’m dedicated to my community and the land. I don’t care about making a million bucks, I just want to live a quality life and in the process, make a significant contribution. There is no better place to live than right here so we are committed to making this work.”