by Lynn Miller with photos by Eric Grutzmacher and the author
Click here to watch the video.
Saralee Lawrence and Ashanti Samuels are Rainshadow Organics, a burgeoning, certified organic operation which fully embraces the tenets of mixed crop and livestock farming. At its core is a full-force market garden. The entire farm comprises one hundred and eighty acres situated in the magnificent, high desert region of central Oregon and subject to a painfully short growing season (some years just slightly over 2 months). Established in 1999, the operation has steadily grown to include 15 acres of grain, 12 acres of market garden (with 2 acres under plastic) and 60+ acres of winter pasture. Here you will find pastured poultry (200 laying hens plus up to 700 broilers a year), farrowing sows and up to a hundred feeder pigs at any one time. A herd of 100 Corriente cattle (augmented with leased grazing), some horses, a milk cow, goats and assorted other animals are included. The farm’s marketing structure includes a 100 member CSA, plus attendance at two regional farmer’s markets, and supplying local supermarkets and 6 restaurants. Brand spanking new for the summer of 2017 will be an ambitious farm “stand” and restaurant. Saralee commented that organic certification was difficult but necessary. Last year they had a dearth of tomatoes and peppers, this year (and with the new ‘store and kitchen’) they are looking forward to doing quite a bit of fermentation.
For the growing season this is an intense, hands-on farm and the owners have answered the need elegantly and unselfishly by employing 7 paid interns through the Rogue Farm Corp program. In this way the work gets done while Saralee gets to share her farming skills and fulfill a passion for teaching.
Recently I had a chance to interview the work crew (hopefully a portion of this, in video form, will be available through our website) and learned of Saralee’s forthright approach to establishing expectations and reality alarms for prospective interns. Having had to bear the difficulties of interns leaving mid-season, she has intelligently moved to let each and every prospect know, from the outset, the nature and difficulty of the work plus what is expected. As the political climate across the country becomes more unstable, so too does the predictability of seasonal farm labor. Rainshadow is one example of how the conditions and rewards for farm labor might improve and, in turn, help small farm communities everywhere.
This is indeed a bright spot.