A conversation with local sustainability pioneer Sarahlee Lawrence.
You grew up on this property. What is the biggest change that’s occurred?
I returned home after a couple degrees in environmental science and ten years of international river guiding to take over my family farm. Committed to raising food for Central Oregon, I converted the farm to certified organic and began my journey toward raising a “full diet.”
You said once that you hadn’t planted a seed or really eaten vegetables before jumping into this endeavor. What ever possessed you to take this up?
I read an essay by Michael Pollen that stopped me in my tracks. Food as we know it was doomed. Farmers were growing old. Farmland was being developed. With my family land, I knew I could make a difference.
You rely on a fair amount of student labor to make things work. Can you talk about the role of education in the operation?
It would be easier to hire staff for the farm and probably about the same financially, but I believe we need more farmers. I believe that food security lies in the working hands of young people that need skills, field experience, learned perseverance and awareness. I open my farm to people committed to learning how to farm, with the intent of farming themselves, or who are at least raising their awareness about food and want to be more informed, conscious eaters. They are part of a seven-month intensive curriculum through the Rogue Farm Corps.
This is a quiet and remote place, at least by Central Oregon standards, yet it feels very connected to the community. Is that deliberate?
We are dedicated to our community, both in the immediate Central Oregon region and beyond it. We depend on people who are committed to eating seasonal food, organically grown, right here. This is a culinary adventure. It is not the way people are used to shopping for specific recipes with all ingredients available to them. This is preservation. This is honoring each ingredient as it comes. This is longing. This is patience. This is cooking as a daily act. The people who eat our food bring their families together to cook and to eat. It is community and conviviality. We eat the food we grow as a crew every day. We celebrate the first of everything. We get creative as plants keep on giving. We try to inspire those that shop at the farm with recipes posted regularly to our website, and we’ll soon be hosting cooking classes.
Speaking of community, September 16 marks the grand opening of your market and beautiful commercial kitchen. How are these additions going to fit into your existing operation and what are a couple of fun surprises that people might find?
We are so excited about our new kitchen and store. We are cooking through this first season, learning to preserve everything. You will of course find our full fresh market array of veggies, pork, beef, chicken, buckwheat and wheat flour. We’re drying and pickling and fermenting like crazy. This is an everchanging place. We’ll be posting specials and new products regularly. The kitchen completes the circle, allowing us to get more of our food into the hands of our community, especially people who aren’t used to cooking with farm fresh food. We believe in food access, so we also accept Oregon Farm Direct Nutrition Program vouchers and we will soon take SNAP benefits.
The CSA has been the cornerstone of your business. What are some new and exciting things happening there?
Our CSA has grown into a full-diet, year-round offering. We have both small and large, meat and veggie shares for summer and winter. We have classic veggies that people love, but being a member exposes you to new and fun varieties, too. It is a culinary adventure through the season. We offer two pick up locations in Bend, downtown on Wednesdays and NorthWest Crossing on Saturdays, or you can pick up your CSA at the farm. CSA members often get things first in the season, and we share the abundance of the season as it comes. The farm kitchen is a new and unique aspect for the CSA. We’ll be sharing recipes of all the creative, culinary energy that is surrounding how we enjoy, store and preserve this food.