Joseph Ditzler
The Bulletin

If you go

What: Free potato day

Where: Rainshadow Organics, 70955 N.W. Lower Bridge Way, Terrebonne. Take Lower Bridge to Holmes Road, turn left and look for the sign.

When: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. today

Cost: The potatoes are free, but donations are accepted, said farmer Sarahlee Lawrence.

TERREBONNE — The once neat rows of stacked cardboard bins are jumbled and sagging now in the storage cellar at Rainshadow Organics off Lower Bridge Way.

They hold 18 tons of potatoes, the remainder of the first large crop planted by fourth-generation farmer Sarahlee Lawrence. And they’re free for the taking. Just drive up today and take as much as you want.

“I could just disk them in, but at least 80 percent of this is good,” Lawrence, 31, said Monday, surveying the cellar in the gathering dusk. Disking the crop means to plow it back into the soil.

Many of the potatoes, stored in a cellar Lawrence renovated in a 100-year-old barn, froze solid when temperatures dipped to minus 27 the weekend of Dec. 7-8. When the spuds thawed, they released their fluids, which caused the bins to sag.

Lawrence was not alone in her loss. Tim Deboodt, Oregon State University extension agent in neighboring Crook County, said a stored crop of potatoes, raised by a local Future Farmers of America chapter, also froze in its storage cellar.

“Even well-insulated walls aren’t enough,” Deboodt said. “It was an extended period of cold. That cold just got driven through those insulated walls down into the soil.”

Anyone interested in taking home free potatoes from Rainshadow Organics may sift through them from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. today. Lawrence said she’s already given away some to needy families and some members of the farm’s Community Supported Agriculture group have bought some, but much more remains.

“No, I can’t physically or emotionally disk them in,” she said.

Lawrence planted her first large potato crop in 2013 in hopes of selling it commercially. But the experience proved costly, she said.

Lawrence planted 10 acres of potatoes in 100, quarter-mile-long rows. She planted 14 varieties: Yukon gold, French fingerling and Peruvian purple, among others.

“We stuck our necks out and planted a lot of potatoes, hoping to sell them,” said Lawrence, who runs the 160-acre farm with her husband, Ashanti Samuels. “It was the first time on that scale and I didn’t expect much of an abundant crop.”

Nonetheless, she reaped a 100-ton bounty this fall, a 38-day harvesting job that fell “two days short of biblical.” They sold the crop to Whole Foods, but that’s when the project came a cropper .

The last potato processing plant in Central Oregon closed in the mid-1990s, about the time drought and other factors spelled the end of large-scale potato farming in the region, said Deboodt. That meant Lawrence had to send her crop to Othello, Wash., for washing, sorting and packaging. In the end, that last stage cost the farm about $50,000. They were left with a loss, the remainder of the potato crop and a semi-trailer they’d purchased to haul the crop to Washington.

Lawrence, however, is unfazed. A new growing season beckons.

“Hell, yeah, I’m planting potatoes,” she said Monday. “I don’t get bucked off.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7815,