If you go

Rainshadow Organics farm store is at 71290 Holmes Road, Sisters. Store hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. The grand opening of its farm store is set for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 16.

Central Oregon farmers are working hard to expand their customer base beyond farmers markets and educate the community about the nutritional benefits of eating local.

Rainshadow Organics, a regular at the Bend Farmers Market and the NorthWest Crossing Farmers Market, decided to make their goods available year-round by opening a store at their farm between Terrebonne and Sisters.

Sarahlee Lawrence and Ashanti Samuels are selling organic drinks, raw fruits and vegetables, cuts of meat, honey, eggs, pickled vegetables and grains. Locally grown produce isn’t available in most commercial grocery stores, so Central Oregon farmers must rely on the support of loyal customers.

Also, the couple has applied for a permit to make and serve food.

The agricultural duo wanted to give customers an additional place to buy their products as well as a way to bridge the gap financially from October through May, since Central Oregon farmers markets finish up after September.

“This kitchen is all about preserving things to extend through the season and also have an outlet for all this food even in the winter months, when there’s no farmers market and it’s harder to transport food,” Lawrence said.

Way of life

Area residents are becoming more familiar with longstanding Central Oregon farms and what they produce. What some are less familiar with is what goes into the act of farming local food. In the High Desert, the temperature swing from daytime highs to nighttime lows is tough on plants. Farming here is considered a true labor of love as the climate is less forgiving and the crops require lots of attention.

“You really have to be persevering and on time, and hitting hard in the window that you have,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence is a third-generation farmer. She knows it’s a hard trade for this region, growing up on her family’s Central Oregon farm in the fields.

Inspired by Michael Pollan’s books, including “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” she became very passionate about organic farming and food education. After attending college and pursuing other career paths, Lawrence returned to her family’s farm in 2010 and converted it into an organic operation. She and her husband, Ashanti Samuels, now run the farm. What was originally a vegetable-only garden turned into a full production with animals, orchards and an herb garden.

Of all the farms in the area, Rainshadow Organics grows and sells the widest array of items.

“She really offers a huge variety of products and that’s partly her personality. Sarahlee loves to test new products out and is continually wanting to challenge herself as a farmer. But also it’s sort of an insurance policy,” Jess Weiland, food and farm director of the High Desert Food and Farm Alliance, said. For example, if a crop of kale has a large amount of insect holes in it and isn’t likely to sell to the public, the zucchini or eggs can be sold instead.

Rainshadow Organics has 18 greenhouses to grow crops year-round. The 200-acre farm produces vegetables, fruits, herbs, grains, beans, dairy products, honey and meats. There are 100 hogs, 100 head of cattle, 100 chickens, 100 turkeys, 150 laying hens, an ox and a milk cow. Ultimately, Lawrence’s goal is for the farm to be able to provide a full diet. “So this is our eighth season and we eat like 95 percent from our farm year-round,” she said. “We trade for beer and coffee, and I might buy chocolate.”

At the store

Long tables and benches for customers are on a wrap-around deck overlooking the farm. Roosters can be heard crowing in the distance. Inside, two hanging chalkboards list available cuts of meat and organic sodas for purchase. A large glass refrigerator holds zucchini, eggplants, squash and jars of pickles. Rainshadow Organics new farm store is clean and bright with large windows.

“Hiking out at Smith Rock and looping back here and heading back to town is pretty doable,” Lawrence said. “You can have a drink and relax for a minute.”

Lawrence and Samuels are working towards the proper certifications at the farm store kitchen so they can eventually sell prepared foods and to-go items. If this were to happen, the same philosophy would go into the foods prepared for customers, using only ingredients from the farm. The farm staff uses the dairy products to make yogurt, ice cream and butter. Leftover vegetables are used to make sauces and pickled items. While products such as dairy items and cooked meats are not available to the general public, they are incorporated into meals for the farm staff.

If the farm receives certification to prepare and sell food, Lawrence and Samuels say the menu would be seasonal and change every day, but she plans to serve salads, sandwiches, daily soups and rotating seasonal items. Lawrence is hoping the kitchen will be certified within the next one to two months.

For the time being, there is a variety of raw and pickled items available for purchase at the store. “It’s pretty much farmers market. We have cold drinks and things, but mostly it’s all of our fruits, vegetables, grains and meats available,” she said. In addition, the farm store sells a small selection of locally-made jewelry, toiletries, cutting boards and postcards.

Why local?

A push to eat more local food has been on the rise for a few years now. Largely for environmental reasons, but also because of the nutritional benefits. After all, farmers selling produce within a 50-mile radius don’t have to worry about shelf life and preserving the look of their food the same way that many large commercial farmers do. When produce travels across multiple states, it loses nutritional benefits along the way, such as the amount of Vitamin C it contains.

“The average food travels something between 1,500 and 2,000 miles to get to our plate and every single day after it’s harvested, those nutrients start to deplete,” said Weiland. “When you’re purchasing from a farmer at the farmers market they likely harvested that the night before or that morning, so you’re really getting a lot of nutrient bang for your buck.”

Farmers find it challenging to keep the look of their fruits and vegetables attractive enough to compete with commercial produce companies. While a hole in a leaf of arugula doesn’t damage the taste or make it unhealthy to eat, there are many people who wouldn’t buy it at the farmers market.

“The standards of aesthetics of food are very, very high,” Lawrence said. “People have almost zero tolerance for imperfection.” This has pushed Lawrence to discover new ways to use the imperfect-looking food on her farm.

“Isn’t making food and serving food, not only to yourself but to other people the most intimate thing you can do? I mean you’re putting it in their body — that’s powerful, it’s running them,” Lawrence said. “I want people to come out here and get a good selection of things. It will probably never be a restaurant with a menu, but you can depend on there being daily soups and salads and sandwiches.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0351, mcrowe@bendbulletin.com

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