What: Free Rain Designs LLC

What it does: Produces equipment to help with home gardening and water conservation

Pictured: Founder Chip Dixon

Employees: One

Phone: 603-208-9287

Website: www.freeraindesigns.com

With a background in product design and a passion for sustainable living, Chip Dixon founded Free Rain Designs in Bend to bring rainwater collection into the 21st Century.

While collecting, storing and harvesting falling rain for agriculture and other purposes is nothing new, Dixon said the rainwater collection community typically uses large, plastic barrels that don’t drain properly and attract mosquitoes.

“I think it’s a pretty ugly paradigm that gives backyard sustainability a bad name,” Dixon said.

Because of that, Dixon designed The Cube — an above-ground, wood-paneled cistern — to make it easier and more aesthetically pleasing to use rainwater at home.

Dixon said each individual Cube is custom-made and is built on request from customers, who can choose from four different types of paneling and several other preferences. Each system hooks up to a home’s rain gutter. A small amount of water is diverted out of the system to improve the overall purity, and the rest drains into the central holding tank, where users can hook up an irrigation line to water plants without tapping into the municipal water supply. With a little purifying, Dixon said the water can be used to supply washing machines and dishwashers.

“When we have aquifers being depleted like the (Ogallala Aquifer), it’s time to start rethinking our relationship with water,” Dixon said.

Dixon said size of the collection units can vary, but the smallest holds 275 gallons of rainwater in a 4-foot by 4-foot cube. The units begin at $1,117, depending on size and the type of paneling used. Dixon said he can get a unit built and fully installed in a home within a week of receiving an order.

Since formally establishing Free Rain Designs in January, Dixon has also begun work on a raised gardening system, known as the Hexagarden. Free Rain Designs’ product will be built as a 5-foot-wide hexagon, which Dixon said provides a greater amount of usable surface area and more structural integrity than a standard square.

“There’s a reason why bees use them,” Dixon said.

Free Rain Designs was one of five finalists for the Early Stage Competition of the Bend Venture Conference in October. While the company didn’t win, Dixon said he was grateful for the exposure that the competition provided.

Dixon is still developing the Hexagarden prototype, but said the final product would be made from post-consumer material, and could be shipped and assembled easily. When the time comes to uproot the garden, Dixon said the Hexagarden would be designed to be uprooted and stored.

“I want to make gardening available to everybody,” Dixon said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7818, shamway@bendbulletin.com

Q: Have you seen growth in the gardening industry?

A: Chip Dixon: It’s only growing. With people wanting to really know what goes into their bodies, currently one in three homes are gardening right now. It’s not only trendy but it’s practical, and delicious.

Q: What would you say to people who might not be familiar or comfortable with rainwater collection?

A: All the rain that falls in your house is yours. And why turn down something that’s free? We’re made of 70 percent water, and it’s time to start respecting that.