High Desert Food Trail highlights Central Oregon agriculture

Article originally published in the Bend Bulletin and written by Kyle Spurr. 


A new self-guided tour through the farmlands of Central Oregon will allow participants to enjoy the food produced in the region. The High Desert Food Trail, which launched Friday, takes people on a tour of 45 different stops through Deschutes, Jefferson and Crook counties.

The stops include farms and ranches, craft beverage producers, cooking schools and vineyards.

“We are really excited to collaborate with other farms in Central Oregon to share our rich agricultural lands with our community and visitors,’’ said Sarahlee Lawrence, owner of Rainshadow Organics, a 200-acre farm outside of Sisters.

Lawrence, 39, was born at the farm, which her family started in 1970. She and her husband, Ashanti Samuels, opened a farm store on the property in 2015. At the store, Lawrence offers meats, grains and vegetables all raised on her farm. Participants on the food trail are encouraged to visit Friday and Saturday each week, when the store is open and meals are served, she said.

“We call it farm-driven cuisine,” Lawrence said. “We really are cooking what we grow, and it changes every week, every season.”

Lawrence is familiar with other food trails in Oregon, including one in Hood River called the Fruit Loop.

She is thrilled her farm is on the new trail. It helps people find her farm, which like many other farms is off the beaten path, she said.

“We are definitely not on a main road,” Lawrence said.

“It’s a beautiful drive, but it’s not really on the way to anything.”

The High Desert Food Trail was created by the High Desert Food and Farm Alliance and Travel Oregon, which runs the Oregon Food Trails. The new trail joins eight other Oregon Food Trails throughout the state, and is the second east of the Cascades Mountains.

A map of the trail is available on the food and farm alliance website.

Annie Nichols, who organized the trail for the food and farm alliance, said brochures with the map will be available at Travel Oregon visitor centers across the state and the Redmond Airport.

The goal is to promote the agriculture of Central Oregon to visitors and locals who may not be aware how many food producers are in the region, Nichols said.

“Central Oregon has this vibrant food scene that I think a lot of people, especially in Western Oregon, are not quite aware of,” Nichols said. “We have this really cool scene out here that we are trying to highlight and package in a more exciting manner.”

Jeff Fox, who owns Sun Life Farm outside of Prineville, said he is eager to share his property with visitors on the food tour.

Fox, who grew up in Salem and worked around the country in web development and logistics, bought the 160-acre farm two years ago. He was drawn to the views and rich soil, where he now grows 7,000 lavender plants. His farm also features 5 miles of hiking trails and an area with 19 bee hives where he produces honey.

“That’s our biggest drive, to really provide an experience at the farm,” Fox said. “It’s experiencing the life, experiencing the products and experiencing the adventure of the farm.”

Sun Life Farm is one of four Crook County farms on the food trail. Fox hopes people spend time at his farm and then visit the others.

“We have a pretty good representation for our portion of the trail,” Fox said.

Fox’s farm relies on visitors, who come to buy lavender and honey and stop for a meal. He believes the food trail will bring more people, who otherwise wouldn’t know to visit.

“I see that as the value in the trail itself,” Fox said. “It does entice visitors to the High Desert area to get out and see more.”

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