Connected with the land

Local small acreage farm owners believe ‘small is very beautiful”

Lorrie and Shaun Conway operate a small acreage dairy goat farm. The couple continually looks at their farming operation to see what can be improved. In 2009, they added cheese processing in addition to goat milk.

What: Small Acreage Expo

When: Saturday, April 14

Time: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Location: 78th Street Heritage Farm, Vancouver.

Registration: Free, but closes Friday, April 12. Lunch is available for $10. Call 397-6060, Ext. 0 to register, get directions and for more information about the program.

“We do not farm for the money...it is the appeal of the lifestyle, an appreciation of the moments of calm while embracing those that are hectic and above all, it is a love of the land and animals.”

This is one of the “farm philosophies” of Lorrie and Shaun Conway, owners of Conway Family Farm.

The two bought five acres of bare land in rural Camas 22 years ago and decided to try their hands at agriculture.

“We built everything: the house, barn, fences, etc., so the process toward a functional farm was slow,” Lorrie said.

In 1994, the couple added their first sheep and goats.

“The farm has just continued to evolve and grow since then,” Lorrie said.

After a new state law was passed which allowed small farm operations to hand-cap bottles of milk, the two applied for a license to become a dairy goat farm and were one of the first small farms approved in 2005.

By 2009, cheese processing had also been added to the operation.

“We continue to evaluate and change our operation to make it more profitable and functional,” Lorrie said.

Before their small acreage farm began, only Lorrie had any prior experience with the lifestyle.

“I was raised on a beef cattle ranch and had goats and sheep, and a variety of other things, as 4-H projects,” she said. “But Shaun is a true convert to the lifestyle and a wonderful model for anyone wanting to make a change. He was raised as a typical suburban kid with no exposure to agriculture or farming at all, and he has transformed into an amazing farmer.”

In addition to a working farm, the couple also has an on-site store, where they sell a large variety of wool yarn in several colors, woolen sofa throw blankets, cheese, lamb and goat meat, Grade A Raw goat milk (sold only on a pre-order basis for current customers), honey, lavender soaps, lotions, sprays, jams, farming books, fresh produce, eggs and berries.

“We try to offer only items that we produce on our farm, so it certainly isn’t Fred Meyer, but it has a nice little variety of things,” Lorrie said.

She added that the benefits of a small acreage farm include having the opportunity to do all of the work and not hire out for services, producing and selling only items that meet certain standards and being forced to evaluate every new enterprise thoroughly.

“We have limited production capabilities with everything that we do, so that limitation forces us to be very diligent in our enterprise evaluation process,” Lorrie said. “We also feel that those limited production capabilities force us to try to produce exquisite products that people find value in and are willing to pay a higher price for.”

On Saturday, April 14, she will speak at the seventh-annual Small Acreage Expo. The event is cosponsored by Washington State University Clark County Extension and the Clark County Clean Water Program.

“We believe strongly in extension outreach efforts to aspiring and current farmers,” Lorrie said. “That being said, we try to offer whatever support we can when asked to participate in efforts such as this. I have been a speaker in the past, so this is not my first experience with it.”

This year’s expo will include new topics such as “biodynamic” farming, mushroom cultivation, sustainable small forest management, rainwater harvesting and the opportunity to get certified by Clark County Public Health to inspect a farm’s septic system.

“We have some terrific new topics for this year’s event that will make for a fun day of education and community building,” said Eric Lambert, small acreage program coordinator. “It’s great to see folks come to the expo and learn new ideas and practices that they can apply at home to improve their property.”

For more information about the farm, visit www.conwayfamilyfarm.com.

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