August 18, 2011 in Washington Voices

Hobby grows into new occupation for Prairie Flats gardener

Valerie Putnam vrputnam@yahoo.com
 
J. Bart Rayniak photoBuy this photo

Laurie Williams grows flowers, herbs, vegetables and fruits in a greenhouse on her farm, Prairie Flats, north of Bigelow Gulch, that she sells at farmers markets.
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 Lauri’s Lair sells fresh produce, flowers, plant starts and herbs along with hand-crafted signs, baskets and chalkboards created out of old barn wood.

 Lauri Williams sells Tuesdays, 3 to 7 p.m. at the Ponderosa Outdoor Market, 4120 S. Bowdish Road, and Wednesdays, 3 to 7 p.m., at the Millwood Farmers Market, 3223 N. Marguerite Road. She conducts plant sales at her farm, 10026 E. Tate Road.

The loss of a job can be devastating, but for Lauri Williams it became an opportunity to pursue a career doing something she loved, gardening.

“I love the garden,” Williams said. “It’s so peaceful and quiet. It’s just me and the quail.”

Early this year, she founded Lauri’s Lair, a small business that sells vegetable starts, fresh produce, herbs and flowers.

Her determination to overcome life’s obstacles is reflected throughout her life. Twenty years ago, she suffered five brain hemorrhages over the course of two years.

After seeing multiple doctors and not getting the help she wanted, she became her own advocate, researching medical libraries and reading books until she discovered a doctor in San Francisco who was willing to perform the surgeries she required.

It took multiple surgeries to remove two cryptic lesions, one on each side of the brain.

“Sixty percent of people who suffer a brain hemorrhage die,” she said. “I had multiple so I am really one lucky individual.”

After finally paying off the medical debt accrued from those operations, she and her husband of 30 years, Steve Williams, sold their Liberty Lake home in 2009, where they had raised two children over 22 years. They moved to a 10-acre rental farm north of Bigelow Gulch called Prairie Flats. The move was intended to be temporary – they planned to build their dream home on the 5-acre plot across the street.

But when Steve, 56, lost his job just prior to breaking ground that spring, they put their dreams on hold.

The couple began working the farm, clearing the grounds, painting the exterior and renovating the interior of the old farmhouse, and Lauri planted a garden.

The idea for the business was planted by extended family members during the couple’s annual summer barbecues.

“They’d say ‘Lauri, what do you do with all this stuff?’ ” she said about the abundant produce from her garden. “ ‘You should sell at the farmers market.’ ”

Late last year she learned the physician in charge of the medical practice she managed for the past 10 years was retiring, and the business would be closing. That’s when Williams began to take the idea seriously.

A self-taught gardener, Williams, 54, decided to expand her garden. In late February her 10-by-12 foot greenhouse became the germination station. She planted 288 flats with 50 plant cells in each flat to prepare for the Spokane Garden Expo.

She hit a stumbling block when none of her more than 14,000 plants survived during what she terms a “germination malfunction,” setting her back a couple of weeks. Instead of giving up, she cleaned and disinfected the flats, then replanted in late March. This time the plants took hold.

“It was highly successful,” Steve Williams said about the replanting. “I think we had a 95 percent germination rate.”

When the plant cells had to be transplanted into larger pots, the couple purchased a larger 20-by-16 foot hoop house.

Lauri Williams spent a month transplanting the seedlings. “It was a lot of work.”

By early April, a third, larger greenhouse was purchased to accommodate the quick growth.

She concentrated most of her time in the spring selling plant starts at the Garden Expo, Millwood farmers market, other plant sales and on Craigslist. She planted a 10,000-square-foot garden to grow produce to sell, a dramatic increase from last year’s 2,500-square-foot personal garden. Her garden showcases rows of tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, beans, lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, squash and melons.

Along the north edge, are fruit trees. Blueberry, strawberry and raspberry bushes line the east side.

“It’s just me,” Lauri Williams said about maintaining the garden seven days a week. “The weeding, planting, harvesting – I do 99.9 percent of it. I’ve never worked so hard in my life.”

Her husband works full time but helps out whenever he can.

“I’m her assistant,” he said, laughing. “She tells me what to do, and I’ll do it.”

Next year, the name of the business will change to Pleasant Prairie Farms and become a U-pick blueberry farm.

“It’s something I can do by myself,” Lauri said. “I’ll be the blueberry farmer.”


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