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WSU Organic Agriculture Education to Benefit from Gift of Marrowstone Island Farm

NORDLAND, Wash.—Lisa Painter wore a red baseball cap with an iconic image—Rosie the Riveter flexing her arm and the words “We Can Do It!”—last week when she donated her longtime farm and property to Washington State University. The hat and words reinforce a lifetime of can-do moxie that helped make the 87-year-old Painter a fixture in this Puget Sound rural community on Marrowstone Island. They also give a glimpse of the kind of legacy the WSU Twin Vista Ranch will mean for future generations of WSU organic agriculture students, as a center for educational outreach and agricultural development.

Lisa Painter. Photo by Nella Letizia. Click image for a high-resolution version.

At an Oct. 23 dedication and open house, Painter gave WSU the 26-plus-acre Jefferson County farm and property in memory of her partner, the late Jeanne Clendenon, and her parents, Carl and Muriel Painter.

“When Jeanne and I moved here in the early seventies, we were excited to have our own land and to be able to pursue our dream of self-sufficiency by trying out new types of plants, seeing what would grow best and, in general, organically taking care of the land and respectfully raising animals on it,” Painter wrote of her intent in making the gift to WSU. “We both wanted to be sure that this land would always remain as agricultural, organically managed land where the soil and water, all the plants and animals were treated respectfully and as part of the full, natural cycle of life and death.

“WSU and the Jefferson Land Trust were the answer to my dreams,” Painter added. “Young people can get the training in organic farming through the university. The land trust will assure that the ranch is preserved in perpetuity and organically managed. I trust that they will do this and wish them well.”

The WSU Twin Vista Ranch will serve as an incubator for FIELD (Farm Innovation, Education and Leadership Development) internship graduates and a research space for germplasm maintenance and breeding for area production systems—in particular fruit and nut tree germplasm as well as dryland production. The farm also will be used for classes, workshops, seminars and educational retreats hosted and sponsored by WSU Extension.

“This is the first gift of its kind for WSU Extension and the WSU Land Legacy Program,” said Dan Bernardo, dean of the WSU College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences. “WSU Extension would like to thank Lisa Painter for this truly transformational gift. This farm will be a centerpiece of Olympic Peninsula agriculture as well as a testament to WSU’s commitment to small-scale agriculture and its unique contribution to Washington food production.”

Present for the dedication were Bernardo as master of ceremonies; Jefferson County Extension Director Laura Lewis; Jefferson Land Trust Stewardship Director Erik Kingfisher; Painter’s close friend Rita Kepner, who was instrumental in connecting Painter with WSU Extension and the Small Farms Program to establish the gift; and 75 other community members and well-wishers.

Painter and Clendenon purchased the farm in 1972 and began diversifying management and on-farm operations to include production of beef and small livestock, honey, fruits and vegetables, pasture and hay.

Painter and Clendenon developed the property to be energy efficient with installation of solar panels, a windmill and solar water heating systems—all of which are still in use. More recently, the ranch has been primarily focused on organic beef cattle production.

The two women are also credited with bringing ambulance service to Marrowstone Island in 1979. Told that a two-year feasibility study had deemed the purchase of an ambulance impossible, Clendenon turned to Painter and responded, “We’ll see about that,” Painter recalled.

Clendenon and Painter rounded up community support and funding for the ambulance through sales of baked goods and sweatshirts with the Marrowstone Island logo. Both had received EMT training and oversaw the training of volunteer drivers as well. In short, they didn’t take no for an answer.

“A tiny group of islanders saved up enough money to buy an ambulance,” Kepner said. “It was quite a bonding experience for the residents of the island.”

“People were talking about the service all over the country,” Painter said, “because they wanted to know how such a program could run through volunteer support.”

That spirit of self-sufficiency will live on in Painter’s gift to WSU, which will be counted as part of the university’s $1 billion comprehensive fundraising effort, The Campaign for Washington State University: Because the World Needs Big Ideas. To date, generous donors, businesses and organizations have committed more than $740 million to the Campaign for WSU, to increase support for the university’s students, faculty, research and extension programs and to leverage the university’s impact across the state, nation and world.