Eastern Farmer Profile

Zakarison Partnership – Pullman, WA

Located in the heart of Washington’s Palouse region, the Zakarison Partnership is a highly diversified, 1,300 acre family farm dedicated to improving the land for this and future generations.

The farm was originally established in 1935 by Ingvold Zakarison, and today the partnership includes the second and third generations, Russell and Elaine Zakarison, and their son Eric and daughter-in-law Sheryl Hagen-Zakarison. Key to the Zakarisons’ efforts to make their land more sustainable are the gradual adoption of organic farming practices, including the re-integration of livestock.

The soils of the Palouse are some of the most productive in our state—and the most fragile. The region’s beautiful, rolling hills were formed by millennia of windblown silt, called “loess.” The area’s deep, rich soils and dependable rainfall (12 to 24 inches per year) attracted homesteaders who planted trees, raised farm animals, and grew dryland grains. Over the years farmers in the Palouse converted primarily to mono-crop wheat production—at the cost of increased soil erosion.

To conserve their soils, the Zakarisons are implementing a wide range of strategies, including setting aside their most highly erodible hillsides in permanent grass cover under the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program. They are also working on ways to reduce industrial farming inputs on 600 acres planted in dryland winter and spring wheat. As part of the farm’s transition, the WSDA recently certified their first 10 acres of organic alfalfa and grass hay.

The family is also experimenting with growing barley, oats, split peas and lentils in rotation, and planting Austrian winter peas as a cover crop to help control weeds, improve soil tilth, and reduce the need for supplemental nitrogen. In addition, they are experimenting with raising camelina, a plant in the brassica family with oil-rich seeds that can be crushed to produce biofuels, with remaining meal that provides a high-protein animal feed.

Eric Zakarison harrowing hard white spring wheat with two of the Zakarison Partnership's mules, Rhodie and Katy.

Eric Zakarison is also working with mules as draft animals, or what he calls his “solar tractors.” Eric’s team of Belgian mules, Jay, Rhodie and Katie, are used for light tillage, planting, raking and hauling hay, and spreading manure. Rather than relying on petroleum-driven tractors, the draft animals transform grass, hay and oats into motive power, and all of their manure is returned to the fields to complete the cycle of fertility.

The Zakarisons are slowly transitioning their farm from reliance on industrial grain production to organic practices. While the majority of their wheat is still sold on the export market, the farm’s meat and eggs are all sold to local consumers. Their long-term goals are to implement farming practices that nurture their local community and sustain the land far into the future.

Related Links

Zakarison Partnership
WSU/Tilth Producers Farm Walk Booklet – Zakarison Partnership