From the ground up: Emma Rainwater ’11 and Naomi Salama ’08

From the ground up: Emma Rainwater ’11 and Naomi Salama ’08

These farmers and life partners talk about creativity, sustainability, and seasonal wisdom

Emma Rainwater ’11 and Naomi Salama ’08 run Rainwater Farms in Honeoye Falls, N.Y., a small farm where they grow fruits and vegetables and make wood crafts from materials on their land. The couple lives there with their two-year-old daughter, Norah, a flock of chickens, a rooster named Rex, two dogs named Barley and Crook, and an array of deer, rabbits, and other visitors from the neighboring woods.

Seasonal wisdom

During the planting and harvesting season, each day begins with a walk. “A 20-minute walk gives me time to notice the weeds that need tending, bugs that are about to take over a crop, plants that need special attention, and equipment that needs fixing,” says Rainwater, who dedicates 100 percent of her time to the farm. Salama is a house-call veterinarian during the day and a farmer during her off-hours.

Rainwater and Salama believe in seasonal wisdom. This means creating healthy food on healthy soil for a healthy community. It also means being aware of and doing what they can to lessen their ecological impact.

For instance, they use push-behind cultivators and rely on a tractor for moving compost and growing their vegetables in permanent, raised beds. They also use their fields in rotation, allowing beds to go fallow, a practice that restores the beds’ fertility and healthy microbes. The couple has earned Certified Naturally Grown farm status, too, a recognition given by peer farms that endorses their commitment to conscious, sustainable practices.

The early days

Salama grew up with a healthy respect for her mother’s vegetable patch, helping to harvest fresh tomatoes and zucchini by the bushel and distributing the excess throughout the neighborhood.

Rainwater’s father loved gardening—a passion she discovered later as part of Rochester’s Center for Community Engagement. That’s when she became involved with the Westside Farmers Market. She also worked on a farm for two years when she was an AmeriCorps volunteer.

College roots

As a first-year student, Salama founded the Sledgehammers, Rochester’s first women’s rugby team. Rainwater′s close friends joined the team, and she and Salama hung out as friends in Anderson, in the unofficial “rugby suite.” After graduation, they reconnected and started dating.

Although Rainwater’s career took a non-linear path, Salama, an ecology and environmental biology major, stayed true to her course. After Rochester, she earned her veterinary degree from Cornell University, where she and Rainwater lived for a year, homesteading with their first seven laying hens and dreaming of one day starting their own farm. They even got married at the Ithaca Farmers Market in 2015.

In season

In the summer, the farm comes alive with colors, texture, and smells. Heirloom tomatoes adorn vertical trellises and cherry tomatoes grow inside a 70-foot-long row. Kale and other greens, shiitake mushrooms, asparagus, and zucchini—along with flowers and perennial herbs—flourish.

Their tiny orchard also produces apples, cherries, peaches, pears, plums, and pawpaws—a tropical fruit native to the eastern United States and Canada that tastes like mangoes. Twice a week, they sell their produce and crafts at the Westside Farmers Market and the Brighton Farmers Market. They also offer a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, which provides a weekly bounty to those who sign up for farm shares.

Down season

When the farm is quiet, especially in the winter, Rainwater and Salama play music by the fire, plan for the next season, and spend a lot of time in their converted garage. That’s where Rainwater makes handcrafted cutting boards, wooden butter knives, wooden boxes, and soaps. Salama makes carved spoons and utensil kits, jams, baskets, and leather crafts.

“Diseased ash trees turn into wood objects, dried herbs find their way into our homemade soaps, and soft woods bend into baskets,” says Rainwater. “We try to use everything on the farm, to perpetuate nature’s cycles in ways that can nourish ourselves and others.”

photo of emma rainwater and naomi salama hugging and posing for a picture
Emma Rainwater '11 and Naomi Salama '08

a photo of a bag full of vegetables along with onions and carrots next to it all on a tree stump

an ariel view of a basket of various round vegetables of all sizes and various colors from yellow to red

Sowing your own path

“Find a good partner, surround yourself with supportive people, and visualize your goals. For us, that meant creating a sustainable farm, but, for each person, it is something distinct.”—Naomi Salama ’08

“Be sure to map out your short- and long-term goals. Then, revisit them often and adjust accordingly. Life is fluid and plans should be, too. Keep an open mind. We didn’t expect to be where we are now—and we are so grateful to be here.”—Emma Rainwater ’11

Planting Roots, Building a Sustainable Future

Career resources

Engage with the Gwen M. Greene Center for Career Education and Connection, which supports students, alumni, and employers with career tools and resources. Also, join The Meliora Collective, an online professional networking platform available exclusively to University alumni, students, and friends. Also, check out our Ain Center for Entrepreneurship.

Find this story and more good things for University of Rochester alumni and friends in the summer issue of Buzz magazine.

— Kristine Kappel Thompson, July 2022