Meet The Maker

Girl Meets Dirt

Meet Audra Query Lawlor, Founder & President of Girl Meets Dirt

July 26, 2023  |   by Roxanne Pascoe

I seize every opportunity to visit my beloved aunt and uncle’s cabin on Orcas Island, but getting there takes determination. From Seattle, it’s about a 100-mile drive, and traffic and ferry delays are common. It’s a stressful journey, but so worth it. Upon arrival, I start a fire and get cozy while acclimating to the slow and quiet way of Orcas. It takes a lot of fortitude to get to the island, it takes exponentially more grit to create a successful business there. Girl Meets Dirt makes incredible preserves that are sustainable and honor the island’s agricultural past. My personal favorite is their Orcas Pear with Bay which is outstanding with softened melty camembert. It’s my little spoonful of the San Juan’s whenever I am missing the fir trees and salt air of my cozy little retreat. I got to visit Girl Meets Dirt recently and get an exclusive peak behind the scenes (see video here) an interview the founder, Audra. I’m so happy to introduce you to the extraordinary person behind one of my favorite things.

Orcas Island

Tell us about yourself.

I’m Audra Query Lawlor, the founder and original ‘girl’ of Girl Meets Dirt. After leaving a Wall Street career, my husband and I sought a slower pace of life, leading us to Orcas Island. I am originally from the Pacific Northwest, so moving here was a homecoming. The birth of Girl Meets Dirt began with an abundance of Shiro Plums on our 5-acre farmette, leading me to delve into the world of preserving and creating confiture-style preserves, capturing the essence of the island in a jar.

When and why did you start Girl Meets Dirt?

I started Girl Meets Dirt a decade ago, driven by a desire to create a meaningful enterprise with roots. When a neighbor offered the harvest of his century-old Bartlett pear trees, I saw an opportunity to utilize the island’s heritage orchard fruits, which were largely neglected and food for the deer. We preserve the forgotten heirloom fruits of Orcas Island and turn them into farm-direct all natural preserves, shrubs, bitters, and sparkling orchard fruit wines.

Audra on a ladder reaching for tree
tomatoes lemons and peaches in boxes

Where do you make your products?

We make everything on Orcas Island, in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington. Our little production facility is nestled in the heart of the island in Eastsound, on the corner of Enchanted Forest Rd and Lovers Lane (yes, really!).

How do you source your ingredients?

We partner with and are inspired by local Orcas Island-based orchards and growers, preserving their fruit trees and their harvest with stewardship arrangements that allow us to help maintain the agricultural legacy of the amazing place we are lucky to call home. Though they are too small to afford formal organic certifications, they all use organic practices. As our business has grown, we’ve also partnered with off-island growers like the family-run Smallwood Farms just over Highway 20 once you get off the ferry.

people on ladders picking fruit in trees
ship in water

What has been your biggest challenge along the way?

Our biggest challenge has been balancing growth with our commitment to our artisanal, small-batch, island centric ethos. Sourcing local, organic, and heritage ingredients can be a logistic challenge, and operating on a tourist economy driven ferry serviced island is both expensive and sometimes impractical. We are proud to have maintained our high standards while continuing to grow and celebrate the best Washington has to offer. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

What keeps you going?

It’s the deep connection to this island terroir and the history of the San Juan Islands, and the stories and people behind its heritage orchards. When I had just started Girl Meets Dirt, I was struggling to start and family and persevered through five miscarriages. The orchards, ebbing and flowing across the seasons, budding and blooming and fruiting year after challenging year, gave me hope. And today, two children later, I celebrate my gratitude for that abundance with each meal, accented by our handmade and heartfelt product – made to exacting standards. Each batch of preserves and shrubs we make mirrors the environment in which the fruit is grown, and our belief in renewal, and the power of small bounties.

Audra and a little girl hugging her leg
audra carrying girl meets dirt products

What are your favorite things to pair with your products?

Our jams are really intended to be paired with cheeses- that’s our favorite thing to do with them. I love making cheeseboards and grazing spreads. Our Shiro Plum with Mint is delicious with goat cheese, and our Pear Balsamic is amazing with blue cheese; try our Orcas Pear with Bay with brie. We have recommended cheese pairings on each of our jam labels, but experimentation is encouraged- that’s how you find the most delicious combos! If all else fails, a spoon is the perfect pairing.

What’s the most satisfying thing about your job?

The most satisfying aspect of my work at Girl Meets Dirt is the deep connection it creates between people, our jam, and the rich heritage of Orcas Island. Witnessing the joy our customers find in each jar, at their tables, reflects the pure essence of the island’s fruits and its farmlands, and is incredibly rewarding. It’s a joy to share this love, uniting people with the unique flavors and stories of our local farms, and their own memories, encapsulated in our jams.

plated table
barrels in a cellar

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?

Find what inspires you and let that be your guide. Building a business is hard work, but if you’re passionate about what you do, it fuels your determination. Also, find your unique story and weave it into the fabric of your business.

What’s on the horizon for Girl Meets Dirt?

We’re heading into our 10th anniversary this year, and we’re continually expanding our offerings, exploring new ways to preserve and celebrate the abundance of Orcas Island’s fruit. We have some new flavors of jam and shrubs that we’ll come out with soon, and we’re feeling very fired up about our new natural wine project www.winesbygirlmeetsdirt.com. We won our 9th Good Food Award this past year for our Orchard Apricot jam and we’re angling to bring a few more medals home next year.

opening wine for outdoor gathering
large table prepped for outdoor gathering

What are your passions outside of work?

I love exploring the natural beauty of Orcas Island, from boating to swimming to stand up paddle boarding to hiking on nearby Turtleback Mountain. I also love cooking (surprise!) and when I can carve out the time and regularly hosting friends and family for dinner and nibbles or dessert. Anything that gets my heartrate or tastebuds activated is my jam.

How do you keep work/life balance?

I’m going to buck the trend and say I don’t believe in work/life balance. Our lives are a pendulum and that pendulum swings based on need, and desire. Sometimes my energy is more focused on family and my children’s needs, and other times, I’m deep in planning for Girl Meets Dirt. Allowing myself the permission to saturate in one thing makes me better and more effective when I’m doing that. Any which way it swings, I’m breathing deeply and taking care of myself.

picnic on the lake