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Week of September 30, 2013

Staff Spotlight

UNIX administrator 
finds enjoyment on Scio Township farm


There is no sweeter sound for two dozen female goats than a ringing bell.

Just seconds ago they lazed languidly beneath the August sun. Now, they trot excitedly on short legs along a wire fence, to a milk house with the logo “White Lotus Farms.”

Photo by Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography.

Here, they’ll get a special dinner and one of two daily milkings. The farm is home to two dozen more goats, 40-50 chickens, several ducks, and a dozen Buddhists, including UNIX Systems Administrator Shawn Rahl.

On the surface, computer tech work for the School of Dentistry and a daily search for truth, beauty and goodness through Buddhist teachings might seem divergent. But both come naturally to Rahl.

He has a serious farming background, having grown up on a farm in St. John’s, nearly 20 minutes north of Lansing. At the same time, “A lot of us geeky guys got our start playing with computer games in the ’80s. I had an affinity for it and, and realized later I could make money doing it,” Rahl says.

The chemical engineering major attended U-M from 1991-94, then worked several years for various technology companies, including the payroll services firm ADP, before joining the School of Dentistry. “The timing was just right, and the job and team were a great fit,” he says.

Rahl’s team provides IT support for the school’s offices, classrooms, clinics and research labs, the dentistry domain, various applications, software, hardware and more. “It’s nice to have exposure to all the facets of an IT environment. My management and the department are phenomenal,” he says.

A key to working well is to be as organized as possible to be efficient, Rahl says. “You have to understand that the customer or client is relying on you to do your best. Communication is key, both with co-workers and with customers and clients.”

When the workday ends, Rahl drives west on Liberty Road roughly four miles, where it turns to a gravel road in Scio Township, home to the farm that is owned and managed by friends. Typically, Rahl can be spotted on a tractor, moving wood or compost, or preparing soil to grow kale, collard greens, Swiss chard, and more. It also includes several flower gardens, a few koi ponds, sculptures, and Buddhist shrines.

A few friends began the farm project in earnest four-and-one-half years ago. “It was very natural for me to be involved. I love being outside, working with my hands, working my body. It’s very satisfying at the end of the day when you go to bed physically and mentally tired. It’s great to be able to eat the quality foods, mindfully produced, by the efforts of you and your friends,” Rahl says.

At U-M, Rahl says he hopes to continue to learn and implement new technologies to keep the university on the cutting edge, a leader in higher education. At home, “We hope that White Lotus Farms will grow over the next few years to be profitable and sustainable,” he says.

White Lotus Farms, which sells produce along with creamery and bakery products to local restaurants, also seeks to expand its role as a place to demonstrate environmentally sound, sustainable farming practices.


The weekly Spotlight features faculty and staff members at the university. To nominate a candidate, please contact the Record staff at urecord@umich.edu.

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STAFF SPOTLIGHT

Shawn Rahl, UNIX systems administrator, on farm work: “It’s great to be able to eat the quality foods, mindfully produced, by the efforts of you and your friends.”

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