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Pat Vaughan, Pay Dirt Farm School Graduate

Going Organic

Interest in farming, love of the land leads
former military man to a more pastoral pursuit

The Vaughans
Pat Vaughan and Family


Moscow-Pullman Daily News
September 2002
By E. Kirsten Peters, Daily News staff writer

It's a long way from life in the military to peaceful work on a small farm at the foot of Moscow Mountain. After 25 years in the Army, however, Pat Vaughan was ready for something different.

"I've always felt a love or a longing for nature. That's the only way I know how to explain what I'm doing here," Vaughan, 47, said while sitting in the shade of a tree in his front yard.

Acquiring more fresh food for his family led Vaughan to an interest in organic farming. Although it's a long way from merely having an interest in organic agriculture to running a viable business in the field, that's the journey Vaughan is undertaking with the six-acre Moscow Mountain Farm.

"I think all the traveling I did in the Army made me long for a sense of place," he said. "Literally digging in the dirt is giving me a real feeling of roots."

Growing up in Boise, Vaughan and his family fished and hunted. While in the Army, he returned to the Idaho woods on leave whenever he could. But Vaughan and his wife, Cece Connors, were not from farming families. "We did more and more gardening while I was in the military. It was something we could do together. And then I took more interest in cooking. So gardening and fresh food started becoming a bigger part of our lives," Vaughan said.

He's had some help learning the ropes.

"I went through Mary Jane Butter's apprentice program and that was great," Vaughan said.

The program, run at MaryJanesFarm in Moscow, helps would-be farmers learn the many complexities of organic farming. Traditional farmers may spray synthetic pesticides on crops or add synthetic fertilizer to the soil.

Organic farmers use crop rotation, letting land lie fallow, natural fertilizers and a variety of natural insect controls to accomplish the same goals.

Running Moscow Mountain Farm as a certified organic operation, Vaughan also is required by the state of Idaho to take at least one professional education seminar each year.

"And Skeeter Lynch has been my mentor for the chickens," Vaughan said. Lynch, of Full Circle Farms in Princeton, has run a certified organic, free-range chicken and egg operation in the area since 1999. E-mail helps her answer Vaughan's questions as they come up.

In addition to specialized education, Vaughan's business efforts are underwritten by his military retirement pay.

"(Having that income) means I don't have to make this economic right away," Vaughan said.

Instead, Vaughan is systematically building his farm's infrastructure. He has earned his certification as an organic operation, meaning that he has managed the farm's land without artificial sprays or fertilizers for three years.

Vaughan has six large garden plots laid out on his property. They range in size from 100 feet by 30 feet to 150 feet by 50 feet. He will be gardening the plots two at a time, giving each plot two years of rest between years of use.

During resting years he is growing a mixture of clover and field peas on the plots. The legumes both protect the land from erosion and naturally increase nitrogen levels in the soil.

"I've got an 8-foot-tall deer-proof fence up now," Vaughan said of yet another aspect of his investment in the farm's infrastructure. "The first year the deer hit the garden hard but from now on that won't be a problem," he said.

Next there's the task of getting the movable chicken coop built. This spring Moscow Mountain Farm acquired a dozen young chickens. The pullets are an investment that's been growing each day based on certified organic feed. The birds are let out each morning to roam the farm and feed on available insects and seeds. A young but well-trained dog coexists peacefully with the chickens.

"But one of the pullets turned out to be a rooster," Vaughan said. That bird ended up as supper one night earlier this week.

The 11 remaining birds, all hens, will start laying certified organic eggs this fall. Plymouth rocks, Rhode Island reds, and Aracana chickens make up the flock.

This summer, drip irrigation has helped Moscow Mountain Farm produce potatoes, beets, basil and raspberries, all sold through the Moscow Farmers Market on Saturdays.

The farm also sells its produce by subscription. Vaughan packages a box or bag of whatever the garden plots produce for families which have signed up with his business. Besides the gardens, the farm has apple and pear trees producing organic fruit. Beginning this fall, Moscow Mountain Farm also will provide fresh, organically produced eggs to subscribers.

"Our two kids, Katie and Henry, help most days," Vaughan said, explaining how he puts together all the labor required to run the operation. "They've been very good about helping."

But some days, of course, the children don't want to do hard work in the hot sun.

"There are some great days out here and some hard days," agreed Vaughan. "On the good days Cece and I like working outdoors together, often with the kids, all producing good food."

On the difficult days, however, becoming an economic operation can look like it's a long way down the road.

"What I'm doing right now you might call subsistence farming. To become economically viable is a long-term proposition. I think I'd like to develop some value-added products on the farm here, maybe with our raspberries which are really outstanding," Vaughan said.

He plans to evaluate the final economics of his operation about 10 years down the road.

Read more about our Pay Dirt Farm School in MaryJanesFarm magazine. Click here to find out how to order your copy today.