almost 25 years of military schooling and service I was hungry to return
to what I have always considered home (Idaho) and to immerse myself
in what has become an intense love affair with nature. Living
in a small town, spending more time with family and working at what
I love seem to make each day count a little more. These feelings and
some of life's inexplicable coincidences and circumstances all came
together to lead me to decide that I wanted to be an organic farmer.
Soon after moving to Moscow, my wife and I met MaryJane Butters and
Nick Ogle, the owners of Paradise Farm. Wonderfully friendly and
highly skilled agriculturists, they invited me to participate in the
farm's apprenticeship program and to become a stockholder. I had
stumbled into a perfect opportunity to translate my desire to farm into
I was learning within five minutes of meeting Lahde Fesler, then supervisor/director
of the farm's "Pay Dirt" apprenticeship program. I have
applied knowledge of soil types, soil organisms, sources of fertility,
seasonal cycles of plant growth and reproduction, nutrition, watershed
impacts, wildlife habitat, using the right tool in the right way, and
equipment maintenance and repair. I call my time in Paradise Farm's
apprenticeship program "getting a masters in Applied Organic Agriculture."
Between working two days a week on the farm, applying it in a large
backyard garden and greenhouse at home, reading and studying, the comparison
to a post-graduate program facilitating a next career is apt.
I began working last winter, helping to harvest the biggest, sweetest
carrots I had ever tasted. I have spent the last nine months tilling,
hauling mulch, planting crops and an orchard, hoeing, irrigating and
harvesting. It has been long hard physical labor done in whatever
weather rolls over Paradise Ridge. "Dog tired" comes
to mind as an expression I frequently use of late. One of the
snapshots that is permanently in my memory is digging through a foot
of snow in a blizzard, hauling up carrots in a wheelbarrow, cutting
off greens and washing carrots with ice forming on our faces from the
water spraying in the freezing wind.
I have learned that growing good food is a craft. It is one that
involves skill, science, art, dedication and passion. This craft
is not only life-sustaining, providing healthy quality food for people,
but in its highest form contributes to the benefit of the overall community
by sustaining the soil, watershed, air and wildlife habitat. Perhaps
the most fundamental lesson I have learned so far is to develop a keen
sense of observation toward the soil and crops. I am learning
more about the complex interactive relationships between soil, crops,
pests, beneficial insects and weather. I am learning to work with
natural processes rather than fight them.
There will never come a time when I know everything or lack a challenge.
Working with living mediums like soil and plants means that every season
brings new crops, new challenges and opportunities for improvement.
I am not afraid to try new things. I have learned to trust my
experience and observations, but accept and expect that sometimes learning
will occur from mistakes. Organic farming methods are very labor
intensive and two or three acres can supply an immense amount of produce.
This is about the most one person can handle. A small area farmed
well is better than a large area that gets out of hand.
Finally, there's a lesson I didn't expect. Perhaps more important
than the goal of establishing a profitable business in a beautiful setting,
a family farm can be a lifestyle that is most satisfying in and of itself.
Growing all the food we can eat, working together, living and working
in a beautiful natural setting at nature's pace, instead of office hours,
is actually as idyllic as it sounds. It is not about ease.
It is as hard and as constant an amount of work as I have known (and
I have previous experience at work and responsibility in harsh conditions--slogging
through swamps at night, tumbling from an aircraft at the lead of paratroopers,
baking and freezing on armored vehicles in a trackless desert).
I have found the work is refreshing and invigorating, not stressful
or spirit-breaking (though thistle and bind weed can come close). The
simple pleasures inherent in that life--delicious, fresh food at every
meal, sharing amazement at nature's seasonal miracles, catching frogs
in a pond with my kids, walking the farm and seeing deer and pheasant--more
than replace commercial things we have thought we needed for fun.
A key thing for me to remember is not to overextend in acreage or financial
debt early on, to take things at a small scale and grow into what we
I have yet to harvest a single snap pea or strawberry on a farm I own,
but I have developed confidence that I can make a living as a farmer,
participate in a loving family and be faithful to the responsibility
to be a steward of the land: to leave the soil, watershed and habitat
in better condition than I find it. I am witnessing a wonderful
example of successful farming at Paradise Farm and am more excited each
day by the prospects of working our own small farm on the Palouse.
Vaughan and Cece Connors purchased their own Palouse Farm in the summer
of 2000. At the Moscow Farmers' Market, Pat now sells raspberries, pears,