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Colony Creek

Aug 1st, 2012 | By | Category: Farms, People

by Jessamyn Tuttle

Debbie Clough is a regular sight for visitors to the Mount Vernon Farmer’s Market, her Colony Creek Farm booth set up right next to the entrance. Debbie has been involved with the Mount Vernon market since its early days in Pine Square in downtown Mount Vernon. An avid gardener, she began by simply growing flowers in her Mount Vernon garden and bringing a few down to the market, then followed with a few vegetables. When the farmers took over the market from the downtown merchants and moved to the revetment, she became interested in growing more seriously. Soon she and her partner Lyle Gerrits were the owners of a 15-acre property on Colony Creek in Blanchard. Debbie laughed about it, saying, “You know how hobbies get out of control?”

Colony Creek farm owners Debbie Clough and Lyle Gerrits, with Albert the farm dog. PHOTO BY JESSAMYN TUTTLE

Debbie and Lyle now farm a little over an acre of their property. Standing in the garden you have a clear view of hang gliders launching off of Blanchard Mountain, as well as bald eagles and other wildlife. They still live in Mount Vernon but hope to someday build a house on the hill portion of the property.

“It’s not the best soil, but it’s good,” Debbie said. It was covered with reed canary grass when they started, which they simply mowed into submission.

“We bought this place 12 years ago come September,” Debbie said. As soon as the property was paid for, they bought a brand new tractor. Before that, they used a rototiller for most of their soil prep, and rented a tractor a few times a year. Now they don’t know how they did without it.

Eventually they plan to add a farm building with a cooler and a washing station, since right now they need to load up their supplies in Mount Vernon, come out to the farm and harvest, take the produce elsewhere to wash and prep it, then take it to market.

When she’s not at the farm, Debbie works at Osborne Seed Company in Mount Vernon, fitting her farm schedule. She gets most of her seed from the company and does growing trials for them. Lyle, who owns Northwest Fine Furnishings in Mount Vernon, helps out in his spare time.

Colony Creek produces between 30 and 40 different crops, with constant turnover. “I used to only grow things that I like to eat personally,” Debbie said, but they do bow to market demand on some things, like radishes. “I ate my radish for the year already,” she said, observing that she doesn’t really see the appeal. They try a new crop each year; last year it was ginger, which wasn’t a great success. This year it’s okra, for which they have high hopes. They’re also growing pawpaws, a fruit not often seen in the Northwest. There is a hoop house for tomatoes, made necessary by the cold weather of the last five years. When she started, said Debbie, “I had so many tomatoes…I couldn’t give them away.” She also has a small greenhouse at her home in Mount Vernon that she uses for seedling starts.

A crop that Debbie particularly enjoys growing is shelling beans, such as pintos and borlottis – she sells them fresh, rather than dried. This year she’s trying a new type of chickpea called Black Kabuli, which so far has germinated well. Debbie said she particularly loves growing fava beans because they do so well without chemical controls. “Favas really know how to take care of themselves.”

The farm is certified organic. “One of the benefits of being here – we’re not near any of the big farms that are continually spraying,” so their property is buffered from chemicals.

They do need to use spray on their celery and Brussels sprouts, which otherwise get badly infested with aphids, but they use the approved spray PyGanic. Otherwise they do well with natural controls. Larger pests like rabbits and deer are discouraged by Albert, the farm dog.

They get organic compost from Douwe Dykstra, an organic farmer in Burlington who provides a mix of cow manure, chicken manure, and composted seeds. “Of course, your own compost is the best,” said Debbie, and they do keep a substantial heap of their own as well, but they rely on Dykstra’s compost for their soil quality.

Besides the farmer’s market, Debbie and Lyle also maintain a small CSA program and ask the subscribers to chip in and help with weeding or watering during the height of the season, taking $30 off their total bill if they work. With the exception of these helpers, Debbie and Lyle do everything themselves.

Debbie said she loves feeding people, but enjoys farming for its own sake. “I’ll always have great food to eat. It’s really nice to be outside, able to listen to the birds and listen to the wind.”

For more information, contact Colony Creek Farm at (360) 336-5537.

This article was published in the August 2012 issue of Grow Northwest magazine.

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