Rachael Taylor-Tuller served in Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2006 as an Air Force Mortuary Officer. When she returned from deployment, she sought therapy to help her recover from the trauma of the unique and personal situations she encountered in honoring the bodies of the deceased and working closely with the next of kin.
“It wasn’t until I started a farm that I saw some of the work I was doing in therapy start to click and make sense,” Rachael, 36, said.
Rachael and her husband Matthew, 38, are the owners of Lost Peacock Creamery in Olympia, Wash. They sell award-winning, artisan goat cheese like creamy chevre, Thai garlic chevre, halloumi, Gouda and Asiago to restaurants and grocery stores in Washington state and Oregon.
Before she built her farm from scratch, having no prior farming experience, Rachael graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2005 where she followed in her father’s footsteps as a track athlete. Her father, Colonel Richard “Mac” McIntosh, USAF, (Ret.), passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2017, and Rachael buried his ashes in the farm’s memorial garden next to her grandmother’s remains. Rachael’s father is her role model (her son goes by Banzai, her dad’s fighter pilot call sign), and the person who inspired her to serve in the Air Force. Now as a veteran, she continues to serve her community through the goodness of nutritious and ethically-made goat milk products. She shares her experiences as a farmer on her blog and social media site where she encourages everyone to learn more about where their food comes from, to choose healthy options and support local, small businesses.
As the daughter of an Air Force fighter pilot, Rachael lived around the world from Saudi Arabia to Hawaii to Washington D.C. Her kids have a vastly different experience growing up on a farm where there are no such things as PCS or TDY. Although her kids aren’t military brats like herself, she is passing on those same strong military core values to them.
“One of the biggest lessons I learned as a brat is that your family are your friends. We moved every couple years, which means new schools, new friends, new everything and my mom was so big on telling us that your brother is your best friend no matter what,” Rachael said. “As farmers, our kids will likely never move, which means their root system will quickly become deep. As a family, I’m instilling the same sense of camaraderie in my kids today that your brother is your best friend, no matter what.”
Build a farm life after military service
“Hard work. Grit. Perseverance.” Three words that perfectly describe both veterans and farmers.
“Farming is a natural fit for veterans because we already have the ‘shut up and color’ mindset that’s necessary for farming, and we’re used to getting sucker punched with bad news which farming doles out in large quantities,” said Rachael.
Like herself, Rachael believes veterans can find healing in farm life. Being a farmer builds a sense of community many veterans lose when they separate from active duty. It also provides a sense of purpose, challenging work, and leadership roles.
“A lot of people leaving the military have unresolved emotions to deal with, and that’s putting it lightly,” Rachael said. “Putting your hands in the dirt, helping birth new life, molding and sculpting a farm: it’s therapeutic. It reminds us that there are things larger than us.”
But farming and selling goat cheese isn’t for everyone. In fact, smaller farms are slowly dying off at a faster rate than ever before in America. Rachael believes that America’s tie to rural agriculture has changed and fewer people are farming in general.
“Frankly, there’s just less of us,” she said.
There are many ways people can start backyard or hobby farms without going through the expensive and difficult process to become a certified Grade A Dairy like Lost Peacock Creamery. While not everyone can have a large farm, everyone can “grow your own” in some small way. Start with a tomato plant on your balcony, or if you’re feeling extra ambitious, a small flock of backyard chickens is a relatively easy and affordable way to add a little farm to your land. Plus, caring for chickens and collecting eggs is a great chore, even small children can start to learn.
But be warned, “chickens are the gateway drug to farming. I started with chickens, and then I wanted all of the animals,” Rachael laughed. In addition to a variety of chickens, Lost Peacock Creamery is home to sheep, a llama, horses, pigs, goats, and of course, peacocks that wandered onto the farm, never left and have multiplied by the dozens. Rachael also recommends ducks in the backyard because they offer delicious, creamy eggs and can thrive in small artificial ponds if the water is changed regularly.
Goats have become popular backyard animals in recent years – with the help of viral goat yoga videos (an event Lost Peacock creamery has on the farm). But they also make great pets. They require minimal set-up with a three-sided shelter to protect them from the outdoor elements, and sturdy fencing to protect them from predators like neighborhood dogs.
“If I were just starting on a homestead, I would get chickens or ducks to lay eggs and a pair of milk goats. A good milking goat will make about three-quarters of a gallon of milk a day,” she said. “However, you can’t buy just one goat. They will die of loneliness. Neutered male goats make incredible pets. Packing with goats is another awesome activity that helps you heal and commune with nature. Goats are welcome on trails everywhere that dogs are.”
Advocating for farmers after military service
Rachael is an outspoken advocate for small, family-owned farms, especially those run by veterans and their families. In 2018, Rachael and Matthew spoke to members of Congress about the need for more funding of federal grants for veterans who want to go into farming after military service. While in D.C., her life came full circle from a military brat to a first-generation farmer.
“My dad was stationed at the Pentagon for multiple tours, and D.C. is a large part of my childhood memories. More than once I found myself choked up by the power being in such a history-filled city,” Rachael said.
“As kids, my parents drilled into us what it means to be an American, to have a government that works for you and what our forefathers went through to get us there. My brother and I were raised to respect our country, but also to know that, if we want, we are capable of change. We are raising our kids to know the same.”
Resources for Farmer Veterans