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Lizzie Vaughan, fourth-generation farmer, finds inspiration in 4-H and the tech center classroom

Written by
VSAC Staff

June 7, 2024


Lizzie Vaughan with cows

Lizzie Vaughan, who graduates from Oxbow High School in a couple weeks, grew up on her family’s dairy farm in South Ryegate. She is excited to study agricultural business in college this fall. But she didn’t always love farming.

“When my sister and I were little, we would always have to be in the barn so our parents could watch us. As I kid, I didn’t like being there, so my mom and dad put up a swing set in there for us,” recalls Lizzie, now 18.

Once they were old enough to help, both Lizzie and her younger sister Amy had chores in the barn before and after school and on weekends. While Amy, now 15, has always talked about working in agriculture—now aspiring to become a large-animal veterinarian—Lizzie wasn’t so sure she wanted to stay in the field that’s been in her family for three generations.

A love for Jersey cows

Lizzie’s great-grandparents started the farm back in 1955. Now, the Vaughans have 80 cows, with her dad farming full-time and her mom helping out before and after her job with Grafton County 4-H.

In fact, it was 4-H that made Lizzie start to wonder if farming could be in her future, too. It turns out that showing Jersey cows proved to be a great outlet for both her patience and her competitive spirit—especially with Amy—and the sisters have been standouts at the North Haverhill Fair for the last few years.

“Showing cows is hard work,” Lizzie admits.

You have to trim the hair on their entire body, except for their top line, which you brush and style. But the hardest part is training them, leading them around, walking slowly, making sure they hold their heads up high. It takes work and time, and you have to be patient. And Jerseys are known for their attitude,

Lizzie explains that she’s often witnessed the infamous “Jersey flop”—where the cow dramatically throws herself down on the ground as if to say, “I can’t even!”

The sisters work with Jerseys provided by a neighboring farm (their family farm raises Holsteins). They choose their show cows in March and work with them two to three times a week throughout the summer for one- to two-hour sessions. “We walk with them, wash them and clip them,” Lizzie explains, preparing for the big show days in July.

A modest champion

Last year, Lizzie won Junior Champion and Grand Champion with her heifer, and she took second place overall for Supreme Champion. While she’s generally modest about her many accomplishments—which include membership in the National Honors Society and CTE Honors Society—Lizzie will more easily talk about how she’s bested her sister. “Amy and I are close, but very competitive. Going into it, we trash-talked each other,” Lizzie laughs. “One of the things we’re judged on is showmanship, and I beat Amy in that, and I have not let her live it down. She has her sights on beating me this summer because it’ll be my last year.”

Realizing she enjoyed 4-H, Lizzie signed up for the agriculture program at the Riverbend Technical Center as a sophomore-year elective. “Some of my friends did it, so I figured ‘why not?’ I ended up loving it,” says Lizzie, who enrolled in the program full-time as a junior. “We were learning real-life stuff that I could take back home and connect to what we were doing on the farm.” She also loved learning to weld and blacksmith, and one of her proudest accomplishments is learning logging. “I had never done that before. My dad has a chainsaw, but I never thought I’d be able to run it. It seemed so dangerous. The fact that I can do that now is so cool,” she says.

Once she started to fall in love with the field, she approached Kassidy Moore, Oxbow’s Outreach Counselor from VSAC’s GEAR UP program, at the start of her junior year, thinking she might want to go to college for agriculture.

“I’d been involved in VSAC since the seventh grade, and during middle school it was mostly whole-class meetings where we’d talk about careers, colleges, trade schools, and apprenticeships. As a junior, I asked for a one-on-one meeting with Kassidy, and she helped me narrow down the list of schools I might be interested in.”

Helping hands

Both of Lizzie’s parents went to SUNY Cobleskill for agricultural business. While that was always an option, it wasn’t a sure thing—until she visited the campus, about a four-hour drive from the farm, and loved what she saw.

When it came time to apply, Lizzie needed some help.

Everything about college was very overwhelming. I had no idea, and my parents had no idea either. My mom told me, ‘When I was your age, we did this with typewriters!’ So Kassidy helped me a lot with the common app, FAFSA financial aid, and with scholarships. She knew all the ins and outs, and she was able to simplify things and make the process easier to understand.

Kassidy, for her part, is equally complimentary of her advise.

“Lizzie has worked incredibly hard to research schools, explore programs, and plan for her future,” she says. “Lizzie is a student I can always count on being one step ahead. Every time I reach out to ask her if she has applied to a school or completed a scholarship application or worked on financial aid, she always has it ready to go, and has a question or next step ready to work on with me.”

Not only that, says Moore, but Lizzie also helped some of her friends stay on task throughout the college process.

“I tend to be pretty organized, and some of my friends are less so. It makes me feel good to help others,” says Lizzie, who was thinking about being a teacher up through middle school. “I have a lot of patience, and I’m a good explainer, so people have told me I would be a good teacher. Maybe I could consider being an agriculture teacher at some point,” she says.

More to learn

For the immediate future, Lizzie plans to earn her associate degree in agricultural business at SUNY Cobleskill and follow the interests and opportunities that come from that. “If I want to continue, I always have the option of going on to a Bachelor’s,” she says. “I’m hoping college will help me identify new ways for me to make a career out of it.”

Coming back to help with the family farm is a definite possibility, but right now Lizzie isn’t 100% sure that’s what she’ll do. “I really like working with the cows. But I might learn something I like even more. Ag business is such a broad area, I probably don’t know half of the things I can do with it.”