Cor­nell sets vet­er­ans up for suc­cess

The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY) - - Front Page -

SAVONA, N.Y. >> Wal­ter Palmer had been farm­ing for nine months when he no­ticed his best lamb, a Che­viot-Dorset cross his wife named Italy, was act­ing strangely.

Italy had de­vel­oped a crooked neck and had be­gun fall­ing. “Her back end would just give out, and I couldn’t fig­ure out why,” he said .“That was pretty heart­break­ing for me, be­cause we thought we were go­ing to lose her.”

Des­per­ately wor­ried, he called Jonathan Barter, Palmer’s farm­ing men­tor pro­vided by Cor­nell’s Farm Ops pro­gram. The pro­gram, in the Col­lege of Agri­cul­ture and Life Sciences, sets up New York state’s vet­er­ans for suc­cess in agri­cul­ture.

Barter, a graz­ing spe­cial­ist with the Soil and Water Con­ser­va­tion Dis­trict of Steuben County, came by the next day. He quickly iden­ti­fied the prob­lem as sway­back, caused by a nu­tri­ent de­fi­ciency.

“Jonathan came and gave her a shot of vi­ta­min E and se­le­nium,” Palmer said. “She’s been great ever since.”

Italy and three other lambs were the first an­i­mals Palmer brought to his farm, 145 acres of pas­ture, wet­lands and hard­wood for­est in Savona, New York. Last De­cem­ber Palmer and hiswife, Sara, and their two chil­dren moved into the 1918 farm­house that came with the land.

“Ever since I was 18 my dream was to have a farm, be self-suf­fi­cient, be in­de­pen­dent,” he said.

Palmer, 35, had held onto that dream through­out his mil­i­tary ser­vice. He was a cor­po­ral in the Marine Corps 2001-05 based in Camp Le­je­une in North Carolina, and a se­nior air­man in the Air Force 2005-

09 based in San An­to­nio, Texas. When he left the mil­i­tary, he re­turned home to New York to pur­sue his in­ter­est in agri­cul­ture.

Know­ingCor­nell­had top­notch ag re­sources, lastApril he vis­ited the Cor­nell Co­op­er­a­tive Ex­ten­sion (CCE) of­fice in Bath, New York. Staff there re­ferred him to the Farm Ops pro­gram, which set him up with Barter as a men­tor.

Since then, Barter has taught Palmer ba­sic vet­eri­nary skills and how to use hay­ing equip­ment, im­prove his fenc­ing and water sys­tems, and in­sti­tute in­ten­sive ro­ta­tional graz­ing. “Any ques­tions we have, he an­swers,” Palmer said. “A life­long friend­ship is the key thing that we walked away with from the men­tor­ship.”

Through Far­mOpswork­shops and ex­perts, Palmer also learned how to put up elec­tric fenc­ing and write a busi­ness plan. “Cor­nell was my first sup­porter,” he said. “Cor­nell has been right there from the begin­ning.”

Palmer, who works as a qual­ity as­sur­ance en­gi­neer by day, now has 10 Low­line An­gus beef cat­tle, sheep, and sells hay. He plans to raise goats and pigs, pro­duce honey and grow gar­lic – and even­tu­ally give the farmto his chil­dren. “It’s not about me,” he said. “It’s all about giv­ing them a good qual­ity of life and then pass­ing it on.”

Amenu of op­tions

Palmer is one of thou­sands of New York state vet­eran-farm­ers sup­ported by Farm Ops. Cre­ated in 2015 as an ini­tia­tive of the Cor­nell Small Farms Pro­gram, Farm Ops acts as an in­for­ma­tion clear­ing­house, of­fer­ing begin­ner farm­ers up-to­date, ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion, of­ten gleaned from Cor­nell re­search.

“If a vet­eran is ex­plor­ing farm­ing, we give them Nathan Bush works on the grounds of EquiCen­ter’s farm in Ho­neoye Falls, New York. a menu of op­tions to get the skills they need for suc­cess,” said Anu Ran­gara­jan, di­rec­tor of the Cor­nell Small Farms Pro­gram. “De­pend­ing on the di­rec­tion they­want to head in, we can put to­gether a pack­age of re­sources for them.”

With CCE, Farm Ops of­fers low- and no-cost work­shops on­line, in the class­room and in the field. Vet­eran farm­ers can learn any­thing from rais­ing poul­try to grow­ing shi­take mush­rooms, cre­at­ing fruit or­chards and pro­duc­ing value-added prod­ucts such asmaple syrup. Schol­ar­ships offset travel and ac­com­mo­da­tion costs. Farm Ops also con­nects vet­er­ans with ex­perts who can trou­bleshoot spe­cific prob­lems. And it col­lab­o­rates with na­tional and re­gional pro­grams such as Armed to Farm, where vet­er­ans across the state get a week of in­ten­sive ag train­ing and tour other vet­er­ans’ farms.

Farm Ops has grown to more than 1,000 mem­bers, al­most tripling in size in the past three years.

The pro­gram serves one of the most vi­brant, di- verse farm­ing states in the coun­try, noted Michael O’Gor­man, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Farmer Vet­eran Coali­tion, a na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion that in­tro­duces vet­er­ans to agri­cul­ture.

“Farmer-vet­er­ans are rais­ing oys­ters on Long Is­land, beef and dairy cat­tle near the Cana­dian bor­der, veg­eta­bles in the Hud­son Val­ley and ap­ples out west,” O’Gor­man said. “Yet Farm Ops has fig­ured out a way to serve them all. I can­not think of an­other state­where one or­ga­ni­za­tion has served as many vet­er­ans this well.”

Farm Ops was ini­tially sup­ported by the U.S. Depart­ment ofA­gri­cul­ture and is now funded by New York state through a line item in its an­nual bud­get. The pro­gramhas an 80 per­cent suc­cess rate, based on vet­er­ans reach­ing their self-re­ported goals.

Many Farm Ops mem­bers are home­stead­ers who take a work­shop or two to growtheir own food for self­suf­fi­ciency, hap­pi­ness and health.

“They’re not in it for eco­nomic rea­sons nec­es­sar­ily,” said Farm Ops Pro­gram Man­ager Dean Koy­anagi ‘90. “There are some who say, ‘I don’t want a desk job, and this al­lows me to work in the dirt out­side.’” Koy­anagi, who did anti-ter­ror­ism work in the Marines 1987-91 based out ofNor­folk, Vir­ginia, also runs a small, di­ver­si­fied farm a few miles from Cor­nell’s Ithaca cam­pus

n ag ca­reer can mean more than shov­el­ing ma­nure pointed out Alyssa Couse, an agri­cul­ture out­reach ed­u­ca­tor with CCE of Jef­fer­son County. “Peo­ple can work in sales, in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy, lo­gis­tics, me­chan­ics,” she said. With Farm Ops sup­port, Couse spends time at FortDrum­n­earWater­town, New York, the home of the Army’s famed 10th Moun­tain Divi­sion, in­form­ing sol­diers tran­si­tion­ing into civil­ian life about op­por­tu­ni­ties in agri­cul­ture as their


Lo­gan Yar­brough served as a staff segeant and a light in­fantry squad leader in the U.S. Army 2007-15. He raises meat goats on a 40-acre farm in Brook­ton­dale, New York.

Tri­cia Park served as an aerospace ground equip­ment me­chanic in the U.S. Air Force and the New York state Na­tional Guard, which in­cluded two tours in Turkey. To­day, Tri­cia owns and op­er­ates Creek­side Mead­ows Farm in New Wood­stock, New York.

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