Cornell sets veterans up for success
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.