nities in agriculture as their next career path or a therapeutic hobby. “They can use all of these skills that made them successful in the militaryandapply themtoan industry that is becomingmore technical,” she said.
Perhaps most significantly, Farm Ops helps veteran farmers avoid making mistakes. “Farming is sucha high-risk venture,” Koyanagi said. “Evenwhen it’s not their main business, we tell them, ‘Go incarefully, go insmart.’”
Tricia Park wishes Farm Ops had been around when she and her husband started their 150-acre Creekside Meadows Farm 15 years ago in New Woodstock, New York. A retiredstaffsergeant, Park served in the Air Force as an aerospace ground equipment mechanic in the late 1980s with two tours in Turkey.
“I do see that Farm Ops is a needed program,” said Park, who has hosted several Farm Ops tours and trainings. “I’ve seen dozens and dozens of farms go under because of lack of training and lack of commitment. Honestly, they didn’t get the reality of living this kind of lifestyle. Farm Ops is giving vets some reality checks and factual information.”
‘I’ve figured outwhere I need to be’
On a sunny October afternoon, Logan Yarbrough adjusted the portable electric fencing enclosing a dozen meat goats munching on goldenrodonYarbrough’s40 acres in Brooktondale, New York. The spring-fed hillside looks out over his family’s dairy farm across the road.
He got the parcel from his grandfather, a veteran who bought the land after serving in the Korean War. “I think he enjoys it being in use and seeing family members also using it for farming,” Yarbrough said.
He moves the fencing every fewdays to give the goats a new grazing area, he said. The week before, the goats escaped and were on the loose for four days. Once he found them, it took twomore days to corral them, with the help of his brothers-in-law, friends, state troopers and a neighbor with a fenced yard.
Since then he had sold 13 goats – nearly half his herd – at a 30 percent profit. He knows his profit margin because Koyanagi lined himupwith a free accounting consultation – a $2,000 value – with a Tompkins County CCE agriculture marketing specialist. The consultation was paid for by a USDA grant for beginning farmers. “Without that, I’d still be throwingmoney away,” Yarbrough said. “That was one of the mosthelpful things I’ve gotten from Farm Ops.”
Leveraging Farm Ops resources, Yarbrough has developed a five-year goal: to own a diversified farm, rotating cows, goats and barley on a few hundred acres.
Theplanbegantoemerge after serving six years as a staff sergeant and squad leader in the Army’s 12th Infantry Battalion, including deployments in Iraq andAfghanistan. When he left the Army in 2015, he realized he missed being outside with animals, as he had on his family’s dairy farm. “From there, I thought, how am I going to do this?” he said. “I came back to farming, every time.”
His land isn’t suitable for raising cattle or pigs, but it can handle goats. He bought a few, andenrolledinTompkins Cortland Community College’s agriculture program. There he heard a presentation by Koyanagi, who encouragedhimtoattendan Armed to Farm ag training in Hamilton, New York – all expenses paid by Farm Ops.
Koyanagi often identifies host farmers and organizes speakers in conjunctionwith the organization that runs Armed toFarm, theNational Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT).
“Farm Ops has been instrumental in bringing together military veterans in agriculture and in creating an environment that allows veterans to utilize their skills in helping one anothermanage toward their family and farmgoals,” saidAndy Pressman, NCAT’s northeast regional director.
For Yarbrough, the experience was life-changing.
“I loved it,” he said. “Going to Armed to Farm gave me more of a direction.”
Networking with experts and participants there, he learned there’s an untapped market for goat in the region. He met a woman who now supplies him with animals, and he got tips on how to manage the overabundance of goldenrod on his land. “SoIwas like, that’s a good starting point,” Yarbrough said.
Afterward, Koyanagi put him in touch with a retiring goat farmer who wanted to donate his equipment to a veteran. “So I got thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment because Dean just forwarded me an email,” Yarbrough said.
“Thankfullywith all these farm tours I’ve gone on and all these classes I’ve gotten, I’ve figured outwhere I need to be,” he said. “The biggest benefit to Farm Ops is the access to knowledge and people in related fields, so I can learn fromthemistakes they’ve made and not make them myself.”
Finding redemption in the land
WhenNathan Bush ofHoneoye Falls, New York, entered the Air Force in 1995, military testing ranked him in the top 1 percent of his military peers in physical fitness. He served as a vehicle operator and dispatcher for 10 years, eventually earning the rank of staff sergeant. “I learned to drive a lot of different vehicles, and that was fun,” he said.
The injuries he got on the job were not.
They included multiple cases of collapsed lung and a severe immune reaction to receiving dozens of vaccinations. Compression fractures in his spine cost him three-quarters of an inch in height, and after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the fractures couldn’t receive timely treatment and continued to cause himseverepain. Hewas constantly preparing for deployments, but his injuries frequently forced him to stay behind.
Discharged in 2005 for medical reasons, doctors told Bush he’d be on medication for the rest of his life. Physical therapy only made the pain worse. Immobile and taking prescribed medications including narcotics, neuro-inhibitors and antipsychotics, for years he distanced himself fromthemilitary.
“I was in a very dark place,” he said.
Slowly, Bush began to garden. He added chickens. The sense of purpose and the physicalwork offered a glimmer of relief. “I started to use farming tostrengthenmyself and stretch and be really intentional about all my actions,” he said. “Iwas amazed atwhat it did forme.” Within six months, he weaned himself off the medication.
Bush started attending a program at EquiCenter, a nonprofit serving those with disabilities, veterans and at-risk youth. He spent four hoursweeklywith other vets at the Veteran Farming and Wellness Program, partially funded by Farm Ops. Theyworked the center’s garden and learned how to harvest and cookwhat they produced. Theywent homewith a bag of the ingredients they harvested and the recipes they made for lunch.
“I found it very powerful,” Bush said. “It was that we were eating together, cooking together, working together – veterans coming together in comradery again. For veterans especially, if we’re feeling isolated, connection to others is the fuel for other healing work.”
Now Bush runs the program as EquiCenter’s veterans outreach and programming coordinator.
Farm Ops, the Department of Veterans Affairs and EquiCenter are considering a collaboration to replicate the successful programinthe region and perhaps the nation, with Farm Ops putting on workshops inNewYork state. In addition, Farm Ops is developing a vocational program at EquiCenter for vets interested in agricultural careers.
“We have access through Farm Ops to some of the highest quality programming in the country,” Bush said. “We’re really setting people up for success by having these resources that just really aren’t available otherwise for a smallorganization like ours.”
He continues to struggle with the memory of his military service.
“But it’s a part of my journey, and now it brings me to a place where I can reach other veterans who really need healing,” he said. “I needed that and I continue to need it, and that gives me purpose.”
Walter Palmer and his family have a diverse, 145-acre farm in Savona, NewYork. Palmer served as a corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps 2001-05and as a senior airman in the U.S. Air Force 2005-09.