The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY) - - Nation + World -

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.

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