We completed our twentieth Armed to Farm training, and our first in the Midwest U.S., back in May! We were excited to partner with Farmer Veteran Coalition of Indiana and AgrAbility to host a group of 18 veterans in Crawfordsville, Indiana, May 13-17.
It was great to reconnect with Sara Creech, alumnus of our very first Armed to Farm training in 2013, and have her help coordinate this training. Sara is an Indiana farmer and President of the Farmer Veteran Coalition of Indiana. Cindy Chastain, Veteran Outreach Coordinator for AgrAbility, also helped plan the week’s activities. They did an amazing job finding farms for our group to visit and securing speakers from USDA, Farm Credit, and more. Read on for details about what we did each day!
On our first day, NCAT Southeast Regional Director Margo Hale got the training started with group introductions and a session on farm goal setting. We had three representatives from USDA Rural Development and two from Farm Service Agency talk about their programs. Staffers from Congressman Banks, Congressman Carson, and Senator Braun joined us for the morning session. They talked with participants and learned about Armed to Farm. We then visited Four Seasons Local Market, a cooperative store run by four farm families. They all sold at a farmers market together and decided to open the store to extend their product availability for customers. They now sell primarily through the store and have stopped going to the farmers market. The four families share in the expenses and staffing of the store.
We then toured Shannon Family Farms, one of the partner farms at Four Seasons Local Market. They raise beef, pork, chicken, and eggs.
Northeast Regional Director Andy Pressman opened our second day with sessions on small farms, whole-farm planning, and vegetable production and marketing. After Andy’s presentations, we traveled to the Purdue Student Farm. They sell all that they produce to the Purdue dining halls and catering program. They have a new post-harvest handling and storage facility that is Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) compliant and quite impressive. It is a much more elaborate set-up than most producers will have, but we talked about food safety principles and parts of the design that could be adapted for different levels of production.
After our Purdue visit, we traveled to Crowl Cattle. Cadel Crowl is a veteran and they have a freezer beef operation, selling whole, half, and quarter beeves. Cadel and his wife Becca talked about their handling facilities, the projects they’ve completed with NRCS funding, their breeding and selection program, pasture management, and product marketing.
Our third day started with a speaker from Farm Credit Services discussing tips for working with a lender and accessing capital. Then Rusty Rumley from the National Agricultural Law Center presented about legal issues and business structures for farmers. Rusty has presented at several Armed to Farm trainings and always does a great job. Margo then presented about recordkeeping.
After the morning classroom sessions, we visited Sara Creech’s farm, Blue Yonder Organic Farm. The NRCS agent she works with spoke about their programs, and we saw several NRCS-funded projects in place on Sara’s farm. She has two high tunnels, diversified vegetable production, mushrooms, fruit trees, beef, lamb, and poultry. It was amazing to see the operation she has built from the ground up in six years. When she attended Armed to Farm in 2013 she had just bought the land, but hadn’t started producing anything yet. Everyone was inspired by her and the beautiful farm. We ended with a cookout at the farm and enjoyed a lovely evening visiting with each other.
Margo kicked off our fourth day with a talk on soil health, and Armed to Farm Coordinator Robyn Metzger presented on farm-branding basics. After the morning sessions, we visited Sugar Creek Vineyards, a small vineyard and wine making operation. We saw the vineyard and learned about the challenges of growing grapes in Indiana. The farmer, Zach, also farms about 7,500 acres of corn and soybeans. He talked about the sustainable practices, including cover crops and no till, that he has implemented in his fairly conventional operation.
After our vineyard visit, we headed over to Rockville, IN, to visit King Bee, an apiary and beekeeping supply operation. We got to see hives in action and learned about different types of equipment and production methods for beekeeping.
Robyn started our final day with a presentation on communicating with customers and different aspects of sharing your farm story. Margo then presented on social media marketing and closed the classroom sessions with a discussion of different marketing channels. To close out the week, Margo presented completion certificates to the participants, and everyone shared their take-aways from the training.
It was such a great week in Indiana! The group was really engaged and eager to learn, and the speakers and farms were top-notch. We left our twentieth Armed to Farm energized and ready for the next event!
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