From April 13-17, NCAT hosted 25 Texas veterans for an Armed to Farm training in Castroville, Texas, 30 miles west of San Antonio. The training included classroom presentations, farm tours, and hands-on activities. A grant from the veterans’ organization Swords to Plowshares helped cover the training costs, as did funds from the USDA Rural Development agency. Margo Hale, Director of NCAT’s Southeast Regional office in Arkansas, led the event, with help from NCAT staff members Guy Ames, Andy Pressman, Kevin Ellis, Robert Maggiani, Mike Morris, and Justin Duncan. A few highlights:
Monday—After introductions, we kicked off the week’ with presentations and exercises on farm goal-setting and record-keeping. Representatives from the Farm Service Agency (FSA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and Capital Farm Credit spoke about their programs and funding resources for veterans.
Tuesday—Margo and NCAT poultry specialist Kevin Ellis (San Antonio) gave talks on livestock production. We then traveled to Shudde Ranch to learn about their grass-fed beef operation, including the breeds of cattle they raise; their herd-management and drought-mitigation strategies; and their success at returning biodiversity to the ranch. NRCS Rangeland Management Specialist Kason Haby joined us to talk about pasture management and conservation programs.
We finished our day at Parker Creek Ranch, whose pastured poultry operation includes about 10,000 broilers, 400 turkeys, and 400 layers on pasture each year. They built a processing facility on their farm where they process all their birds. They also have a small cattle herd and sell herbs.
Wednesday—Guy Ames (from NCAT’s Southeast Office in Fayetteville, Arkansas) led a session on fruit production and finding the appropriate varieties for your area. We then traveled to Love Creek Orchard, where we learned about the challenges they’ve had with pests and diseases as well as their success with various agritourism ventures. We then went down the road to The Apple Store and the Patio Cafe, where Love Creek sells their value-added products and trees. We had a nice lunch, complete with apple pie and apple ice cream!
In the afternoon, Andy Pressman (from NCAT’s Northeast Office in Forty Fort, Pennsylvania) led an interactive group activity on whole-farm planning. It was a lively discussion and great practice for making farm decisions. Andy then spoke about intensive crop production and marketing.
Thursday—We started the day at My Father’s Farm, an organic vegetable operation in Seguin. Owner Pedro Schambon gave us an overview of the farm’s production, harvesting, packing, and marketing practices. We toured several greenhouses, learned about their pest management strategies, and saw all of the tractor implements they use on the farm.
We then traveled to A-Y-RAAM Farms, which raises pastured Red Wattle hogs, beef, and dairy goats, and also breeds Australian Shepherd dogs. We primarily focused on their dairy goat operation, covering nutrition, milk handling, hoof trimming, and aging goats by their teeth. Participants got to milk a goat and sample the fresh milk.
We ended Thursday with a presentation from Guy on pest management and biological controls. As with all of our presentations, there were lots of questions and good discussions.
Friday—Margo started the day with a talk on communications and branding: sharing your farm story through print and digital/social media. We then did a marketing plan exercise and discussed various marketing streams. Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) Representative Phyllis Varnon shared information about the Go Texan program and other ways TDA can help with marketing. Tatum Evans, manager of the Pearl Farmers Market, gave helpful information on getting started and being successful at a farmers market. NCAT Sustainable Agriculture Specialist Robert Maggiani (San Antonio) offered advice about marketing drawn from his 20+ years of experience as a marketing specialist with TDA.
We ended the training by having participants share their biggest take-away from the week or what they were most excited to implement. We had a great group of participants, who asked excellent questions, networked with each other, and got connected to many resources and farmers in Texas. It was a privilege to spend time with these farmer-veterans in the Lone Star State.
For more information about NCAT’s Armed to Farm program, visit www.ncat.org/armedtofarm or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.