Honoring our Fighter to Farmers
I was medically retired from the Air Force in October of 2016 after 18.5 years of service. I served on multiple deployments for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. I attained the grade of E-8 and held multiple Air Force Specialty codes such as A-10 crew chief, firefighter, and MQ-9 sensor operator. Since 2006, my family and I planned on living a simpler life upon completion of my military commitment. Upon retirement, my family and I purchased a farm in northeast Washington state. We wanted to be more self-sufficient, focus on family, and grow quality produce. We moved into our new home on the farm in early August of 2016. By November 2016, we’d stood up our farm business (drumminggrousefarm.com), planted 1/6 acre of seed garlic, started building a 40×60-foot garage, and began selling microgreens at the local farmers market. We have a lot on our plate for 2017: tending to our garlic, attaining USDA organic certification, planting/harvesting our 7,500-square-foot market garden, finishing our garage, installing an irrigation system, building a geothermal greenhouse, increasing farmers market sales, doubling our garlic field in the fall, and helping out our neighbors whenever we can. As a recent retiree, I’ve gotten involved with our new local community by way of the local farmers market and through the Farmer Veteran Coalition. The county I live in has the highest rate of veterans per capita of any county in the nation, and I like to help them whenever I can. A personal goal of mine is to pass farming knowledge onto other veterans, particularly those with combat disabilities. Over the last 20 years, I’ve volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, Meals on Wheels, city cleanups, veteran assistance programs, and homeless support events.
I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where I learned about discipline and competition. I decided to take a break from college and do a tour in the Army. I served six years in the Army Reserve and went to Iraq and Afghanistan. While serving in Afghanistan, I was critically injured. Out on patrol, a bomb exploded under the armored vehicle I was in, and life would never be the same. Everything changed that day. When I woke up in the hospital, I realized I had a second chance at life, and I had to figure out how to make my life count for something. Battling continuing memory issues and bouts of narcolepsy, I finished college and set out to find a way to give back. Today, at 28, I farm the 120 acres almost single-handedly. Our vineyard has grapes for eating, juice, and wine. I also raise sheep and lamb. All the while, I think about the people in Hoke County where the farm is located. One in six kids in this county wonder where their next meal is coming from. I am very involved in my community. I have help to start a farmer co-op, I also work with juveniles and veterans in community gardens in my community. Everybody deserves the choice of fresh, healthy food. So I think about what I grow. I want the people in my county to be able to afford it. I want my neighbors to have fresh, healthy food, and know that beginning farmers, like me, have to make a living.
Earl T. Harris Jr.
I served seven years active duty Marine Corps from 1984 to 1991, which included deployment to Operation Desert Storm. After joining the Florida Army National Guard in 1993 and serving in many positions as a noncommissioned officer, I rose to the rank of first sergeant. I was deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2003-2004, then retired from the National Guard in 2006 with 22 years of total service. My wife, Roe, and I currently own and operate Harris Homestead in Sumterville, Florida, where they raise free-range laying hens, Cornish rock broilers, goats, cattle, and pigs. The eggs are sold to two local co-ops as well as to individual buyers. Cornish rock broilers are sold as processed chickens on a preorder basis. The goats provide milk for homemade goat’s milk soap, and also sold as raw goats milk (for nonhuman consumption). Goat kids are sold at weaning age. We process two steers per year for private sale either half or whole on a preorder basis. The pigs are also sold as private sale, either half or whole. Our goats milk soap is sold at craft shows and also to several retailers in the state that carry the product in their stores. I am a member of First Baptist Church of Bushnell and the Farmer Veteran Coalition.
I spent 23 years active service in the U.S. Army. Served as intelligence signals analyst for 13 years and went into IRR in 1993. Recalled to active duty in 2002. Remained in service as platoon sergeant, operations sergeant, training sergeant, team sergeant, and first sergeant until 2010. Spent three tours in Germany, two tours in England, one tour in Turkey and one deployed to Iraq in 2007. My father was a career warrant officer who always had gardens wherever we were stationed. When I was 7, Dad retired, and I went to Michigan where I spent every summer and often all school holidays at an uncle’s farm learning why so many generations of my family were farmers and soldiers. When I was in West Berlin, Germany, as a young specialist, I dreamt of what I was going to do after the Army life. I dreamt of a small farm with a woodlot that would allow me to produce quality lumber and all the food needed for my family. I went on to a career in the Army with focus on being a husband, father, and leader. Thirty years later as I was planning for retirement from the Army, I was presented an opportunity to purchase the 13 acres we now live on. That dream of so long ago came back to me. Upon retirement we began to work, plant, build, and start living that dream. I went back to school to work on a second bachelor of science degree, this time in agricultural engineering, three core courses from the finish. With a year left to finish college, the job I am now working in came my way. I was given the county veterans service officer position in Cumberland County, Tennessee. For over four years in this position I have helped almost 8,000 veterans or family members to receive the benefits they have earned. I help prepare all the paperwork necessary to apply for and often fight for Veterans Administration benefits. Through my direct efforts in 2014 I was instrumental in putting $6,000,000 in disability and pension dollars into the hands of county recipients, all at no cost to the recipients. In addition to my job as a veteran’s representative, I sit on the county homeless veteran commission which takes care of housing needs for homeless or near-homeless in our county. Then, of course, I chair the Veterans organization council for our county. There are nine national organizations in the county, which prior to my arrival could not meet and agree on anything. This council has been meeting, cooperating, and putting together veteran-centric events ever since. I make presentations to all the local organizations as the man with answers to everything veteran in this county. How does all this relate to farming? My wife, the Tennessee master gardener, and I have sustainment gardens, bee colonies, chickens, 11 acres of hardwoods, and a desire to expand to make greater profits. Ultimately, we intend to be a model for others to follow.
I grew up working on my family’s Century Farm in rural Iowa. I planned to farm full-time after graduation, but my grandpa encouraged me to join the military, so I enlisted in the Army for Airborne Infantry in 2000. He completed basic training and airborne school at Fort Benning, Georgia, and was selected for the honor guard at Ft. Myer, Virginia. While assigned there, I was involved in Operation Noble Eagle during the Pentagon attack on 9/11/01. Seeing the devastation firsthand motivated me to reenlist for the 3rd Infantry Division at Ft. Stewart, Georgia. My wife and I were married January 1, 2005, and I deployed three weeks later for Operation Iraqi Freedom III, a year-long deployment; that's when I earned my combat infantryman’s badge. Our unit deployed again in 2007-2008, for 15 months. During this deployment I was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for Valor and for Service. After the second deployment, we moved to Arkansas and then Texas, where I trained Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers prior to their deployments. During our assignment at Fort Hood, I completed a bachelor’s degree in business management in 2010, and we welcomed our daughter, Ava, in 2012. In September of 2012, I was medically retired from the Army as a sergeant first class due to injuries received while serving. With mixed emotions, we moved back home to Iowa, praying that farming would provide for our family and bring me the sense of purpose I felt in the Army. During our first year, I worked for two nearby farmers and learned all I could about the new farming practices. I bought my grandpa’s tractor and a planter and custom-planted soybeans. In our second year home, we bought a second tractor, custom-planted 600 acres of corn and soybeans, applied 500 acres of NH3, and rented 290 acres. In our third year home, we bought my parents’ 135-acre farm, put up a grain bin, bought more equipment, replaced old fences, and had 30 acres of timber cleared for crop ground. I updated the planter, installing GPS and precision planting equipment to improve profitability. We also welcomed our third daughter, Emma, into the family in 2015. In 2016, I added more custom work and rented another 95-acre farm. Working closely with the NRCS office, I have implemented conservation enhancements and hope to build a pond that would better manage drainage this year. My latest venture is the addition of stock cows to our operation. It will be a busy spring as we plant 1000-plus acres, apply NH3, and care for the cows. We will also welcome our fourth daughter at the end of May! I am a volunteer first responder and firefighter for the Andrew Fire Department, which gives him the opportunity to use the skills he learned in the Army to serve his community. We also volunteer as a host family for Safe Families, caring for children in our home, when their mom/parents are unable to.
I was medically retired from the Airborne Infantry after serving from 2004 to 2008. I am a Texas A&M EBV graduate and took 2nd place in the 2011 EBV business plan competition (mushroom business). I also took 1st place in a 2012 EBV National Business pitch competition (vertical farming). I’ve worked with schools around the area to implement hydroponics and vertical farming into their curriculum. Currently getting an ag degree from Ivy Tech. Working with organizations to implement local indoor farms in order to grow produce year-round with the end goal of drastically reducing our dependence on imported produce.
Charley Jordan is a recently retired soldier and Farmer Veteran currently residing in Montgomery County, Tennessee. Charley joined the Army because of the GI Bill and the opportunity to travel and see new places. That was 28 years ago, and he’s now starting to enjoy the opportunity to be a full-time farmer. Charley was an Army aviator who held the rank of chief warrant officer four and served with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, where he deployed several times over the years.
Charley did not grow up in the agriculture life. Charley grew up as a beach kid in Gulf Breeze, Florida, and his first experience with agriculture came when he and his grandparents resided in South Dakota because of the military. Charley had several school friends who lived on farms, and that experience never left him.
Charley’s farm story begins when he and his family returned to the Kentucky/Tennessee area because of the military in 2001. Charley and his family purchased a 5-acre piece of property and house in Montgomery County.
Unfortunately, Charley’s military schedule did not afford him the ability to start a farm right away but, eventually, he got the opportunity: In 2009, the Circle J Ranch story began. Charley decided to focus his farming operation on raising beef cattle, which he sells as USDA-inspected freezer beef from his farm, along with farm fresh eggs and vegetables.
In 2010, Charley had the opportunity to purchase more land for his farm and was able to gain an additional 20 acres of land through the help and support of the Farm Service Agency Beginner Farmer Loan program. Charley also cuts and harvests his own hay from over 180 acres of land, which is provided by some local landowners.
Charley is an active member of the Farmer Veteran Coalition and was awarded a Farmer Veteran Coalition Fellowship grant for farm improvements in 2015. Charley is also the first Homegrown by Heroes label holder in Tennessee and is now featured on the Pick TN Products website. Charley has been instrumental in bringing awareness and support to the Farmer Veteran movement in Tennessee with the help and support of the UT/ TSU Extension Service, USDA, FSA, NRCS, TN Dept of AG, Tennessee AgrAbility Project, and several other private agriculture industries. He was able to successfully coordinate and host the very first Tennessee Farmer Veteran Workshop in Clarksville on April, 2 2016, which focused on bringing several agricultural organizations together to provide an educational and informational workshop to veterans and active-duty military members who may be considering agriculture as a postmilitary career.
Charley is a staunch advocate for the veteran being the perfect fit for the agriculture world. Charley states that “Our veterans have given their time to defend the people and land they love, and it’s only fitting that they would transition into the agriculture world and still continue to serve by feeding its people and taking care of its lands.”
Charley plans on coordinating and hosting more Farmer Veteran Workshops in the near future and organizing more training programs for beginning farmers and ranchers through the Tennessee AgrAbility Project. Charley is also planning on organizing several farmer veteran-only vendor farmers markets for his local community.
Charley was awarded the 2016 Tennessee Small Farmer of the Year award and has been featured in several publications in the last year. Charley plans on continuing to promote vets to ag and eventually establishing a Farmer Veteran Coalition chapter in Tennessee.
Richard was born April 3, 1944. He joined the army in 1965 and served a tour of duty to Vietnam from 1966 to 1967. He was discharged in l968. He built airstrips, running a road grader. Returning home, he joined his dad in farming plus worked helping other farmers when needed. In 1970, he was married, and he and his wife took over the family farrow-to-finish hog farm. Their three children were very active in the operation and are now married. The Seitzes have six grandchildren. Their son and his family assist the couple, who are still active farmers. When the hog market dipped in 1993, they decided to get out of the hog business. Richard started working for the township part time, grading road, and plowing snow. He is still the grader operator to this day, giving up snow plowing (a trade he learned in the Army) two years ago.
Anyone who has worked on a farm knows the relentless hours necessary to coax a healthy crop from soil prep to harvest. Those hours do not care that the eight-hour work day elapsed many hours ago nor that the hours will begin again shortly, but Alan Bennett has seen many seasons like that in his lifetime dedicated to the family farm. A Vietnam veteran with two purple hearts, Bennett has spent his life tilling the ground and harvesting corn, wheat, beans, sugar beets, and hay from the 340-acre farm in Wheatland, Wyoming. His military service began in 1968 when he was just 18 and drafted into the Marines. Alan’s father was a combat marine veteran from World War II, so he was proud to be following in his footsteps. Alan was trained on the 60-mm mortar and sent to Vietnam in 1969. After nine months actively patrolling around “LZ Baldy,” someone tripped a booby trap. Many in his unit were killed, and Alan was wounded. He spent nine months at Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego. He was honorably discharged as a lance corporal E3 with shrapnel and disabilities that would follow him the rest of his life. Even with traumatic brain injury-related memory issues and eye problems, Alan has faithfully worked the farm on which he grew up. He raised three children and is teaching his grandchildren the hard work and ethics necessary to be successful in life. His daughter says that no one can use a shovel as expertly as her dad. “He taught me there is more than just poking it into the ground – it is truly an art form, and it served him well in Vietnam digging foxholes in which to take cover,” she says. She also says this about her dad: “Though he doesn’t make a big deal about it, there is one part of my dad that is truly special: He helps people in need. He will always make the time to regularly stop and visit with an elderly or homebound acquaintance. He uses that time to help them with something – sweeping their step, shoveling snow off their doorstep, letting them borrow a wheelchair or cane. He quite often helps them find some item of importance that will make their life easier or more comfortable. He always makes them feel special and cared for. Throughout the years, I have seen him stop to help someone broken down on the road, carry a stranger’s groceries to their car, or take care of some other need he is able to help meet on the spur of the moment. My dad has spent hours prepping the VFW’s monthly beans and corn bread dinner for the community. It is more than just a club fundraiser – it’s a time to reach out to the community. He has also been an active member of the Wyoming chapter of Young Farmers, VFW, DAV, and The Platte County Historical Society. From farmer to fighter - to farmer again: Alan Bennett is a true inspiration in this daughter’s eyes.”
Colin suffered a traumatic brain injury while in the Coast Guard in 1976. He was retired with full benefits with a 100% service-connected disability. He suffers from grand mal seizures as a result of his t.b.i., despite medication and an implant in his chest that is connected to his brain. To look at him, you wouldn’t guess his situation. He is a handsome, healthy looking fellow, but his disability puts great limits on his abilities around the 50-acre farm we own in East Texas. We tried raising hay but have resorted to cattle, as hay is too much work for me to do alone. Colin has great mechanical skills. I do most of the work and he fixes the tractor, the mower, the tiller, the farm truck, the 4-wheeler and all of the other mechanical things that I am constantly breaking. He wrecked our riding John Deere mower recently when he had a seizure while mowing. Would love to see him get a mower that was adapted to shut off if both hands left the controls. Mowing is something that he can do to be helpful here, though it is not risk-free. Having an adapted mower would be incredibly awesome for him.
Frank was honorably discharged as a 10-year medically-retired veteran, with multiple deployments to Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn. He also served a one-year tour in South Korea. He served as a combat medic, became an officer, and ended his service as a physician assistant. He has a family farm raising heritage animals for the purpose of educating other veterans and interested people on sustainability and foundational food. Currently, he is working with NC Department of Commerce to become a certified on-the-job training site for other veterans to learn how to farm and create profitability. As far as involvement in the community, Frank offers farm tours, participates in local farmer’s markets, and volunteers at the local elementary school where he is trying to start a project where the students plant and grow their own gardens, similar to Edible Playground. In addition, Frank helped with the construction of the new playground at the school and has volunteered his farm for the elementary school to visit to learn about livestock and farming. This fall he will begin student teaching agriculture sciences, because he is working on a master’s degree in agricultural education from NC Agricultural and Technical State University. Frank also serves in his church.
Earl J. Schaad
Earl J. Schaad, age 91, served in World War II from 8/18/1944 to 7/9/1946 in the Third Army under General Patton. He received three battle stars on European Theater of Operation and a combat infantry badge. He has a son who fought in Vietnam, and four grandchildren who haveserved our country. Earl took over the family farm in Stockport, Ohio, upon discharge. He moved his wife and 13 children and 40 dairy cows in 1968 to his present farm of 234 acres in Waterford, Ohio. With the help of two of his sons and grandsons, his farm has grown with the purchase of six additional farms adding 1,530 acres and increased the herd to 420 dairy and 100 bred cows. They have a double-12 parallel milking parlor with weigh meter and ID system. In 2013 they installed a 520-foot cow barn. They bed with sand and there is an automatic flush system for the isles. Their average production per cow is over 90 pounds of milk per day. Earl has been active in his church community all his life. He has served on the parish counsel and was a lector for 25 years. He has been a member of The National Farmers Organization (NFO) for 53 years. He served as county president approximately 20 years and approximately 10 years on the state board. He also served on the NFO livestock collection board for many years. Earl goes to local schools on Veterans Day and talks to the children about his service and great love of our country. He goes to the local nursing home and visits with the residents. Earl received two awards in 2016, the President’s Award at the NFO’s national convention and the Founders Award from the Muskingum Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Jared grew up in a small agricultural town in Iowa, watching his grandfather and uncle farm and working at the local co-op. The attacks of 9/11 during his senior year in high school did not deter him from enlisting into the United States Air Force following graduation. Jared served six years active duty at Dover Air Force Base before transitioning to the Illinois Air National Guard to be closer to his family. During his active duty time, Senior Airman Wagner was awarded The Air Force Achievement Medal for his attention to detail and steadfast dedication to duty that resulted in the safe recovery of 178,000 pounds of fuel from a crashed C-5 aircraft. With a reenlistment approaching, Jared began talking with his father-in-law about coming back to his (and his wife’s) hometown to pursue farming. The spring of 2011 would be the start of his farming career, the first planting season. When Jared notified his commander that he would not be reenlisting in order to pursue farming, they were able to develop a plan that would allow Jared to pursue farming while continuing to serve in the Illinois Air National Guard. For the last five years, Jared has been fulfilling his military obligations while farming with his father-in-law. This January while Jared’s unit deployed to the Middle East, Jared was asked to fill a full-time position at the base from January 1 to March 31. While fixing C-130 airplanes during the day and working on chemical programs, farm logistics, and operating loans at night has been difficult for everyone involved, Jared and his family would not trade this farm life for anything!
When Jared isn’t spending time on base or farming, he is teaching his kids (ages 8 and 5) to enjoy the outdoors. As with many small towns, when a need arises and word gets out, Jared is willing to help out with whatever is needed. It could be helping someone move, cleaning up after a tornado, or setting up a 5K-fundraiser course. Jared also includes his children in much of his farm work, allowing me (his wife) time to coach our daughter’s softball team, volunteer at our church’s children’s ministry program, and be on the board of directors for our nursing home.
I am so proud of the excellent work he does whether it is as a technical sergeant in the United States Air Force or as a row-crop farmer in southeast Iowa.
After returning to their homes and families following service to our country these men have chosen farming as their lifelong occupation. The Fighter to Farmer Contest featured in Successful Farming magazine and Agriculture.com is sponsored by Grasshopper mowers and recently gained over 100 entries from retired U.S. servicemen and women who now farm. Featured here are a group of these entrants with their personal essay as a salute to them and all the other Fighter to Farmers for their work and dedication to the farming and agriculture industry.