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Former Army Ranger Damon Helton and his wife Jana had no farming experience when they started their operation, The Farm at Barefoot Bend. Now, however, their farm is going strong and was recently featured on “Good Roots,” a video project of Arkansas PBS.

“Military veterans focused on sustainable and regenerative methods, like here at The Farm at Barefoot Bend, are a big bolster to the local food system, and it’s amazing to see programs that help support it.” – Good Roots

The Heltons produce eggs, pastured pork, grass-fed beef, and vegetables. Donkeys, horses, lambs, goats, and guineas round out the “little bit of everything” on the farm. Damon tells Good Roots that Armed to Farm “was absolutely instrumental in helping us get started.” 

Since launching in 2013, NCAT’s Armed to Farm program has supported more than 800 veterans from 45 states with hands-on and classroom learning opportunities. Damon and Jana were part of the first Armed to Farm training cohort in Fayetteville, Arkansas. 

Arkansas Senator John Boozman toured the Helton’s farm while Good Roots was there and shared his thoughts on programs like Armed to Farm: 

“We’ve got a lot of veterans that are coming back and deciding what they want to do in the next phase in their life, and farming is something that appeals to a lot of them. And the question is, How to you get into it? It’s kind of daunting. It’s not your area of expertise. So Armed to Farm, programs like that, really do an outstanding job of not only helping them get started, but these are programs that’ll kind of hold their hands from then on.” 

The National Center for Appropriate Technology, a national nonprofit organization based in Butte, Montana, manages the Armed to Farm program through a cooperative agreement with USDA-Rural Development. For more information on sustainable agriculture training opportunities for military veterans, visit ARMEDTOFARM.ORG

Armed to Urban Farm alum De’Keither Stamps is featured in the latest “Meet the Modern Farmer” section of the online magazine Modern Farmer. A veteran of both the Marine Corps and Army, De’Keither returned to his native Mississippi after 12 years of military service.

“In 2010, Stamps returned to his family farm in the small town called Learned, where he had helped raise cows and grow vegetables while growing up. He tended to his old duties there, although he wanted to expand and find a way to help the community in nearby Jackson, where large swaths of the city’s residents live in food deserts without access to fresh produce.” – Modern Farmer

Armed to Urban Farm began in 2018 when the United States Botanic Garden approached NCAT about forming a partnership to present an urban-farming focused training based on Armed to Farm, NCAT’s sustainable agriculture training program for military veterans. The first Armed to Urban Farm took place in Washington, D.C., and De’Keither traveled there from Mississippi to attend.

“For both active duty military members and veterans, the Armed to Urban Farm conference offers an opportunity to build a new career in agriculture while still being able to serve the community. The program undoubtedly helped Stamps realize his goals. “I grew up a traditional farmer with cows, big open land, tractors and equipment everywhere. And now I’ve got an urban farm, too,” he says. At his urban farm in Jackson, he now grows squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, kale, Swiss chard and other vegetables year-round using hoop houses (also called high tunnels), which he learned about during the Washington D.C. conference he attended.” – Modern Farmer

Armed to Urban Farm participants learn about whole-farm planning, farm financial planning, urban crop production, urban soils, marketing, and more. The program is available to military veterans who are interested in starting an urban farm or who are beginning urban farmers (less than 10 years).

NCAT and the USBG hosted a second Armed to Urban Farm in Cleveland, Ohio, in 2019. This year’s training will be a hybrid event that includes virtual classroom sessions via Zoom and in-person urban farm tours in downtown Baltimore, Maryland. The application period for the Baltimore training closes on August 13. Click here for more information and to apply.