Tag Archive for: Armed to Farm Alumni

Ten years ago, Air Force veteran Sara Creech almost didn’t attend NCAT’s first week-long Armed to Farm, a sustainable agriculture education program for military veterans. After driving from Indiana to Arkansas for the training, anxiety told her to turn around and go home. Instead, she found the strength to stay.

“I went in there and had the most powerful week of my life,” Sara Creech said. “I really look at this life that I’ve built right now, and it all started with that Armed to Farm.” 

The National Center for Appropriate Technology today released its short film “Armed to Farm Stories: Sara Creech,” in which Creech, a former surgery and trauma nurse who served during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, shares her story of overcoming loss through organic farming. Attending NCAT’s Armed to Farm program in 2013 empowered Sara not only to pursue farming, but also to help other farmer veterans. 

In the film, we see the diversified vegetable, fruit, and livestock farm Sara has built over the past ten years and hear from members of the farmer veteran community who have benefited from Sara’s mentorship.

Many service members feel disconnected from their communities and former lives when they come home, Sara said. Organic and sustainable farming can help them feel connected and whole again.

“Armed to Farm offers practical information to help veterans get their farms started, or expand their operations,” said Margo Hale, Armed to Farm Program Director. “The classroom sessions, along with farm tours and hands-on activities, give them a strong foundation in sustainable agriculture. And the relationships they develop during the week of training—which often continue long after the week is over—are invaluable.” 

Armed to Farm participants learn from seasoned farmers and gain direct experience on livestock, vegetable, fruit, and agritourism operations. Since the week-long program began ten years ago, more than 1,000 veterans from 47 states have participated in the training. When surveyed one year after attending an Armed to Farm, 73 percent of participants indicated they continued farming, had started farming, or were in the process of starting a farm.

Sara credits farming with bringing peace to her life, as well as giving her purpose—caring for the land, feeding her community, and supporting other veterans who want to farm. And Sara is just one example of Armed to Farm alumni helping their fellow farmer veterans.

“Sara exemplifies what we hope to achieve through the Armed to Farm program,” said Hale. “Not only is she operating a successful diversified farm, but she has taken what she learned from us and amplified it so that many other veterans have access to that knowledge and support.” 

Watch the film, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HdsOjbc-GYY

To learn more about NCAT’s Armed to Farm program, visit ARMEDTOFARM.ORG.

Tammi and Stephen attended the Armed to Farm held in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in 2018. They operate a diversified small farm in Pryor, Oklahoma. Tammi recently sent us an update on their farm: 

“Sometimes it seems that we haven’t made much progress, but as we reviewed how much we have grown and learned since ATF it has been an amazing journey. The local community now looks to us (mostly Stephen), because they recognize the quality of our drug- and chemical-free all on-pasture raised animals.” 

The Bells recently added to their farm by purchasing an additional 18.5 acres of land.  

“The property across the street is a 12-year unmanaged wood lot, on a slope,” Tammy writes. “Very undesirable to most folks. We plan to harvest wood for biochar and mulch the overgrowth, to create a silvopasture where the goats and sheep can graze in their favorite natural environment. We plan to have a have a lake view agritourist/wedding venue/you-pick, demonstration farm/ranch!!!” 

The Bells are keeping busy in other ways as well.  

“Stephen is in the Agroforestry MS program at Missouri University. I completed the OSU Master Gardener Course last year. We received a grant from the Oklahoma State Department of Forestry in 2019 for riparian buffers for our shoreline, windbreakers, and to restore native wildlife habitat.  

We enjoy making videos of life on the farm. Waterline Farm on Facebook and YouTube.” 

Have you attended an Armed to Farm? We’d love to know what you’ve been up to since then! Email your updates to robynm@ncat.org

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.