They all come from different backgrounds and stages of life and for many reasons, but one thing they all share is that they want to know more about starting their own farm or ranch or improving their knowledge. and resources for their existing agricultural business. And the Battleground to Breaking Ground (BG2BG) program is just the island these military veterans and newbie agricultural producers need in a sea of “information overload.”
The BG2BG program is a multi-faceted agricultural business training program for veterans and beginning farmers and ranchers. The original idea for the program was a two-day workshop to help veterans learn about local, state, and federal resources related to agriculture.
Since BG2BG’s inception, the program has expanded to teach business plan development, launched a Department of Defense (DoD)-approved SkillBridge program for active duty military transition, added the mentoring and taught agricultural production training in various ventures such as beekeeping cattle, sheep and goat production in a five-day in-person boot camp to help trainees decide on the paths they wanted to continue. Through BG2BG, cohorts gain the skills and knowledge needed to help them start and/or improve their farming operation.
“Since its inception, the organizers of Battleground to Breaking Ground have worked really closely with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) as well as the USDA Agricultural Service Agency (FSA) “said Kristy Oates, state ecologist with the USDA NRCS in Texas.
Training program expands to meet diverse needs
The BG2BG is under the Texas pleasantnesswhich is part of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service which provides services to people engaged in agriculture who have disabilities, chronic health conditions or functional limitations to start or stay engaged in production agriculture.
BG2BG Program Director, Erin Kimbrough, Texas AgrAbility staff, program veterans, and partners such as the USDA, Texas Department of Agriculture, Farmer Veteran Coalition, and many others, have worked to expand and improve the program with a phased cohort training program to meet the growing needs of the veteran and non-military entry-level farmer/rancher population.
“The program is important for a lot of reasons,” Kimbrough said. “Battleground to Breaking Ground provides much-needed support to our new and very new agricultural producers, as well as help our farmers and ranchers are more sustainable because they have a written plan and learn how to best implement it.
Since the start of the cohort training program in 2016, there have been a total of 12 cohorts, cohort 13 applications accepted until December 5, 2022. Over 100 people have gone through the program, and many of them are now mentors and trainers themselves.
According to Kimbrough, “Mall come with little to no experience, but farmers and ranchers who have been in production for years can also really benefit from participating in the program, developing a business plan and learning to work together with USDA programs , state and non-profit for helping with their farming business.
“Often people come into the program focusing on one practice, like raising cattle, but having no idea what will work for them, or the time and cost involved,” Kimbrough said. “Plans tend to change as they progress through the Battleground to Breaking Ground program.”
“We give participants the structure they need, where they have a plan to learn about farming. And they get that business planning, so they know what their finances are and they know what’s doable,” said Faye McGuire, program manager for the BG2BG program.
Sandi Parriott is an active duty Army veterinarian, who participated in the BG2BG Vocational Training Program (STP), through the DoD SkillBridge program as part of her transition to civilian life. The DoD SkillBridge program is an opportunity for service members to gain valuable civilian work experience through industry-specific training. Parriott describes the program as “an opportunity for transitioning military members to take a career leap forward.”
Parriott worked closely with his mentor, Heidi Barber, who is also a veteran. “There is common ground there. She actually participated in the Battleground to Breaking Ground program, and she’s a rancher — she raises sheep and goats. Between these shared experiences, it allows us to meet on common ground,” Parriott said.
Kimbrough says this has been a shared theme among program participants. It is easier to seek help and advice from those who have had similar experiences and a comparable lifestyle than those who have not. By having this mentorship program run by military veterans themselves, new participants were more likely to take the program and start a new farming business.
Financial and technical assistance goes beyond
The BG2BG program provides more than just education.
“New ideas come into play and these are developed. Many times veterans will come back and teach or share with the next group. As these training opportunities are offered year after year, there are always additional participants who come back just to let others hear their story,” said Oates of the BG2BG training program. “They have a great network and ability to communicate for years to come.”
Doug Havemann, veteran and co-owner of Mesquite Field Farms in Nixon, Texas, along with his wife, Melissa, are mentors and trainers after completing the BG2BG program and the mentor training program. They bring the participants to their farm, to share their story of what it took to get them to where they are now and train the participants on installing high tunnels, planting cover crops, welding, poultry processing and more.
“Resources learned about USDA agencies such as NRCS conservation financial and technical assistance to address natural resource issues in the field, Agricultural Services Agency loans, or community development opportunities. ‘Risk Management Agency for Crops, Specialties and Catastrophe Insurance for Veterans and Beginner Growers is so valuable,’ said Havemann.
“The NRCS has been a huge help,” Havemann said. He describes how their NRCS District Ecologist, Jason Katcsmorak, in Floresville, has worked with them over the years, with each side learning as they go, as they are non-traditional farmers.
“Jason helped us with our farm plan, which is our conservation plan. He helped us a lot to understand what was already on our land: what grasses grow here, what is our soil type, what is the weather like here all year round. And that conservation plan played into our total agricultural plan,” Haveman said.
Both Doug and Melissa share that BG2BG, USDA, Holistic Management International (HMI) and other programs, along with a lot of hard work and dedication, helped them get to where they are today in their operation. , and enable them to educate, counsel, and promote the development of agribusiness to veterans and beginning farmers and ranchers. They also share how if they had heard of the USDA, Texas Department of Agriculture, and other programs shared in the BG2BG program, they would also have saved a lot of time, money, and backbreaking work.
More than agricultural advice
Texas AgrAbility and BG2BG have been able to provide the additional resources needed for veterans who may have disabilities and need on-farm modifications, to help them stay in or enter agricultural production. Through the program, participants can get mental health support and one-on-one peer mentorship.
Edward Stock was on active duty in the U.S. Air Force for 11 years, followed by four years part-time in the Utah Air National Guard, where he served with the 151st Utah Air National Guard during the desert storm and humanitarian efforts in Somalia. These days, he has a ranch in Wills Point, near Dallas, where he raises cows.
Stock found BG2BG by working with the USDA FSA and doing some research.
“It seemed like it would be a good choice to help me learn more about breeding,” Stock said.
He said the business plan portion of the program helped him understand and define some of the goals he needed to set to lay the foundation for his ranch. This was phase 1 of the program.
Phase 2, he said, gave him insight into the different resources available. Now in Phase 3, which involves hands-on training, learning, mentoring and coaching, Stock shares that the FSA as well as the Farmer Veteran Coalition are great resources that have not only provided great knowledge, but also opportunities. like the training he receives.
And he doesn’t keep what he learns to himself.
“I’ve formed good relationships with young soldiers who are ready to go out and hopefully give them some understanding and knowledge of what to do next,” he said. “I think I’ve given them some confidence that they can do it and that’s what I hope is to give back to them as well. That’s what it’s about giving back to the young generation.
Stock said just being out of the military isn’t enough to take advantage of these programs.
“I was a day or two into another career,” he said with a smile. “It doesn’t matter if you’re someone on the verge of breaking up or if you’ve been away for 30 years, the program is here to help. To give you the opportunity to gain the confidence, knowledge and understanding of what you need to succeed.
“The other big benefit is the friendships and relationships that are formed as a result of participating in the program,” Havemann said. “We are there for each other to support, share and help us through the challenges that Mother Nature and life in general throw at us.”
on the horizon
The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture will allow the BG2BG program to continue through 2024 with the Beginning Farmer Development Program grant.
As partnerships develop and the program expands, more opportunities become available for participants, who complete the training, and for mentors whose mentees graduate from the BG2BG training.
With solutions like this, it’s no wonder so many people are getting off to a good start in farming life. And with just over one percent of the US population being farmers or ranchers, bringing others on board to help feed the rest of the world is, for these veterans, another call to duty. .