In 2016, Texas AgrAbility & program partners received a USDA NIFA Beginning Farmer Rancher Development Program grant to develop the BattleGround to Breaking Ground Program. The goals were to enhance the sustainability and increase the number of farms and ranches, especially for military veterans.
The BattleGround to Breaking Ground Project is a 3 phase educational program available to veterans, active duty military, their families, and beginning farmers and ranchers.
Two local veterans who are making a difference are being spotlighted during this week of Veterans Day. They are making a difference in the food system, in the environment and in training other veterans.
Finding Peace on Mesquite Field Farm
After serving 11 years with the United States Army, Doug Havemann wanted to go back to a familiar lifestyle and spend the rest of his years being as self-reliant and off-the-grid as possible, with his beautiful, witty, and tough-as-nails wife of 20 years, Melissa, by his side. Together, they not only grow crops and support livestock, but they also make every effort to give back to their communities.
But the most rewarding work Doug does relates to his own experiences as a veteran.
They are one of only two mentor training farms in Texas for the Battleground to Breaking Ground Program, which aims to help returning veterans, active military members, and their families start a new farm or ranch. Doug and Melissa provide their farm for hands-on learning sessions for the program, with the hopes that it will help those who may otherwise think they have no other options.
“The program itself,” says Doug, “not only does it help veterans with post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), all of those things that veterans go through, but it also helps them with understanding how to create a farm business.”
Helping veterans get out of the military and into agriculture has also helped Doug’s transition as well. In their work to help those returning from service, Doug finds some peace of mind of his own.
“It helps me,” says Doug, “that was another reason I wanted to come to this farm to create a farm. Just being around the animals calms me down.”
Matthew Demmer spent twelve years in the Navy as an explosive ordnance disposal technician—an incredibly high stress job. After the military, he found wanting to enter the world of agriculture, but not knowing where to start until his wife pointed him to the Battleground to Breaking Ground program.
“I can’t say enough good things about it,” Demmer says. “Doug is an advocate, he’s a producer, he’s everything you need when you don’t know anybody.”
“The hidden aspect is that veterans come into this, they get support with mental health issues they may be facing, and they can apply those to their operations and have it kind of be a daily therapy for them as they make their journey through mental health healing,” says Demmer.
A Helping Hand on the Farm
Doug and Melissa purchased this rugged, mesquite filled plot of land in 2015, and have since turned it into an impressive 20-acre, regenerative agriculture farm. They understand the value of their topsoil and the importance of biodiversity, allowing them to run a successful farm without the use of tilling, pesticides or other practices that could impact the ecosystem.
Mesquite Field Farm is now home to two Border Collies, 15 head of crossbreed cattle, turkeys, chickens, and even one lone Guinea (Bobcats have proven to be partial to the taste of Guinea). With the help of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Havemann’s have been able to install a high tunnel for year-round planting of a specialty crop, a watering system for livestock, and establish a conservation plan.
Jason Katcsmorak has been with the NRCS for 16 years and is the Wilson County District Conservationist in Floresville field office. Katcsmorak has worked with the Havemann’s on all their Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) projects and states that not only are the Havemann’s learning but “working with them and new ideas and different ideas that they bring to the table [creates a] learning experience for the NRCS as well.”
The cattle on Mesquite Field Farm graze in a pasture of natural grasses and forbs that have grown almost above their shoulders. The calves bound around the thick, healthy adults, enjoying this place they call their home.
Most grass-fed beef can be found on meadows that are potentially knee high, but oftentimes shorter. Because of their rotational grazing practices, Doug and Melissa’s pastures can rebound quickly while the cattle are grazing another field.
The livestock water line helps provide fresh water in troughs for the grazing cattle. The water line pairs well with the Havemann’s rotational grazing practice as it provides water distribution to the different pastures ultimately supplying consistent drinking area for the cattle.
“Working with the NRCS has been great especially from my perspective of not being traditional ag. We’ve been in it when it was really ingrained in traditional ag, but now it’s starting to incorporate non- traditional ideas. Watching that happen has been incredible,” Melissa says.
More than Just Livestock
“We love our animals…it’s important to respect them if they’re going to feed us,” Melissa says as she gazes at a proud mama cow and her lanky calf.
It’s clear that the love for their animals extends beyond the livestock. “Every evening Melissa calls for the birds and they flock to her in a matter of seconds. They follow her all the way to the coop where they know it’s time to bed down for the night.” Even Hank, the feisty and proud turkey on the farm, follows Doug amicably when it’s time to turn in for the night.
“I never thought I would, but I love the birds. They have been so great for us here," Doug says.
Doug and Melissa realize that, because of their unique position as the generation in their families in a non-traditional agricultural setting, as well as their passion for conservation, and Doug’s background as a military veteran, they are a rare and important example for others. They are consistently involved in programs to help educate other first-generation farmers, returning vets, and university students.
The high tunnel will be used as a training opportunity with students from local universities to research cross-pollination and grow a specific species of sunflower that will be used in their up-and- coming distillery.
No matter the program, event, or opportunity, the Havemann’s have a passion for helping and educating their community. With their active involvement with the NRCS and the Battleground to Breaking Ground Program, they continue to inspire beginning farmers, military families, and veterans.
Green Bexar Farm in St. Hedwig is owned by Cody and Natalie Scott. They work with Samantha Salinas, NRCS resource team leader in Bexar County.
What most captures the attention of those passing by the 10-acre expanse of Green Bexar Farm is the over 70-year-old pecan orchard, which fills the property. The green canopy has a transporting effect, making even the small Texas town outside feel far away.
Even more incredible is that behind the trees, the lush grass, and the full and thriving high tunnels is a pair of first-generation farmers.
Cody and Natalie Scott are the minds behind the operation. After spending four years in the military and another year working in a special security detail, Cody was working with an oil company. The couple lived on a quarter-acre plot that would go on to become Green Bexar Farm (Pronounced Bear).
In 2018, about two weeks after they purchased the house and land, the oil fields went down, and Cody found himself out of work for six months. While he was bouncing around different jobs, Cody realized he wanted a lifestyle that was more reliable to raise a family on. He’d always like growing his own vegetables in his homemade garden beds. and decided it was worth a shot to see if he could become a farmer full-time
Meeting Challenges and Finding Solutions for First-Time Farmers
Being a first-generation farmer comes with plenty of its own challenges, though. Even though Natalie swore her dad was a farmer because he grew five tomato plants and a few bell pepper plants, he couldn’t provide advice to Cody for large-scale farming. Cody started doing research on his own, discovering a few books and YouTube channels that would help him along the way.
After hours of research and trial runs, they formulated the foundation of their operations: “We don’t plant anything forever until it lasts two years.” This allows them to try new, innovative farming styles, including growing micro-greens to sell to local restaurants, and working with more non-traditional crops, like purple carrots.
Their innovative spirit has allowed them to accomplish two high tunnel projects with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). These high tunnels allow them to grow their vegetables year- round and stay ahead of the demand. Currently, heirloom tomatoes are a Green Bexar specialty, but they also grow various leafy greens, watermelon, pumpkin, beets, radishes, and more.
High tunnels are not the only collaboration the Scotts have done with NRCS (though they are looking at adding a couple more). According to Samantha Salinas, NRCS Bexar County District Conservationist, they’ve helped with plans for a drip system in the pecan orchard and even, “basic technical assistance such as leaving crop residue for savings as far as water and using it as a barrier to prevent weed infestation.”
The Value of Community Service
Natalie and Cody are focused on making Green Bexar Farm an active, involved member of the community. They donated food to local food banks during the COVID-19 pandemic, and they put together weekly CSA boxes for individual families to purchase and come pick-up on the farm.
Cody helps military veterans’ transition from active duty to agriculture.
While all their community involvement is important to Cody and Natalie, Cody believes the veteran assistance is some of the most valuable work he can do. Being a veteran himself, he sees the value that his farm brings to his peace of mind. He describes being outside working as “the only time I can have a clear head.”
The next big step for Green Bexar Farm is building a local community grocery store and commercial kitchen. Cody and Natalie want to sell their own farm-to-table products in the grocery store and partner with other local producers to sell their products as well.
The commercial kitchen will be the main staging area for any farm-to-table events they will host on their property where the community can come and enjoy food that is locally grown and processed.
Diners will experience a 10-course dinner and enjoy a tour of the farm. “You can sit at a table, eat your meal, and just look out and see where it’s been grown on the farm,” explains Natalie. “There’s nothing like that around here, so we’re gonna do it.”
A Family Farm
Cody and Natalie are very thankful for how great Green Bexar Farm has been to their family so far. “I love raising my kids here on the farm,” says Natalie. “Just watching them run around, chase chickens, grabbing fruit off the vine. It’s just really cool to see where food is grown and how it’s grown.”
Salinas is also glad to see the success of the Scott family.
“They are first-generation farmers. They didn’t have the advantage of an ag background,” Salinas explains. “They had to learn through a lot of trial and a lot of error what was going to be the best fit for their farming operation.”
“Having kids really changed something inside of me,” Cody concludes. “I wanted to be able to provide a good life for them, and I knew in our area there was really nowhere to buy good food. I also enjoyed the idea of growing produce. There’s something freeing about it.”