A Farmer Veteran Coalition grant program, funded by Farm Credit, provided Robert Barnett, a beginning farmer, with funds to purchase a solar-powered, portable fencing system.
After leaving the Air Force in 2012 with a service-connected disability, Robert Barnett was looking for a new career.
Robert began gardening at his family’s home in Ventura, California. Everything was new to him and, while he didn’t know what he was doing, he did know that he loved producing food. Gardening soon instilled in Robert the dream of becoming a farmer.
A humble beginning
Robert decided his niche would be to raise sheep for meat production. Located in fire-prone California and concerned for the environment, Robert hoped to achieve two goals at once by strategizing how he could set his future sheep out to graze in areas that needed fire abatement.
Due to the high start-up costs involved in raising livestock, Robert got started with vegetables. Eventually, he graduated to ducks and, in early 2020, Robert and two partners finally took the plunge and bought a small starter herd of St. Croix sheep. St. Croix are a heritage, low-input breed that thrives on grazing and don’t require extensive feeding. They also purchased two rare, heritage breed Mulefoot hogs.
“We’ve been doing it nickel and dime, mostly me,” Robert said of their small operation in Los Osos in San Luis Obispo County. “We find junk equipment, spruce it up and make do.”
More than a paycheck
For Robert, raising livestock is more than just a way to earn a living. Spending time with the animals also gives him personal comfort as he continues to recover from his time in the Air Force.
Robert experienced one particularly horrific accident while serving as an aircraft maintenance specialist; he was doused with jet fuel while working under an engine when another airman accidentally flipped a switch, causing a painful nerve and joint condition, in addition to some mental challenges including post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I’m service-disabled so I can’t go from zero to 60 in 10 seconds. It takes me 30 seconds or a minute. So, I’m really at peace with the livestock and working with them,” he said.
Thanks to the Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund, a Farmer Veteran Coalition grant, Robert purchased the new equipment that he needed to manage and care for his growing flock of sheep and pigs.
The Fellowship Fund, made possible by Farm Credit, is a small grant program that provides direct assistance to veterans like Robert Barnett who are in their beginning years of farming and ranching. The funds are given directly to third-party vendors for items that the veteran has identified will make a crucial difference in the launch of their farm business.
For Robert, the $5,000 grant paid for two solar-powered portable electric fencing systems to corral the sheep into grazing areas, as well as a system to manage the hogs. With the remaining funds, Robert purchased supplies he needed for lambing, farrowing and hoof trimming.
“This grant is a such a relief for me so we can get the essential equipment to make our operations work,” Robert said. “I still work part time and go to school on the GI Bill as well, so I’m cobbling things together.”
Farm Credit believes in farmer veterans
Keith Hesterberg, president and CEO of Fresno Madera Farm Credit, said that Farm Credit is proud to support the Farmer Veteran Coalition as they provide support to veterans transitioning into agriculture.
“Since its founding in 2008, the Farmer Veteran Coalition has worked tirelessly to enable American veterans to pursue careers in farming and Farm Credit is proud to be able to help individuals who have served in our armed forces build a new life in agriculture,” Keith said.
Fresno Madera Farm Credit is joined by other California-based Farm Credit organizations in support of the Farmer Veteran Coalition, including American AgCredit, CoBank, Colusa-Glenn Farm Credit, Farm Credit West, Golden State Farm Credit and Yosemite Farm Credit. Farm Credit also supports the Farmer Veteran Coalition on a national level.
Looking to the future
Robert currently operates his startup hog, sheep and now tree nursery operation at an existing ancient grains and beans farm known as Kandarian Organic Farms.
While he’s not yet open for business, slow food chapters on the Central Coast of California, as well as local chefs, are eager to promote the farm’s meats once Robert is ready to begin selling animals.