Matt and Charlotte Schaar, first generation farmers in Gnadenhutten, Ohio, never expected a global pandemic to be their farm’s “big break.”
Matt, a recently retired Green Beret, and Charlotte, a corporate wellness executive and major in the Army Reserves, had just started their Ohio operation in earnest a couple years before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
In the beginning…
Charlotte and Matt were stationed in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. While juggling deployments, Charlotte’s corporate job and two young kids, they decided to move back home near family.
Along with their farming partners, Joey and Amy Ellwood, the couple purchased a piece of farmland in the village of Gnadenhutten, about one hundred miles east of Columbus, Ohio, and set up a homestead called EDS Ranch. At the time, Joey was working a full-time corporate job, Matt was still on active duty, Charlotte was in the Reserves and working, so farming was not their primary focus.
Support when it mattered most
In 2017, the Schaars won a fellowship from the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC) for a honeybee operation and the business was taking off. FVC is a non-profit that helps military members get into agriculture.
When the opportunity came to buy the land from Joey and Amy (the couple was expanding the EDS Ranch farmland with their own land purchase), Matt and Charlotte jumped ... but traditional lenders didn’t want to finance the property’s outbuildings. That’s when Matt stumbled upon a Farm Credit booth at an FVC convention and learned about Rural 1st, Farm Credit Mid-America’s division for rural lending.
Matt remembers Farm Credit’s openness towards finding a way to help.
“Rural 1st was the only lender that would help us out when we wanted to get this land,” Charlotte said. “We wouldn’t have been able to do what we’ve done without them, and we’re really appreciative of that.”
“Working with an organization that specializes in rural property purchase and small farms, it’s great,” Matt said. “They’re second to none.”
An unexpected opportunity
In March 2020, while EDS Ranch was still developing its business, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, rendering national protein stocks scarce.
Customers started calling Matt and Joey from the grocery store, hoping to purchase protein directly from EDS Ranch. Luckily, their freezers were stocked.
Matt, Joey and Amy took orders, packed the truck and delivered nourishment to people in their community. Meanwhile, Matt took care of his young son and daughter at home because Charlotte was deployed overseas.
“It really gave us a lot of pride,” said Matt, a retired sergeant first class with nine deployments under his belt. “I felt like I was back in the military, deployed on operations. It was that important. Our customers felt that way, too, and we took great pride in working 16 hours a day.”
Today, Matt and Charlotte work full-time at EDS Ranch raising chicken, pork and turkey, as well as eggs and honey.
Matt was medically retired from the Army in 2018 after an injury caused by enemy shrapnel. Charlotte left her corporate job soon after she returned from a 6-month deployment in 2020 to find the ranch excelling, with the increase in demand due to COVID-19 induced shortages. “There was no break when I got back,” she says. “We were so busy.”
Matt, Charlotte, Joey and Amy have been able to retain the new customers they gained in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has enabled them to switch from selling mostly to commercial and high-end restaurants to selling primarily direct-to-consumers.
Charlotte and Matt now make non-GMO feed for EDS Ranch’s free-range poultry, rotate their heritage pigs on the 90-acre farm and oversee the thriving Combat Honey bee operation, which produces almost 1,000 pounds of honey a year – up from 50 pounds their first year.
Looking to the future
With partners like Farm Credit Mid-America, Rural 1st and the Farmer Veteran Coalition on their side, along with family, friends and the community of veteran-owned businesses, the team looks forward to expanding their business.
When they think towards the future, the Schaar’s and Ellwood’s hope to add contract farmers, sell at local markets and step-up Charlotte’s new house-plant business, all while continuing to serve their community.