How a 'Homegrown Hero' went from from the frontlines to farming

Kaylah Jackson
June 07, 2018 - 9:15 pm

Photo courtesy of Rebecca Nolan

Rebeca Nolan knew that the military would be the key to helping her get an education. What she didn’t know was how her Army experience would help her one day, grow her own business.

In 2004, Nolan joined the Army as a technical engineer and just a year after joining her first duty station she found herself in the valleys of Afghanistan

"I spend the bulk of my deployment when it wasn't winter in North Eastern Afghanistan building bridges on the Pech River and repairing roads with a bunch of dudes in the middle of nowhere," said Nolan.

Photo courtesy of Rebeca Nolan

With another deployment on the horizon and thinking about the next steps in her career, Nolan was left with a lot of questions.

"Being where I was in the country, you know we got shot at, picked up dead people...when I got back from Afghanistan it was like 'holy cow how did I not die? I should've died,'" said Nolan.

She hit the ground running after her second deployment planning for her future and with five months of terminal leave she started applying for colleges and met her now wife, Amanda.

While working for an engineering company, the couple learned that Amanda's family owned a large area of farmland that they never used and soon, Amanda's family proposed they come maintain a house and do something with the land they owned.

Despite having no farming experience they agreed to the proposition, Nolan left her job and the pair moved out to Tetonia, Idaho. 

"There's gotta be people out there who teach new people how to farm, there's gotta be someone out there," said Nolan.

She happened across Farmer Veteran Coalition through an online search, an organization dedicated to "mobilizing veterans to feed America." Through the organization, she was able to attend a female veteran farmer retreat on a scholarship and meet other veterans in the community.

"It was amazing...you kind of all get each other, but we were also really into farming and organic practices so it was just like instant connection and friends," said Nolan.

For veterans new to the farming business, Farmer Veteran Coalition is a great opportunity to expand their network, learn about farming practices and grow their business.

Along with finding a community of veteran farmers, as a recipient of their fellowship fund, Nolan was able to learn about different farming practices through the organization’s online webinars.

“One of them was on drip-irrigation and I literally learned how to build a drip-irrigation system from this webinar and then just went to a company, ordered the parts I needed and built a drip irrigation system this year.”

Not only was she a recipient of their fellowship fund but she is also Homegrown by Heroes certified. A food label, created by the Farmer Veteran Coalition, the Homegrown by Heroes logo informs consumers that the agriculture they are getting is produced by U.S. military veterans. 

Every so often, Nolan is able to use knowledge from taking electrical and carpentry courses in the military and applying it to her work on the farm, leveling land to build hoop houses, running ditch diggers and burying fence lines.

As of January, Nolan and her wife are officially business owners of Dusty Hound Farms.

Photo courtesy of Rebeca Nolan

"What I learned about myself is I am not suited to work in an office. I need some physicality in my job. I need to be in the sun. Five years in the Army and four years of two a day rugby practices and then you kind of like sit in a chair and stare at a cinder block wall--it didn't work for me," said Nolan.

Transitioning out of the "get up and go" (or hurry up and wait) mentality in the military can be challenge for some, but for veterans like Nolan, trying something totally new, like farming, could be the answer.

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