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Nationwide farming coalition helps Oklahoma veterans

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Wes Tibbs holds a goose at his farm in Oklahoma City, Friday, June 24, 2016.  "We got into it because it's a marketing angle for when we move beyond the hobby farm level.  I think they're a really good organization, in that, they provide people who are doing far bigger things than I am doing an opportunity to get their name out there and get a different angle on marketing that a lot of people don't have.... As consumers are moving toward the locally grown movement, it really gives them a leg up to join the locally grown movement." - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Wes Tibbs holds a goose at his farm in Oklahoma City, Friday, June 24, 2016. "We got into it because it's a marketing angle for when we move beyond the hobby farm level. I think they're a really good organization, in that, they provide people who are doing far bigger things than I am doing an opportunity to get their name out there and get a different angle on marketing that a lot of people don't have.... As consumers are moving toward the locally grown movement, it really gives them a leg up to join the locally grown movement."

For Brian Chambers, life after deployment is a struggle in some ways.

“I was a special missions aviator in the Air Force for eight years. We were everywhere — Afghanistan, Iraq, Africa — and I was lucky; I didn’t sustain serious injury physically, but I do have some issues mentally. It’s hard to explain, but there are just little issues,” Chambers said. “I did have some friends who were seriously hurt and some who died. I’m not saying what I went through was as bad as what the guys who were kicking in doors went through and saw, but it does affect me. You spend years living your life six months at a time. Each flight is dangerous, and you know what could happen every time you go up. That kind of stress does something.”

For the past year and a half, Chambers has farmed at Rambling Oaks Farm near Henryetta after getting his start farming on a small acre of land in Muskogee.

Chambers, his wife Kisha and their three charming, home-schooled children are members of a growing class of food revolutionaries who actively reject chemical- and hormone-laden, cruelty-filled factory farming for something kinder, healthier and from Chambers’ perspective, better.

“We raise pigs, chickens and also vegetables. We like to say that our animals live happy lives with just one bad day,” Chambers said.

“We believe that every animal has a purpose, and some are to sustain and feed us. But that doesn’t mean you should be mean and stick them in a cage, and we feel strongly that you should never make light of killing anything,” Chambers added. “We’re given charge or dominion over these animals, and we have to own that and treat them as kindly and well as possible.”

He takes his philosophy seriously.

For example, the Chambers family raises pigs in wooded lots instead of pens, and the animals seem content.

Chambers described his farming techniques as “beyond organic.”

“While we aren’t certified organic, we actually do much more than would be required to get that certification,” he said. “Our animals are pasture-raised, and we do rotational grazing.”

Giving experience

Recently, Chambers also became a member of Homegrown by Heroes Farmer Veteran Coalition.

“We joined just a couple of months ago. The main reason I did is that I want to start offering internships, and I want to offer them to veterans as a way of giving back,” he said. “I can share with them the hard lessons I’ve learned farming, and then they won’t have to go through them.”

Other farmers, like veteran Wes Tibbs in Oklahoma City, enjoy the marketing side of the coalition and how it helps farmers plan for the future.

“We got into it because it’s a marketing angle for when we move beyond the hobby farm level. I think they’re a really good organization, in that they provide people who are doing far bigger things than I am doing an opportunity to get their name out there and get a different angle on marketing that a lot of people don’t have,” Tibbs said. “As consumers are moving toward the locally grown movement, it really gives them a leg up to join the locally grown movement.”

Heroic work

Homegrown by Heroes (HBH) has come to Oklahoma through a partnership of Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry (ODAFF) and Oklahoma Farm Bureau.

It is essentially a marketing program through which veterans who are producing agricultural products can label their goods with the HBH stamp as a selling point.

“We just started the program here in Oklahoma in May of this year, so almost two months ago,” said Meriruth Cohenour, agritourism and Homegrown by Heroes coordinator at ODAFF. “We absolutely want to help farmer veterans market their products, and we also want to spread the word to any veteran farmer that this program is available to them.”

It’s free, and visitors can sign up through the national organization, the Farmer Veteran Coalition, at farmvetco.org.

The program also offers grants and fellowships to veterans in their first few years of farming, which can be the most difficult.

Since its inception in April 2011, the program has awarded more than $800,000.

The coalition believes that therapeutic careers like those in agriculture are important to veterans.

Couple that with the aging and decline of the agriculture producer population and it’s a win-win.

Chambers agreed.

“I got into this because there wasn’t as much stress,” he said. “Well, there actually is stress. This isn’t for everyone, but it’s a different kind of stress. It’s a fascinating field, and there are technological advances happening every day.”

Rambling Oaks products can be found at several farmers markets, which is where Chambers sells most of his vegetables.

To read his musings on farming life and learn more about the chicken and pork he offers, visit ramblingoaksfarm.com.

Print headline: Civilian roots, A nationwide farming coalition helps Oklahoma veterans.

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