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Lancaster County Army Veteran finds free technical assistance a force multiplier

Sara Hodgkiss leads and manages Woerth It Hollow farm in Kirkwood, PA (Lancaster Co). The non-profit farm accepts and retrains seized rescue horses, re-homing them when possible or providing a forever home when not, and offers veterans the opportunity to learn ground horsemanship and barn management skills.

The land where Woerth It Hollow now sits, once her family farm, was almost lost to foreclosure. Sara envisioned a new mission for the farm, put together a working Board, and obtained IRS 501c3 non-profit designation. In 2017, Sara launched the farm upon acquiring two slaughter-bound horses.

About 10 veterans are active volunteers, assisting around the farm with mucking and other daily chores. Once Sara returns from maternity leave, monthly open house events will begin again where veterans can learn about horse barn operation, ground skills, and the day-to-day chores, practical considerations, and the cost of running an equine barn. No veteran seeking the opportunity to learn or volunteer is turned away; and while Sara doesn’t provide therapy, interacting with horses is often described as being ‘therapeutic’. As programming grows, an additional Saturday event each month to focus on more advanced skills will be offered. With adequate insurance in place, Hodgkiss and her Board are protected in the event of an injury or accident.

Plans are for Woerth It Hollow to stay small with managed growth, so that programming remains accessible. Extra staff, a partner, or a paid apprentice could be in the future to share the load. For now, potential volunteers are welcome to contact Sara to learn more.

Sara advocates for other veteran farmers to tap into free technical assistance, which can lead to financial opportunities. She found that her local Conservation District was primarily focused on dairy, so contacted NRCS and worked with the conservationist to map out how many horses were appropriate for the land, and how to develop a conservation plan.

She wants her fellow veterans to know that acquiring federal funding is do-able…and that you don’t have to go it alone. Hodgkiss recently signed a contract with USDA NRCS to assist her in making improvements that will protect water and soil quality while enhancing the comfort, hygiene, and safety for horses and humans on the farm.

Among Sara's funded projects:

- stream-bank restoration

-heavy use area improvements

-grassed waterway to reduce gully erosion and covey runoff from a culvert pipe

-stabilized stone heavy use area for horses to use when the pastures are unfit

-10ft wide stabilized walkway

-exterior fence to create a new pasture

- pipeline to convey water from the headquarters to the proposed watering facilities in four paddocks,

-waterers for horses four of the five paddocks

Sara used CSP (Conservation Stewardship Program) funding--applications closed last week for the year, but now is the best time to start developing your plan for the next funding cycle.

EQIP, another NRCS program many associate with cost shares for hoop houses/high tunnels, provides financial assistance to cover part of the cost of implementing conservation practices. 200 practices could be funded, depending on where your land is located, and is geared toward working farms, ranches and forests. Applications for EQIP are accepted on a rolling basis.

Find your local PA NRCS office to get started.

Thank you, Sara, for sharing these photos.

#NRCS #EQIP #Horserescue #VeteranFarmingPennsylvania

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