Pennsylvania Air Force Veteran Completes NCAT’s Armed to Farm
“Absolutely amazing. Wonderful from beginning to end.” This is how Jason Puryear, USAF (Ret) described his experience at NCAT’s Armed to Farm in Ohio. Along with 21 other participants at the week-long, intensive classroom+hands-on farming experience, Jason, Chef at ZEST Kitchen and Pantry at the Meadville Market in Craword County, PA, was immersed in learning about urban farming.
In the mornings, the class visited US Botanical garden classroom to learn about soil testing, finances, the role of the water authority in maintaining water quality and water testing, and how the Farm Bureau, Farmers Union, SBA, USDA, and Extension work to support farmers. Additionally, an attorney from National Ag Legal Center spoke both in general terms and specifically about participant’s farm situations. Additional training on machinery, terminology, and websites was provided.
During the afternoon, the group visited farms and agribusinesses in and around Cleveland, usually making two site visits per day. Among these were:
US Botanical Garden’s 3 farms featuring composting, high tunnel, weeding.
Ohio City Farms, the largest urban farm in Cleveland. There veterans learned about their unique plan for sustainability--growing hops and partnering with Ohio City Brewing and Great Lakes Brewing. This large farm with a staff of 15 is a non-profit.
Conversely, the group visited one of the smallest ag operations, a vineyard “you could walk through in 5 minutes.” The original house on the property was taken down to its foundation and converted to a cold room; a solar panel room was added atop that to run the machinery.
Ridell Farm: “Most beautiful place I’ve ever seen,” according to Puryear. The farm is actually three operations: EPA certified composting to provide compost to state of Ohio and other farmers; hydroponic bluegill, tilapia, houseplants, berries; and a traditional farm with peaches, apricots. When the land for Ridell was acquired, the soil was so compacted there was no way to farm. For 10 years they did nothing but lay down wood chips to amend the soil—8 feet of wood chips. There is a vegan soul food restaurant across the street that uses the vegetables with the remainder sold at their farm stand. Ridell offers a Program for veterans: January-June, Fri./Sat. classes are held on the farm. Veterans who complete the series receive a $500 gift cert for farming tools and a boxed hoop house.
Cleveland Seed Exchange: At this farm, the group tossed compost, pulled fence posts, and observed a push tractor in use.
They also visited a for-profit hops farm that also had a 2nd property with 100 ft beds leased for $1/month to senior citizens to provide activity and socialization, and income. Jason noted that “The whole community comes out for the market. After the market they cook the leftovers and eat and socialize.”
One of Puryear’s favorite sessions was on beekeeping. As the instructor was also a bee inspector for Ohio, so he was able to provide insight into state guidelines, as well as offer tips and suggestions on getting started with beekeeping in cost effective ways.
In addition to instruction and hands-on farming experience, Armed to Farm participants went home with educational materials on financing, business planning, crop rotation, and drawing and setting up your farm.
UPDATE: Since attending Armed to Farm/Ohio, Jason and his spouse Julie McClymond attended the week-long Armed to Farm 2.0 in New York, co-sponsored by Cornell University Extension. This course is only offered to graduates of the basic course, and focused more specifically on business planning. Jason’s future venture, Orange Dot Farmstead, was featured in a charette with the attendees. Jason and his business partner are in the process of establishing the operation near his home in Meadville, PA.
The PA Veteran Farming Project looks forward to partnering with NCAT to bring Armed to Farm to Pennsylvania, potentially in 2021.