Female Veterans Programs

Our Veteran Volunteer And Farmer Spotlight Tricia: The Accidental Farmer

I am an accidental farmer. I had zero plans to ever be a farmer or even small business owner. But here’s how it all happened.

Volunteer is in my blood. My parents were volunteer firefighters. My mom was the first women firefighter of the year for Onondaga County back in the 80's and was a volunteer medic and EMT instructor.  I followed in her footsteps as was a volunteer EMT by the time I graduated from high school. I had been in Turkey for a couple of years with the USAF and I taught CPR and First Aid for the Red Cross while I was there. I came to Syracuse in 1992 while I was in the NY ANG 174th as a AGE mechanic. I was also volunteering as an EMT while finishing up my medic training and worked as a night manager at the local small grocery store.

One night in August, I was on a practice rescue and met my now husband Matt who was a volunteer firefighter. Matt and I hit it off and got engaged that Christmas Eve and had the wedding planned for August the following year. He had 26 acres and an old barn. Back then I thought the land was vast, but now as I remember it, it really was just frightfully overgrown. We needed somewhere to live, and ended up borrowing $10,000 to build a spacious 30X30 one-bedroom apartment in the old 1879 dairy barn. We began to settle in, and in 1996 we had our son.

Each year, we grew a massive garden like both of our parents had always done. Somehow, I got sweet-talked into getting two cows to graze down all the grass and weeds. I grew up in dairy country but had little contact with livestock- okay NO contact with livestock. We got the two beef cattle and then acquired a dozen baby chicks. Soon the chicks were grown and laying a dozen eggs every day. It was impossible for two adults and a toddler to eat that much so I started selling eggs for 25 cents a dozen. Then, we butchered one of the beef for our freezer- a 100% grass-fed beast simply because we couldn't afford grain. And that’s how we started selling things and that’s how we got into grass-fed beef. 

Another couple years later, I got sweet-talked-again. This time into buying a herd of Scottish Highlander beef cattle from a nearby couple who were retiring and having health problems. We got one bull, five mamas and five calves. As we unloaded them off the trailer at the farm, I told myself that they would pay for themselves because I was NOT about to get into a losing your shirt hobby.  

Soon after, we did start to sell the beef. We added on a few pigs, and then some more hens for more eggs, and turkeys, then meat chickens and on and on. Eventually we outgrew the acreage and sold all we could produce.  I had quit my part time jobs to be on the "farm" full time and in addition was homeschooling our son Cam. We tried buying, leasing, borrowing, renting land and hit walls every time. I was super frustrated and one day proclaimed, “the only way we can grow this damn farm is to sell it and buy something larger! And this time it better not be in a creek flood zone!”

Long story short, after over a year trying to sell the really odd property, we did sell and then spent nine months of hell in an old 38 foot camper trailer from December through July until we got into our new place.  

We've been selling meats for about 14 years or so now.  At our old farm some neighbors loved us and bought from us, others laughed at us or told us that we'd never make it, nobody will pay that much, you won't get it in the store, farming doesn't pay... When we sold the old farm rumors went around we lost the farm financially or were getting a divorce. Ha!  

So being a farmer is a complete surprise and then some. It all grew by a series of accidents, luck and just love of it all.  

We grew our farm very slowly, building our skill set and markets. None of what we do can happen fast, it happens slowly it has to happen slowly. We see new ones start up and go big fast. In 3-5 years they are either out of business or cutting severely back on their plans.

I did training many years ago with Northeast Beginning Women Farmers Whole Farm Planning and Holistic Management International. After completing that, we turned around the finances of the farm to make a profit and modified some of our practices. I then started mentoring and leading some small group teachings. I gave a few speeches here and there, and some interviews too. But I eventually stopped mentoring because I needed to run my own farm not tell others how to do it. When I gave that up I still needed something that wasn't 100% of me on the farm.  

That’s when I started working with Clear Path. The Dogs2Vets program had been out to the farm in the beginning so I knew the program. When Chef Adam came on board with more interest in local food I decided to volunteer in the kitchen. I wanted to learn more about cooking, give back and also just get off the farm. Sometimes I need to breathe new air- and what a place to breathe!  People are appreciative of every little thing.  

I remember when I got out of the Air Force, there was no support that I knew of and I knew of no other women Veterans. We kind of went quiet and didn't talk about it.  I was a darn good mechanic but NOBODY would hire a woman- typical even still in this age.  

Then, the general population assumed that those of us who went into the military were doing it because we couldn't get into college, like we were too stupid, lazy or poor. Yeah right.   

Now, the new attitude is sweet to experience. Somehow I never saw combat and didn't serve during a war, even though I was in around all that.  I have cousins who are combat Vets, one with a TBI. I have some knowledge of their experience and to see programs coming out to "help" them is the sweetest thing ever- not sweet like cute but just awesome. Many Americans take for granted what we have here; the rest of us know what we have, why we have it and made damn sure we still have it. So any little bit I can do for someone who also served is an honor and I feel necessary. 

I've told our story many times, heck there is a youtube video of my speech in Amherst MA, articles, interviews and still I'm amazed how we are farming and still doing it. I can't imagine not doing it.  Someone asked me last week if I was retired. Why would I retire? Why would any of us retire from the lifestyle we chose and love? This isn't a job, this is a lifestyle and one we are completely in charge of.

I'm writing fast to get back out to maple syrup, but I think that’s it- so, off to go scrub buckets and sap tanks!