If you need a spirit boost, hang out with the folks involved with the New Farmer Academy courses at Tennessee State University in Nashville.

Most of them are transitioning out of other careers. Their desire to farm is big but their resources are limited. Still, many find a way to make it work. Being in agriculture has a huge pull on their hearts and minds.

Limited resources. “Our focus is how to break into something where the capital investment can be huge. If you don’t have land, how do you do it? We’re concentrating on small and limited resource producers,” says Finis Stribling III, area Extension specialist, one of the academy’s founders who works with the program.

Tennessee State’s academy began with a USDA grant in 2014. Classes meet once a month from late spring to fall. “It’s hands-on training with the practical aspects of farming, agronomics to marketing, all for a $150 fee,” says Chris Robbins, who manages the university’s experiment station.

Spend time with Reggie Marshall and you discover just how much impact the program can have. He, his wife, Ingrid, and sons Reggie Jr., and Bryan all went through the academy.Last spring, he stepped away from his long-time job as a nurse at a large hospital in the Nashville area.

Reggie Marshall Sr. and Jr. both man the booth at the Nashville Farmers Market.

Reggie Marshall Sr. and Jr. both man the booth at the Nashville Farmers Market.

“When I lie on my deathbed, I don’t want to have a lot of regrets. Farming is something I wanted to do for many years. I wanted to do it before I got to the point physically where I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. My hospital job was to schedule transport for emergency patients, getting them to the right facilities and doctors. It was very stressful. I had to get out. The New Farmer Academy was a great opportunity for me,” he says.

Now all four family members who attended the academy farm together growing vegetables, herbs and flowers. They sell at the Nashville Farmers Market as well as to restaurants in the area and plan to start a small Community Supported Agriculture Program. Marshall developed herb-flavored teas that quickly gained fans.

A bit south of Nashville near Hampshire, Tennessee, Stephanie and Chuck Haseltine put the techniques she learned at the academy to work on their farm, which they call Six Forty Homestead. They grow heirloom vegetables, blackberries, muscadines, goji berries, and sell pasture-raised eggs and honey.

Her own long-term health issues led to finding the freshest, most nutritious food possible. “I wanted nutrient dense food. It made a huge difference in my treatment. I decided to grow them myself,” Stephanie says.

She also makes and sells soaps, lotions and balms, many with ingredients gathered right on their property or nearby. After working as a licensed aesthetician, Stephanie now focuses full-time on her on-farm projects. Winding up a military career that took them to diverse locations, Chuck now works in Huntsville, Alabama.

“He wanted to work in the corporate world to make sure we wanted to farm, and he’d have experience to help with the business side,” she says.

The academy improved Charley Jordan’s and Stephanie Haseltine’s farm efforts.

The academy improved Charley Jordan’s and Stephanie Haseltine’s farm efforts.

Stay small. “My great-grandparents were farmers. His grandfather was a beekeeper. We have it in our background but he was an army brat. So far, we’ve concentrated on things that are easy to grow. We’d like to stay more boutique in our business so we have a relationship with customers.”

The New Farmer Academy helped a lot, she says. “It gives us access to a wealth of knowledge. The networking opportunity is great. Learning the ins and outs of the ag community is important, even things like how to access grants and loans and how to fill out the paperwork. They covered stuff I never even thought of or knew existed. People involved share an interest in farming and have the drive and passion and desire to do it,” she says.

Northwest of Nashville, near Woodlawn, Tennessee, Charley Jordan winds down his 28-year career as an Army helicopter pilot later this year by growing a beef, vegetable, herb and egg business at Circle J Ranch.

He started with five acres of land and some roping steers for his daughter, a teenaged rodeo competitor, to practice on. That led to buying another 20 acres and a small herd of Longhorn cattle just because he liked them.

Farming bug bit. A native of Gulf Breeze, Florida, Jordan’s early interests were surfing and skateboarding. ”When I was ten or eleven, we moved to South Dakota for a while and I just got hooked on agriculture. It seems like it took forever to make it happen but, hey, it happened,” he says.

Passionate about the Farmer Veteran Coalition, he hopes other veterans join him in agriculture. “The academy is a great learning and networking experience for veterans,” he says.

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