Hendls take advantage of Center veteran farming workshops, networking opportunities

Farm and Food

For the past six years, Matt and Emely Hendl have been honing their agricultural skills as a family of first-generation farmers. While they feel they’ve become experts in some areas, they keep an open mind when they have the opportunity to learn something new.

One way they stay up to date on all things agriculture is by attending classes and networking with other farmers.

The Center for Rural Affairs has sponsored many of those classes, including a series of on-farm and virtual workshops for active military service members and military veterans that navigate a year in the life of a veteran farmer. For the past three years, these workshops have highlighted different aspects of agriculture, including horticulture, pork production, and poultry and egg production.

Matt is a Navy veteran, so the Hendls have had the opportunity to be involved in these workshops since the beginning. Over the years, the couple has been asked by Center staff to attend as advisers and share their knowledge with other attendees. They also joined online sessions and participated in group discussions and individual homework workshops.

Emely says they gained valuable knowledge and were able to help others, as well.

“We chimed in during the online classes when appropriate or when we had something of value to add,” she said. “We have learned so much from everyone involved, from legal, to holistic, to marketing. I always love learning about new ways to grow veggies. Tips and tricks for growing in Nebraska are a bonus, as it’s not as simple as popping a seed into the ground.”

The Hendls have applied what they’ve learned to their operation, Anchor Meadow Farm in Milford, Nebraska, where they raise heritage breed KuneKune hogs for nutrient-rich, pastured pork, as well as bees for honey and beeswax products. Although they used to raise chickens for eggs, they decided to move on from that endeavor as the chickens didn’t want to cooperate and some didn’t survive the foxes and owls there.

Attending and participating in the Center’s “Year in the Life” workshops has given the couple a chance to connect with other farmers as well.

“I’ve been so motivated to help others learn to avoid expensive mistakes like we made in the beginning,” Emely said. “I’ve discovered how to set goals, find new resources for assistance, and met so many like-minded friends. Learning from others and meeting new people goes a long way.”

Through this networking, they have picked up farm marketing tips, learned how to apply for grants, and more. They’ve offered other farmers advice on simple ways to raise pigs with good temperaments, as well as how to create value-added products.

“Make sure whatever you do, it’s a dual-purpose project,” Emely said. “For example, the lard from hogs is just as precious as the bacon. Same goes for the wax from the bee hives for making lip balms and lotion bars and not just raw wildflower honey. Plus, the pollinator factor creates constant new cover crops for the pigs to eat.”

In the future, the Hendls hope to host events on their farm to teach others about what they do and what their farm offers. They also want to grow more vegetables to offer meal kits with their pork products.

They hope to continue working with the Center as well.

“We can’t thank the Center enough for including us in this journey and continuing to offer amazing classes to everyone,” Emely said.

For more information about the Center’s events, including “A Year in the Life of a Poultry Producer,” visit cfra.org/events.

Feature photos, from top: Emely leading an AgVets class in 2022, Hendl family portrait, Emely showing AgVets attendees the characteristics of a Kune Kune pig, a Kune Kune pig.   |  Photos by Kirstin Bailey, portrait submitted

Programming is funded through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. NIFA USDA fund Award #2020-77028-32890.