Emely Hendl contributed to this story.
A veteran of the war in Iraq and an accomplished officer, Martin Neal gave 31 years of service to the U.S. Army before retiring.
After serving and commanding at a variety of levels during his Army career, Martin was ready for a new adventure for him and his family.
Before retiring, he stumbled across agricultural programs put on by the Center for Rural Affairs that sparked his interest. These programs helped him finalize his decision to try his hand at farming and join the ranks of many veterans and active service members who have found community in their agricultural endeavors.
One event that has made a difference is the workshop series, “AgVets: A Year in the Life.” For the past three years, the Center has hosted the series of on-farm and virtual workshops for military veterans, highlighting different aspects of agriculture including horticulture, pork producers, and poultry and egg producers.
Martin attended the first two years as a participant and is the veteran farmer host of this year’s series.
Located near Douglas, Nebraska, Martin’s operation, Neal Family Farm, started in 2020 and includes traditional row crops like corn and soybeans, plus forage crops and vegetables.
The family also sells chicken eggs directly to consumers and commercially through local grocery stores. Martin has approached restaurants in the area that have the option to buy vegetables from him in the summer.
“We are still in the establishing stage and have plans to expand our operation to include year-round vegetable, swine, and beef production, and we dabble in agrotourism,” he said.
The family farms on 130 acres, and Martin is working to establish and diversify the operation that will include poultry, beef, swine, and horticulture production. About 95 acres is in corn/soybean rotation and 20 acres is pasture.
“We have infrastructure in place to build a greenhouse (or two) and a commercial kitchen we will make available to other producers to process their products,” he said.
Martin is a beginning farmer as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The addition of row crops and the expansion of the operation means learning certain things all over again.
“There is a lot of difference between being a hobby farmer and establishing an operation to provide the necessary means for our family,” he said. “While we are blessed that I am a retiree, being able to build the legacy of a family farm that my children will hopefully continue is an entirely different perspective I wasn’t used to previously.”
This year, as Martin hosts the Center’s workshop, he believes he’ll have the chance to learn something new and have positive takeaways from the events.
“This opportunity has provided me with a great deal of insight into how to establish, operate, and maintain a diversified farming operation,” he said. “I enjoy the Center’s programs and have gained valuable knowledge about agriculture operations along with the ability to network within the community of veteran farmers in Nebraska and elsewhere.”
For more information about the Center’s events, including “A Year in the Life of a Poultry Producer,” visit cfra.org/events.
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.