At the Barreras Family Farm, just a few miles north of Omaha, Nebraska, co-owners and co-operators Lt. Col. Anthony and Mariel Barreras work hard alongside their children.
On May 24, 2018, their farm was one of three featured on Answering the Call: Veteran Farmer Tour, co-hosted by the Center for Rural Affairs and Legal Aid of Nebraska, to provide real-world examples of farms to beginning veteran farmers and ranchers.
Anthony is currently on active duty in the U.S. Army in addition to his role on the family farm. His involvement in the military influences all aspects of his life, especially his partnership with his wife, Mariel.
The duo met while Mariel was a college student and Anthony was deployed in Alaska. They spent a lot of their first dates bear hunting, and that’s where the farm logo with a bear originated.
Their farm started with a few free chickens, and has blossomed into educational summer camps, raw goat milk for sale, and pasture-raised hens. The operation features more than 800 chickens, a few hogs, several dairy goats, an assortment of cattle, and two friendly horses.
The couple’s love of farming and each other is also expressed through their compassion and guidance to other beginning farmers and veteran farm families. That’s why they volunteered to host Answering the Call: Veteran Farmer Tour in May.
“We like hearing other people’s dreams,” Mariel said. “It’s not just sharing what we know or our successes and failures of what we’ve learned, but it’s listening to their dreams and then encouraging them.”
They not only help their peers, they also learn from others through collaboration and relationships.
“We are learning from fellow veteran farmers, because the most challenging way to learn is through failure,” Mariel said. “We have overcome a lot of failures and learned a lot, but it’s so much better if you can work with somebody else who has failed and succeeded and have them mentor you.”
The family’s vision for their farm is reflective of the values instilled by their military background. They focus on the seven Army values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage, incorporating them into their functions and educating the community.
And, family values is one of the key pillars that create the foundation of the Barreras Family Farm.
“Our seven kids are raised to do chores, they’re raised to be a team, just like in the Army,” Mariel said. “Even the youngest participates, and she’s expected to do small things, but it still matters.”
“The kids all really enjoy farming,” Anthony added. “They put in just as much work as we do.”
The crossover between military life and farming seems very similar: long hours, a limited work/life balance, and a strong sense of camaraderie. Mariel says this has created a tight-knit community of support.
“It really comes down to your passion; if you’re willing to put just as many hours or more into your free time as you do at work to be able to do what you love,” Anthony said. “Here in Nebraska, it’s been a real blessing that the job I have has provided me with more predictable time.”
Owning and operating a farm, putting food on the table, and serving in the military can be challenging, and some may wonder how family manages to keep it together. For Mariel and Anthony, it’s about answering the call in more ways than one.
“God gives everybody a purpose, and everybody has a different purpose,” Mariel said. “It would be a lot easier if we had a different purpose, but we’ve prayed about it, and we’ve discussed it, and this is where God has us now.”
“Of course there are benefits for our family,” Anthony added. “We get to know what our children are eating and that they’re getting the nutrition they need.”
And, there are advantages for visitors to the farm.
“There are bigger benefits for every single kid who comes our summer camps, or the parents who get to come and relax for a few hours,” Mariel said. “That’s why we do this, that’s our purpose.”
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