To learn more, check out Conservation Innovation Grants Beginning Veteran Farmer Case Study: Matt and Emely Hendl. Cora Fox contributed to this blog.
For Matt and Emely Hendl, conservation is more than important, it’s a way of life.
Owners of Anchor Meadow Farm, in Milford, Nebraska, the Hendls consider the big picture when it comes to sustainable agriculture.
“We care about where our food comes from, for our health,” said Matt. “We care about the quality of life of our animals.”
After serving 20 years in the U.S. Navy, Matt went to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with an interest in in ag education and becoming a teacher. Professionally, Emely has spent time in marketing and retail, but they both also have a history in agriculture.
“We had 7 acres in Connecticut,” said Matt. “Our neighbor had bees, and we were surrounded by two farms—one was organic, the other raised vegetables for community-supported agriculture (CSA). We started our own operation by getting chickens from a local feed store and growing a large garden.”
Now in Nebraska, the Hendls have been farming for two years. (Learn more about their farm beginnings here.) Anchor Meadow Farm consists of 5 acres hosting free-range, pasture-raised chickens, 17 head of Kunekune hogs, and honey bees. Their 11 bee hives are placed in three different locations.
Matt says it’s important for farmers to diversify commodities and how they market their goods.
“In our operation, we can use our bees for honey, pollinating, or we can sell them,” he said. “Our chickens lay eggs, can be sold for meat or as layers, and help with insect mitigation.”
Though most of what the couple has learned has been self-taught through a lot of trial and error, they’ve also had help along the way.
Del Ficke, of Ficke Cattle Company, has served as a mentor for Matt and Emely. He hosts bees on his land, and, at one point, grazed Matt’s and Emely’s hybrid version of meat chickens, a mix of Cornish Rock and heritage breed chickens that allowed them to graze instead of becoming obese, called “Freedom Rangers.”
Though they no longer raise meat chickens, Matt and Emely still raise chickens that graze at their home, near Del’s place, and say they learned a great deal from him.
“Del has been an invaluable resource—he has shared his experience and knowledge with us.” Matt said.
Through his experiences, Matt has learned beginning farmers should plan ahead and stick with it, even if times get tough.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” he said. “Have a backup plan, and be able to transition your mindset to ‘Plan B.’ You’re going to start small and feel overwhelmed, but don’t give up.”
Matt also believes a passion for farming is necessary, and offers advice to those new to the industry.
“You’ll need to think ahead and be prepared to fulfill requests,” he said. “Networking with other farmers or partnering with other veteran-owned small farms is helpful. Bottom line, you have to love your job to be successful.”
Matt is currently enrolled in the Great Plains Master Beekeeping Training and Certification Program, and feels taking online marketing classes help with the growth of the operation. Overall, taking care of their land and livestock is what Matt feels will bring them the most success, professionally and personally.
“On our farm, we supplement our hogs’ diets with butternut squash from our garden,” said Emely. “We don’t rob honey from our hives; we let the honey supply build up which helps keep our hives healthy. We have to be patient, but we care about sustainable agriculture, so it’s worth it.”
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