FLAT, Texas — The sound of East Range artillery and small arms live-fire exercises echoes in the background of North Fort Hood. A few miles away in the town of Flat is Farming Education And Training, which helps active duty military, veterans, and military families through a program called BattleGround to Breaking Ground.
Heidi Barber and her husband, both retired from the military for 20 years, are cultivating a new generation of farmers and preparing these vets for their next mission.
As part of a partnership between Compatible Lands Foundation and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, FEAT Farm offers hands-on learning and online training through a diverse set of workshops ranging from electrical and gardening to welding and construction of shelters for sheep.
The 72 acre farm is home to geese, chickens, roosters, sheep and more. It was purchased by CLF as part of Fort Hood’s Army Compatible Use Buffer program. This not only protects against encroachments that could impede formation, but also secures the environmental and economic benefits of farmland.
“Compatible land use is critical to maintaining military readiness,” said CLF Executive Director Joe Knott. “Through Fort Hood, we have the ACUB program to protect training, while providing career training for transitioning veterans and creating a comfortable space with fellow veterans.”
Shortly after graduating from the BattleGround program, Barber was presented with a career path as a farm manager for the FEAT farm. With a family background of farming and a childhood exposed to gardening, chickens and ranchers, in addition to being a veteran herself, the cause is close to her heart. Sense of purpose and connection with one’s brothers and sisters in arms create meaningful and life-saving interventions.
“The problem with a lot of veterans is that we tend to be skeptical,” Barber said. “Veterinarians who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury don’t always like to ask for help. You need to figure out how to get around this to get them to the right resources so they can take care of themselves and their families.
Since 2019, the Farm Education Program has been helping veterans gain knowledge and experience to successfully start, maintain, and grow a farm. The three-phase program runs over 12 months, providing veterans with 100 hours of hands-on learning, online training in farm management and farming practices, as well as business and financial planning. FEAT also places special emphasis on helping veterans with their personal growth and mental and emotional well-being.
“We did on-site outreach at the farm due to suicidal ideation and helped other drug addicts get to the right agencies for help,” Barber said.
Through a partnership with VetAdvisor, the program also offers veterans and military family members a range of transition, financial, resiliency, behavioral health, wellness, and veteran coaching services.
“The FEAT Farm is a great platform and gives us the flexibility to help every person,” Knott said. “Veterans face all kinds of issues and part of this program is mental health. You can’t fix a thing if we don’t look at the whole individual.
Upcoming workshops include a two-day Electrical 101 workshop that will provide hands-on skills for building a basic electrical circuit and wiring the classroom on March 19-20. A Vegetable Gardening 101 workshop on March 26 will teach participants about soil testing, garden layout using companion planting, drip irrigation and building raised beds. .