FLAT, Texas — The sound of artillery and small arms live fire exercises from East Range echo in the background of North Fort Hood. A few miles down the road in the town of Flat is the Farming Education And Training farm, helping active duty, veterans, and military family members through a program called BattleGround to Breaking Ground.
Heidi Barber and her husband, both 20-year Army retirees, are cultivating a new generation of farmers and preparing these vets for their next mission.
In a partnership between Compatible Lands Foundation and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, the FEAT farm provides hands-on learning and online educational training through a diverse set of workshops from electrical and gardening to welding and building sheep shelters.
The 72-acre farm is home to geese, chickens, roosters, sheep and much more. It was purchased by CLF as part of Fort Hood’s Army Compatible Use Buffer program. It not only guards against encroachment that could impede training, but also secures environmental and economic benefits of the farmland.
“Compatible land use is critical to the sustainment of military readiness,” said Joe Knott, executive director for CLF. “Thanks to Fort Hood, we have the ACUB program to protect training, while also providing employment training for transitioning veterans and creating a comfortable space with their 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 history of farming and childhood exposure to gardening, chickens and ranchers, along with being a veteran herself, the cause is close to her heart. The sense of purpose and connection with her brothers and sisters in arms is creating meaningful and lifesaving interventions.
“The problem with a lot of veterans is we tend to be a skeptical bunch,” Barber said. “Vets who have post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries don’t always like reaching out for help. You have to figure out how to work around that to get them to the right resources so they can take care of themselves and their family.”
Since 2019, the farm’s educational program helps veterans gain knowledge and experience to be successful in starting, maintaining and growing a farm. The three-phase program is conducted over 12 months, providing veterans with 100 hours of hands-on learning, online training in farm management and agriculture practices, and business and financial planning. FEAT also places a special emphasis on helping veterans with their personal growth and mental and emotional wellbeing.
“We’ve done some on-the-spot outreach on the farm because of suicidal ideations, and have helped others with substance abuse get to the right agencies for help,” Barber said.
Through a partnership with VetAdvisor, the program also provides veterans and military family members with an array of veteran transition, finance, resiliency, behavioral health, wellness and disability coaching services.
“The FEAT farm is a great platform and gives us flexibility to assist each person,” Knott said. “Veterans are dealing with all kinds of issues and part of this program is mental health. You can’t fix one thing if we are not looking at the individual as a whole.”
Upcoming workshops include a two-day electrical 101 workshop that will provide hands-on skills with building a basic electric circuit and wiring the classroom area on March 19-20. A vegetable gardening 101 workshop on March 26 will teach participants soil testing, garden layout using companion planting, running drip irrigation and building raised beds.