A lot has changed since we talked to Robert Elliot in 2014 before our last Farm Aid festival in Raleigh, North Carolina. Between the COVID-19 pandemic and family loss, he has had to adapt and make changes to his farm operations over the past six years. Read on below to learn about his newest ventures and click here to read our Farmer Hero story about Robert from 2014.
*Bonus: Catch Robert live at the Farm Aid 2022 HOMEGROWN Skills Tent stage where he’ll be demonstrating how to cultivate oyster mushrooms at home!
Jessica: When we talked to you last, you were farming at Cypress Hall Farms. Are you still on that land?
Robert: Unfortunately, in 2017, the loss of my adopted mother led to the farm being sold off by another family member. As so many other farms experience, the loss of the family farm hit hard. Cypress Hall Farms was originally granted to my family before the American Revolution, and sadly the legacy of our family has been lost. I have however started a new operation on 53 acres just outside of Fort Bragg, NC.
Jessica: I’m really sorry to hear that. The loss of a family farm hits so hard.
Since 2014 another huge thing happened…the pandemic! How did you fare during the COVID-19 pandemic? Did you have to change up your business model at all and could you still sell at farmers markets?
Robert: During COVID, I sold various products in Fayetteville, NC, from local farms. COVID hit everyone hard, and the hardest challenge we had was engaging customers in the area during a time when few were out in public. The detrimental effects of COVID are still affecting us and the rest of the farming community as a whole to this day.
Jessica: When we talked to you in 2014, you were in the beginning stages of developing an incubator farm called The Veteran’s Farm of North Carolina. Can you update us on the organization today?
Robert: It has grown by leaps and bounds, and it’s now what I am known for in NC. I carried on my work with helping veterans learn how to farm by purchasing land near Fort Bragg, NC, and now I run The Veteran’s Farm of NC, Inc. It’s now officially a 501c(3) nonprofit devoted to assisting both military service members and veterans in their training needs to start their own farms.
Since its inception, we’ve graduated over 350 veterans from programming I built, and many veterans are farming on their own across the nation. Here at The Veteran’s Farm, we continually train veterans in livestock, poultry, hydroponics, aeroponics, horticulture, vegetable, soil building, mushrooms and so many other models of production. The Veteran’s Farm of NC is truly a unique training opportunity in the U.S., and will continue to serve all interested beginning farmers (both civilian and military) for many years to come.
Jessica: Wow! That is truly impressive. I bet you’ve created an amazing community of veterans and farmers, and farmer veterans.
Robert: Yes, I’d like to highlight this crucial part of the work that I’ve done in NC. When I was growing up on Cypress Hall Farms in the 80s and 90s, farmers worked together and helped each other. Any agricultural association in those days had a packed house at meeting times and everyone knew each other well and collaborated effectively. Through the detriment of agricultural policies and practices over the last 40 years, much of that synergy has been lost completely.
We built a community of Farmer Veterans in North Carolina that’s vibrant, alive and well, and over 700 of these Farmer Veterans help each other extensively on any issue that we face. This network of farmers has allowed North Carolina to be one of the most vibrant communities of farmers in the nation, and we’re proud to be a part of a growing movement in the U.S. If you’re a Farmer, Veteran, or both, we would be glad to welcome you to our small community in NC!
Our work doesn’t stop there though, we’re assisting in putting together a network of the various communities of farmers in the state to tackle some of the issues collectively. We believe that the only way for us to succeed is by banding together and building resilient farming communities in North Carolina and beyond.
Jessica: Thank you, Robert!